Mitchell wants Kentucky in 'attack mode' when NCAA play begins

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2014 

SEC Kentucky South Carolina Basketball

Kentucky guard Bria Goss (13) celebrates a three-point basket during their win over South Carolina in the fourth-round game of the Women's Southeastern Conference NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Duluth, Ga. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 68-58. (AP Photo/Jason Getz)

JASON GETZ — AP

  • NCAA WOMEN

    First and second rounds in Memorial Coliseum

    11 a.m. Saturday: Kentucky (24-8) vs. Wright State (26-8)

    1:30 p.m. Saturday: Syracuse (22-9) vs. Chattanooga (29-3)

    6:30 p.m. Monday: Second-round game

    Tickets: Single-session reserved tickets are $22 for adults (ages 19-64), $15 for youth (0-18) and for seniors (ages 65+); all-session ticket prices are $36 for adults, $24 for youth and seniors

    Purchase: Online at ukathletics.com, in person at Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or by calling the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-2287

Kentucky might lose in the NCAA Tournament.

It might be as soon as Saturday's first round or as late as the Final Four in Nashville.

But if the Cats are going to go down, Matthew Mitchell wants it to be swinging.

It's a mind-set that the Kentucky coach has emphasized since the Cats dropped to 5-5 early in Southeastern Conference play before finishing the season with a surge.

It's something he reminded them of before the start of the SEC Tournament.

"The plan was to be in attack mode all day," he said after UK's quarterfinals win over Florida in Duluth, Ga. "That was the word that we wanted to rule the day for us. Don't worry about the outcome, the result, just get in attack mentality and stay there."

The plan will remain the same as Kentucky begins its fifth straight NCAA Tournament run on Saturday morning against Wright State in Memorial Coliseum.

Seeing his players attack the rim, attack the backboards, attack a zone defense, pleased Mitchell during UK's run to the SEC title game.

"We need to be in attack mode on Saturday morning," he said after the Cats were assigned the No. 3 seed in the Notre Dame Regional on Monday.

In practices, in games, Mitchell bellows the word constantly: "Attack. Attack. Attack."

It's become a battle cry for 10th-ranked Kentucky and it's shown in myriad ways, most recently in the Cats' ability to get to the free-throw line where they've made almost as many this season (545) as they attempted last season (607).

The Cats' 814 free-throw attempts are fifth-best in school history and they're just 78 trips away from owning the record. Only seven Division I schools have shot more free throws than Kentucky this season.

UK has gotten to the line 131 more times than opponents and with so many close games this season, every extra point helps.

It's been a key directive for junior guard Bria Goss, who was a thrasher in high school before becoming a jump shooter in college.

Coaches have been reminding her to take the ball right at defenders. The player who leads UK in charges taken this season needs to be able to dish out punishment on the other end, too.

Hearing her coaches tell her that defenders can't stop her has made Goss the aggressor with the ball, including 27 trips to the line in the last four games.

"Just knowing they have that kind of confidence in me has helped," said Goss, who also happens to be the SEC's best free-throw shooter at 89.7 percent. "Just hearing them say it really helps."

And because of her free-throw shooting prowess, points are almost guaranteed.

"I just know that one of the easiest ways for me to score is on the line, so why not try to get there?" she said. "Just me being aggressive attracts a lot of attention, and that's really what I need to focus on here the next few days."

Kentucky freshman Linnae Harper took the attack mentality to a different level in the SEC Tournament, earning all-tournament team honors after averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

"That was my whole mind-set, to attack the entire game," Harper said after the Cats' semifinal win over South Carolina. "I just took what the defense gave me and attacked the whole game."

That's music to her coach's ears as the Cats begin their run to the Final Four in the Music City.

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

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