NASHVILLE — Kentucky hasn't made this season easy on its coach's heart.
Three times in the past six games, the No. 16 Cats have needed late-game heroics to pull out victories, including Friday's 60-58 win over Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals.
Coach Matthew Mitchell doesn't like to imagine what this season would look like if the Cats hadn't found a way to pull out the close ones, especially late.
"It's pretty remarkable what these kids have been able to do because all of these one- and two-point (wins) make the season look very different," he said. "It makes the feeling of the program look different, makes our progress very different."
Notably, UK is winning tight games with big defensive stops thanks to its press.
On Friday in Bridgestone Arena, the Cats' pressure forced an LSU travel on Adrienne Webb with 1:08 to play to set up the go-ahead score by A'dia Mathies.
"I'm really grateful that we find ways," Mitchell said. "They had an uncanny ability to make plays in the press late. That's just difficult to do."
Junior Keyla Snowden said UK has had a lot of practice at perfecting the press.
"We've spent a lot of time in practice working on those late-game situations, and it's helping us a lot," she said.
"They've taken advantage of their hard work," he said. "That's what won it for us today."
Kentucky is 9-4 in games decided by 10 points or less. The Cats are 5-2 in games decided by five points or less.
But the coach and his players lamented the need for any late-game heroics at all.
"I wish we wouldn't be in those situations," Mitchell said. "I think we have a couple of kids that, when we miss a couple of shots early, it affects us for the entire game until it gets to crunch time. ... I think we could do some things better to not be in that situation."
Thoughts with MTSU
Kentucky's players and coaching staff have been sending their thoughts and prayers — mostly via Twitter — to Middle Tennessee State's basketball team this week during the SEC Tournament.
Blue Raiders junior guard Tina Stewart was stabbed to death by her roommate late Wednesday night.
One member of the UK staff, assistant coach Matt Insell, has a special connection to MTSU. His father, Rick Insell, is the head coach there.
Also, former Paul Laurence Dunbar standout Ebony Rowe, recently named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, is one of the star players for the Raiders this season.
Bon voyage, Tigers
Louisiana State leads the SEC in defense, holding opponents to 52.6 points a game.
In the Cats' and Tigers' regular-season matchup, UK was held to an SEC-low 49 points. In Friday's game, UK again was held below its average of 71.7 points a game.
It made UK's coach glad his team likely won't have to see LSU again this season.
"It's no fun at all to play LSU," Mitchell said. "That's not my idea of a good time, to play LSU. It's very, very difficult. They just do such a great job making you earn baskets."