DULUTH, Ga. — When Kentucky lost to Baylor in the second game of the season, the Cats were outmatched, Coach Matthew Mitchell said.
But in the four losses since then, all in Southeastern Conference play, including Sunday night's championship game loss to Texas A&M, there was one familiar thread.
In his UK team, Mitchell saw a lack of the "the kind of desire and the kind of toughness that you've seen the rest of the season."
So when Kentucky steps back into the Joe Craft Center this week, instilling more toughness will be high on the coach's to-do list.
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"If I can affect the toughness, bring that out in them, great," Mitchell said after the 75-67 loss in which UK was outscored 42-30 in the paint and outrebounded 47-39.
"We're going to the paint, we're at the rim," he explained. "It's real, real physical. We just can't get the ball in the basket. I think I'll be working on that the next week or so. ...
"I need to do a better job of being able to help them, get some baskets."
And the players said they need to remember the 27 wins they have amassed up to this point, just one short of tying a single-season record.
"Regardless of this loss, we're a great team with a lot of talent from top to bottom and we still have a lot to play for," guard Kastine Evans said.
They need to remember how the loss feels and remember there is still one more championship for which to play.
"When you want something really bad and you come up short, the pain is there," sophomore Bria Goss said. "But I'm just going to use this pain as motivation to get better for the tournament. We have a lot more basketball to play."
Senior guard A'dia Mathies agreed.
"We are going to use this game to move forward because we're not going to let this game define our season. We're going to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament."
Kelsey Bone took home SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after averaging 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games for the Aggies, who knocked off higher rated Tennessee and Kentucky to win the championship.
"If you let her get that close to the rim, she's going to have a big day on you," UK's Mitchell said of Bone's 18 points and 15 boards in 28 minutes in the title game. "She certainly did."
Bone was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Kristi Bellock and Courtney Walker, a freshman.
Tennessee's Taber Spani and Kentucky's A'dia Mathies were the lone non-Texas A&M members of the tournament team. In three tournament games, Mathies averaged 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals and two assists.