A brutal Southeastern Conference schedule got a little longer and a little more brutal for all teams involved when the league opted to move to a 16-game format.
The two extra conference games are what Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell called "one of the many highlights" of the women's basketball schedule, which was released Monday afternoon.
"We were the only sport in the conference that played less than 50 percent of their contests as conference games," Mitchell said. "So I thought it was a really good move to go to 16 games."
It is the first time the women's teams will play the same number of league games as the men, except the women are still not playing in divisions and will not use any kind of divisional standings.
The new format means that each school has added an additional rotating team from what would be the East and West divisions.
Kentucky's permanent home and away partner in the SEC is South Carolina and for the next two seasons, UK will face Arkansas, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia twice a season as well.
All of those teams could be contenders this season, including Auburn, which won the outright Southeastern Conference championship last year and Vanderbilt, which won the tournament title.
Those games are a part of what Mitchell called a "very challenging" SEC road schedule for Kentucky.
SEC road games of note include Georgia (Jan. 7), at Louisiana State (Jan. 28) at Mississippi State (Jan. 31), at Vanderbilt (Feb. 14) and at Tennessee (Feb. 25).
The addition of two extra conference games coupled with a relatively new group of players may have caused UK (which finished 16-16 last season) to tone down its non-conference schedule a tad.
The non-conference schedule includes six teams with a Ratings Percentage Index of 150 or higher last season.
Four of those, Tennessee-Martin (338), Mississippi Valley State (273), Florida A&M (262) and McNeese State (269), are higher than 260, according to realtimerpi.com.
But Mitchell is not concerned about a slightly softer schedule potentially keeping UK out of the NCAA Tournament.
"Those games against teams that don't have very high RPIs help balance out your tougher games," he said. "It's a schedule that clearly gets us prepared to play in the conference."
He noted non-conference games like playing at Santa Barbara (Nov. 25), against Louisville (Dec. 20) and at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 28) will help get UK prepared for the SEC schedule.
"We've got a really good mix of teams that will all challenge us in one way or another," he said.
All three of those teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, as did six others on the Cats' schedule. Five other opponents this season played in the Womens' Invitation Tournament.
Kentucky, which advanced to the second round of the WNIT, returns three starters and only two other players that have seen significant minutes in a UK uniform.
The rest of the team are freshmen or transfers.
Other things of note on UK's schedule include:
-- A game on Nov. 17 at Morehead State, the school that gave Mitchell his first head coaching job.
"Morehead State ... gave me a lot of opportunities, so we're real excited to go back there and play," Mitchell said, noting it was a good chance for fans from that part of the state to see UK play.
-- The Louisville game on Dec. 20 at Memorial Coliseum will be a part of the "Pack the House" promotion.
The Cardinals advanced to the NCAA Tournament championship last season, where they fell to Connecticut. Kentucky has lost to its in-state rival five straight times.
-- There is a notable absence of Western Kentucky University on the schedule. When Mitchell arrived at UK, he indicated he would like to make the Toppers a permanent non-conference opponent, but the two schools could not make a game happen this season.
There was no animosity in the decision not to play, Coach Mary Taylor Cowles told the Bowling Green Daily News.
"It doesn't always match up with each other's schedules," she said, adding that "there is interest in continuing to play. It was nothing (negative) on either part."
UK will face a member of Western's Sun Belt Conference when it goes down to Middle Tennessee State to face the Blue Raiders and Coach Rick Insell, father of UK assistant coach Matt Insell.