Week without game helps UK women regain health

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2014 

  • Sunday

    No. 10 Kentucky at Auburn

    When: 2 p.m.

    TV: CWKYT-27.2

    Records: Kentucky 14-2 (2-2 SEC), Auburn 11-6 (2-2)

When Kentucky plays at Auburn on Sunday, it will be as close to full strength as it's been in weeks.

Coach Matthew Mitchell said the Cats' bye on Thursday was at the right time for healing the leg pain of senior guards Kastine Evans and Bernisha Pinkett.

It also allowed extra time for senior forward DeNesha Stallworth to get back up to speed after the arthroscopic knee surgery that caused her to miss five games.

"DeNesha needed a week where she could just turn loose and practice and you weren't worried about playing Thursday and you could really go at it," Mitchell said of the Cats' leading scorer at 12.8 points a game. "And there were some folks on the team who really needed some high-level, high-intensity practice."

Evans, whose undisclosed leg injury caused her to miss No. 10 UK's last game against Missouri, took off most of the week from practice, instead doing non-impact cardio work, Mitchell said.

The senior and UK's third-leading scorer was able to go through a full practice on Friday morning and reported "no issues, no pain."

"The time off for her and Bernisha (shin splints) was very, very good, and they looked good," Mitchell said.

When the Cats went through their two-game slide with losses to Florida and at South Carolina, UK had a limited Stallworth, and Mitchell said Pinkett and Evans were struggling quietly with their injuries.

"We're starting to round back into full strength," he said. "We'll need to be as sharp as we can be to win Sunday, I can tell you that.

"We still need DeNesha to fully turn the corner and be back to full speed mentally, timing-wise. Physically I think she's really turned a corner here."

Revisiting past issues?

Nearly a year to the day since demolishing Auburn 97-53, which included an early 24-2 run and a 30-point halftime lead, Kentucky will face the Tigers on their turf.

It was what happened after the first half that had the Tigers' first-year coach upset after the game, which included 30 Auburn turnovers.

"I thought it was pretty unclassy to continue to press when you're up by 46 points," Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said after the loss, which included what appeared to be a heated discussion between members of UK's staff and an Auburn assistant. "We're a pressing team also, but at some point we take the press off because at some point it's not respectful of the other team."

Mitchell fired back later: "I'm not going to spend any time with that kind of comment. ... Anybody who is unfamiliar with how we play and what our goals are, that's their problem and not mine."

When asked about last year's brouhaha heading into this game at Auburn, Mitchell said the air has long been cleared.

"We were able to repair any damage that was done that day in our relationship," he said, noting that he'd been friendly with Williams-Flournoy when she was a Georgia assistant before taking over the Tigers.

"I've got a ton of respect for her and what she's accomplished in her career, what she's accomplishing right now with Auburn and how much their team has improved this year is impressive," he said. "I think that's all good."

We Back Pat initiative returns

Kentucky will take part in a Southeastern Conference-wide initiative next week to raise awareness for those with Alzheimer's disease in honor of former Tennessee coaching great Pat Summitt, who is battling the disease.

In the 19 games over 13 cities from Jan. 19-26, there will be presentations and public service announcements to increase awareness. Coaches will wear purple during games as part of the event.

Putting on the color is special to UK assistant coach Shalon Pillow, who played for Summitt at Tennessee.

"To be able to say I played for a legend is such an honor," Pillow said. "It's unfortunate, her situation, her illness, and Pat is such a fighter. ... This is Pat's way of fighting this. She's finding ways to help people."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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