UK women remain upbeat despite sixth loss of season

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 9, 2014 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kentucky didn't have a game on Thursday night and tried to take extra time this past week to become a more unified team down the stretch.

Despite an 86-80 loss to Florida at the O'Connell Center on Sunday, Coach Matthew Mitchell said his Cats "had a tremendous week this week as a team" and he still believes it will come together in time to save the season.

"This game is very disappointing to lose, but it will not define our season," the head coach said after his team's sixth loss of the season, matching the total it had all of last season.

"We will be heard from before this is all said and done, I can promise you that."

Florida Coach Amanda Butler seemed to agree with Mitchell, even after her team swept the Cats.

When asked what's different for Kentucky this season than in past seasons, Butler shook her head.

"I don't see a lot of differences to be honest with you," she said. "I still think they're one of the most talented teams in our league. When you look at their non-conference performance, that's a great indication of the high level of (team) that they are."

She noted how all of the Southeastern Conference teams have taken turns beating up on each other, her own team suffering a 55-49 loss at Arkansas on Thursday, a few short weeks after topping that same Razorbacks team in Gainesville.

"Our league is just that good," she said. No team has gone unscathed a little more than midway through league play.

That's bad news for Kentucky, which has lost five regular-season SEC games for the first time since the 2010-11 season when the Cats lost five total.

UK still has six games left in the regular season, including four on the road and four against ranked opponents (at No. 8 Tennessee, vs. No. 6 South Carolina, at No. 19 Texas A&M and versus No. 18 Vanderbilt).

"Sometimes when you expect to win and you don't, it can take a toll on you and letting it snowball," Butler continued. "But I don't think there's anything different about them."

Kentucky forward DeNesha Stallworth said the team-building the Cats did during their bye week will come in handy down the stretch.

"We just need to stay focused and keep believing in ourselves," the senior said. "Us staying together through this tough loss is really going to be key later on down the line."

Stallworth improving

If there's one positive UK can take from the loss, it was the play of Stallworth, who had one of her most productive games of the season, definitely her most productive since being sidelined after a knee procedure.

Stallworth had her third double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds, which matched her career high.

The senior also added two assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 30 minutes, the most she's played since the win over Baylor, where she suffered the knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery that held her out for the next five games.

"We can build on that, there's no doubt about that and she's been practicing better," Mitchell said. "I've been saying a double-double was around the corner for her and she got one today. She worked real hard and had a really good last 28 minutes of the game."

NEXT GAME Mississippi at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: FS South

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

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