UK women: Mitchell's film session shows what they were, what they can be again

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 15, 2014 

  • SUNDAY

    No. 18 Kentucky at No. 8 Tennessee

    When: 1 p.m.

    Records: Kentucky 18-6 (6-5 SEC), Tennessee 20-4 (9-2)

    Series: Tennessee leads 49-9

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 78-65 on March 3, 2013, in Memorial Coliseum

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • SUNDAY'S LINEUPS

    KENTUCKY

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (10.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (9.5 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.0 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (10.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (11.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.0 ppg, 2.4, 3.0 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-4, Jr., F (6.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (3.5 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (4.2 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    TENNESSEE

    Starters: Meighan Simmons, 5-9, Sr., G (15.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.6 apg); Andraya Carter, 5-9, Fr., G (6.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg); Cierra Burdick, 6-2, Jr., F (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg); Bashaara Graves, 6-2, So., F (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Isabelle Harrison, 6-3, Jr., C (13.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jordan Reynolds, 5-11, Fr., G (3.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg); Jasmine Jones, 6-2, So., F (5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Mercedes Russell, 6-6, Fr., C (7.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Nia Moore, 6-3, So., C (3.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

    SEC standings

    Conf. All

    South Carolina 10-1 22-2

    Tennessee 9-2 20-4

    Texas A&M 9-2 19-6

    LSU 7-4 18-6

    Florida 7-4 17-7

    Kentucky 6-5 18-6

    Vanderbilt 6-5 17-7

    Auburn 5-6 14-10

    Alabama 4-7 11-13

    Georgia 4-7 16-8

    Arkansas 4-8 17-8

    Mississippi State 3-8 16-9

    Missouri 3-8 14-10

    Mississippi 1-11 10-16

    Sunday's games

    Kentucky at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

    Texas A&M at Alabama, 1 p.m.

    Florida at Georgia, 1 p.m.

    Vanderbilt at Miss. State, 2 p.m.

    Missouri at Auburn, 3 p.m.

    South Carolina at LSU, 3:30 p.m.

    UK schedule

    Home games in capital lettersAll times p.m. and Eastern

    Date Opponent Result

    Nov. 8 At Marist W, 75-61

    Nov. 10 At Wagner W, 96-57

    Nov. 13 GEORGIA SOUTHERN W, 103-38

    Nov. 17 CENTRAL MICHIGAN W, 96-74

    Nov. 21 LIPSCOMB W, 116-49

    Nov. 24At Middle Tennessee St.W, 84-72

    Nov. 27 BRADLEY W, 117-77

    Dec. 1 LOUISVILLE W, 69-64

    Dec. 6 a-Baylor W, 133-130 (4OT)

    Dec. 12 At DePaul W, 96-85

    Dec. 15 EAST TENNESSEE ST. W, 73-56

    Dec. 22 b-DUKE L, 69-61

    Dec. 29 GRAMBLING STATE W, 109-46

    Jan. 2 At Alabama W, 85-63

    Jan. 5 FLORIDA L, 83-73

    Jan. 9 At South Carolina L, 68-59

    Jan. 12 MISSOURI W, 80-69

    Jan. 19 At Auburn W, 73-71

    Jan. 23 ALABAMA L, 57-55

    Jan. 26 ARKANSAS W, 68-58

    Jan. 30 At Georgia L, 58-56

    Feb. 2 LSU W, 63-56

    Feb. 9 At Florida L, 86-80

    Feb. 13 MISSISSIPPI W, 108-78

    Date Opponent Time

    Feb. 16 At Tennessee 1

    Feb. 20 SOUTH CAROLINA 7

    Feb. 23 At Texas A&M 2

    Feb. 27 At Mississippi State 8

    Mar. 2 VANDERBILT 4

    Mar. 5-9 d-SEC Tournament TBA

    a-At Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium); b-At Rupp Arena; c-At Duluth, Ga.

Eyes stared at the screen, they started to fill up and drops spilled out.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell had his team in tears earlier this week in a film session.

It wasn't because he was yelling at them or screaming at them to be better than this team that has fallen from No. 5 in the nation to No. 18 in just a few short weeks, losing half of its last 10 games.

No, he showed them clips of earlier this season, when they were better, when things were better.

"It was a very, very sentimental moment because it just touched our hearts," senior forward DeNesha Stallworth said. "A couple of tears were coming out ... it was a happy cry."

Mitchell showed them back-to-back wins over highly rated Louisville and Baylor. He reminded them of a big win on the road at DePaul and a close one with Duke.

"We're not sitting in some rah-rah session where I'm making things up and trying to make you look good," Mitchell told his players.

"They have already proven to me that they can do it. This year's team, not last year's and not five years ago."

Most coaches talk about taking it one game at a time.

But Mitchell dared discuss the rest of the schedule, including three straight against highly rated Southeastern Conference foes at No. 8 Tennessee on Sunday, where the Cats haven't won a game in 16 straight tries there, against No. 5 South Carolina on Thursday and then a trip to No. 14 Texas A&M.

The Cats' season finale is at home against No. 16 Vanderbilt.

"The comparisons of what lie ahead are eerily similar to what they have already accomplished," he said.

That collection of remaining games seems daunting to a team that is emotionally on tilt and struggling against opponents it once beat handily.

So he reminded them of how good they can be, how good they've already been going 12-1 with a tough non-conference schedule.

"He compared every game that we have left to a team we've played in the past," Stallworth explained. "Now we have no doubt. We know we can do it. We're starting to believe in ourselves and play better."

Something that was hard to miss on that footage was how much more effective Kentucky (18-6, 6-5 SEC) is when Stallworth is playing at 100 percent, which is where she now says she is after having arthroscopic surgery on her left knee after the Baylor win.

Prior to her surgery, Stallworth was averaging 14.2 points and seven rebounds shooting 56 percent from the field.

In her last three games, she's back to comparable numbers, averaging 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds while hitting 50 percent from the field.

When asked earlier this week if Stallworth's injury was a bigger blow to the Cats than he originally expected, Mitchell declined to comment, saying he didn't want to make excuses.

But Matt Insell, a former UK coach, who was the Cats' victim in a 30-point blowout on Thursday, said it's clear to him what Kentucky was missing.

"Pre-injury everyone was saying, 'Kentucky is going to go to the Final Four,'" said Insell, now the Ole Miss head coach. "They're real good when DeNesha Stallworth plays. They're real good when Jennifer O'Neill plays. You get both of those clicking together on the same night — like they had tonight — that's a team that has a chance to play in Nashville."

Stallworth had a double-double against the Rebels, but she also demanded enough attention in that win that it freed up O'Neill to score 27 points, including five three-pointers.

"It feels good to have our All-American back," O'Neill said with a smile after the win.

In its own film sessions, UK's next opponent, Tennessee (20-4, 9-2), couldn't help but notice the difference Stallworth makes.

"When Stallworth hurt her knee and they were without her for a while, that bothered them," noted Lady Vols Coach Holly Warlick. "They're going to get back on track and they played really well (Thursday). They'll get it together in the last couple of games and come tournament time."

Kentucky just hopes it stays on track and can find a way to look like the team that won so many big games earlier this season.

"We are a really, really good team when we view ourselves that way and when we play with a purpose and passion," Mitchell said. "We need to really find ourselves right now and go out and play some Kentucky basketball."

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

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