UK women's notes: Small chat with coach leads O'Neill to big results

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 26, 2014 

UK guard Jennifer O'Neill drove during the second half against Arkansas. After leading Kentucky with 21 points, O'Neill said she had been missing pre-game, one-on-one instruction from Coach Matthew Mitchell.

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There wasn't hot cocoa and cookies, but there was quiet conversation.

And that was all Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill needed to get back on track.

The junior guard, who broke the school's single-game scoring record with 43 points in four overtimes against Baylor last month, had been struggling.

She took and missed just two shots in UK's loss to Alabama on Thursday.

What O'Neill needed was some one-on-one time with head coach Matthew Mitchell.

"I just spoke with Matthew before the game and I told him that 'I need to know what you want me to do' before games," she explained after leading UK to a 68-58 win over Arkansas on Sunday.

"It's something that he did before and he stopped doing it, but I told him it was helping me, so we went back to doing it and he said he was going to continue to do it. I guess I was more focused because he told me exactly what he needed from me."

What he got from her was 21 points, including five three-pointers, six rebounds and five assists.

And while O'Neill wasn't perfect, Mitchell was happy to see her respond to their little talk.

"She is a very talented player and you could see today she was the best player on the floor," Mitchell said of O'Neill. "That is how she has to play and she made things happen today and I am so proud of her defense."

But more than anything, what he's waiting to see from O'Neill is consistency, both in practice and in games.

"She just has to have her mind right," he said. "I am really happy that she played that way but she has to back it up game after game."

Alumni celebration

More than 40 former players returned to the Memorial Coliseum court at halftime as a part of the school's annual alumni celebration.

After Kentucky's win on Saturday, Mitchell took the microphone and asked the alumni to return to the floor to sing the fight song with his players.

He credited many of them for encouraging his discouraged team this weekend at various events.

"They just brought such great positive energy and talked about how grateful they were for the experience," he said. "It was really good for our players to spend some time and after practice. ... That was very special and I am ecstatic we were able to honor them with a victory."

A doubled donation

A week ago in conjunction with "We Back Pat" week, Mitchell and his wife Jenna pledged to donate $2 for every fan at Memorial Coliseum for the Alabama and Arkansas home games.

With 4,722 fans there for the loss to the Crimson Tide and 5,396 there for the Arkansas game on Sunday, it brought the total to $20,236 donated to the Pat Summitt Foundation as it tries to increase Alzheimer's disease awareness.

Worried that the snow, ice and frigid temperatures this week might have kept some fans from getting to the games, Mitchell vowed on Sunday to double that donation to $40,472.

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

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