Loss of Riley has disrupted lineup rotation
Nothing about Crystal Riley's statistics stand out.
The sophomore transfer was a backup point guard who averaged about 16 minutes a game and a negligible three points and two rebounds.
But when she went out with a stress fracture in her right foot three games ago, it changed a lot of things UK was trying to do.
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The team has lost two of the three games. Not to say that's all because of Riley, but Kentucky is still trying to reshuffle and reorganize since she went down.
Coach Matthew Mitchell constantly says that UK is a team with the slimmest margin for error, so losing Riley is difficult.
"Her ability to come in and keep our tempo going ... now it's a little bit different situation," he said.
It means starter Amber Smith is playing more minutes. Maybe if she stops to think that getting in foul trouble might spell trouble for her team, that makes her play less aggressively on the defensive end, where she's a stalwart.
Maybe it means that reserve Rebecca Gray has to focus more on distributing the ball and less on her specialty of three-point shooting.
Mitchell has been aware of the difficulties. It's not ideal, but he's found a partial answer in 5-foot-9 freshman A'dia Mathies, who has played everywhere from point guard to power forward in the past two weeks.
But the coaches' Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year said she's willing to do whatever her team needs.
"It's kind of new, but in high school I basically played every position," Mathies said. "If they need me to play the point, that's what I'm going to do. I'll do whatever I have to do. Anything I have to do to help the team, I'll do it."
In the Auburn loss last week, UK's lineup was down to eight available players with Riley out and reserve post player Lydia Watkins in the locker room with a stomach bug.
Mitchell said in hindsight he might have been worried about the short numbers and discouraged his team from being its aggressive self by playing a straight halfcourt man-to-man defense.
"Maybe I gave the signal to the team that we weren't going to be as aggressive and this team needs the green light to go play aggressive," he said.
That won't happen again, he said this week.
"Whoever's ready to go, we're going to play our style and see if that can be good enough to win," he said. "At least we'll be truer to our identity."
Watkins is expected to be healthy and return for Friday's game. Carly Morrow, who has been under the weather for much of February, also should be ready to go.
No bye, bye, bye
With the new 16-game schedule in the women's Southeastern Conference this season, many coaches said it made the league tougher than ever before.
Mitchell confessed that despite his team's 11-5 record in the SEC, it was difficult on the Cats, too, mainly because their bye week was the first day of the conference season.
"We had to go eight straight weekends playing," he said. "It was a tremendous test for our team having to go through eight straight weekends of playing without a break."
The coach said he gave his team extra time off this week, and he added that a week off before the start of the NCAA Tournament should do wonders for the Cats.
Vols the team to beat
Even though UK beat every team in the league except top-seeded Tennessee, most SEC coaches this week seemed to focus heavily on the Vols being the tournament favorite at the Gwinnett Center.
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb said that in past years, there has been a "top half and a bottom half" in the conference.
It's a little different now.
"This year there was no top half and bottom half. There was Tennessee and there was everyone else," Balcomb said.
Mitchell said Kentucky shouldn't take that as a slight.
He tabbed the Vols, who beat the Cats 81-65 last week, as the team to beat as well.
"They're the top seed; they won the league by four games," Mitchell said. "It's a reasonable assumption."
"Tennessee's clearly the team to beat. They're talented. They're big They're powerful, and when they're playing at their top level they're one of the most formidable teams in the country."
Tournament sites set
The Gwinnett Center, which is hosting this week's women's SEC Tournament, also will play host to the event in 2013 and 2014, the league office announced recently.
The next two years it will be at the Sommet Center in Nashville, site of this year's men's tournament.
UK's SEC great
Each year, each SEC school brings its own "SEC Great" to honor at the tournament. This year, it's Jocelyn Mills, who played at UK from 1990-93.
Mills is 19th all-time on UK's scoring list with 1,170 points and ninth on the rebounding list with 703.
Mills is the principal at Spencer County High School.