Win or lose, Matthew Mitchell didn't think he would be doing his job if he didn't suspend senior Azia Bishop for violating a team rule leading up to Kentucky's NCAA Tournament game on Sunday.
The senior forward and the Cats' most veteran post player was suspended for the game for a "failure to uphold team standards," the coach said before the game.
"She just lost focus at a real important time," Mitchell said of the broken curfew. "She's not a bad person, she's a great person who I love a lot."
Kentucky, despite playing at Memorial Coliseum this week, stayed at a Lexington hotel to try to minimize distractions. The players were told to be in their rooms by 11 p.m. with no one stopping by or on the floor after that time. Bishop broke the rule, he said.
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Bishop, who warmed up with the team and was on the bench during the game, was not in the UK locker room after the 99-94 loss to Dayton in the second round to comment.
The 6-foot-3 forward from Toledo, Ohio, was averaging 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds this season and led the team in blocked shots with 53.
When Bishop and UK's other three seniors went to Mitchell's house on Feb. 24 after a three-game losing skid to talk to him about becoming more aggressive as a coach, he said he made it clear that the standards would apply to the seniors as well.
"We would have lost a bunch in the future if I don't uphold the standard," he said.
After a good practice with Bishop on Saturday, Mitchell said he was sad that he wouldn't get to coach her for a week or two longer.
"I hate that that was the way her career ended," he said. "I know she feels terrible about the situation. I feel terrible about the situation. But if you're in my shoes, you must do the right thing ... if you don't have integrity, you don't really have a program."
Thompson on the mend
During UK's short NCAA Tournament run, Janee Thompson was back on the bench and walking in a boot without crutches or her scooter.
The junior guard, who broke her leg at South Carolina on Jan. 11, said she's been cleared to put some pressure on the leg and is on schedule for a return to team workouts this summer.
"The doctor said my bone is healed, I've just got to keep rehabbing and getting my strength back in my calf, my ankle and my leg in general," she said in the UK locker room after the loss. "So far everything's going well."
Thompson has been working a lot on the underwater treadmill and doing strengthening exercises on her injured leg to help speed up the healing process.
The point guard will be Kentucky's only senior next season.
"Next year we have to listen to the leadership of Janee Thompson and see where we can go from here," sophomore Makayla Epps said after the loss.
Epps and Thompson will be back to lead a UK team that returns 61.7 percent of its offensive production, 66 percent of its rebounding, 62.7 percent of its assists, 57.9 percent of its steals and 50.7 percent of its blocked shots.
"We can't settle for this feeling because this right here hurts," Epps said. "This hurts worse than last year's Sweet 16 loss did, especially because we were at home."
Seniors to remember
Kentucky's senior class of Bishop, Bria Goss, Jennifer O'Neill and Jelléah Sidney concluded their careers as the winningest class in school history with 108 victories along with a few other milestones:
■ O'Neill finished her career ranked 12th on the UK career scoring list with 1,446 points. She ranks second all-time on the three-point field goal list with 198.
■ Goss ranks fifth on UK's career list for free throws made (398) and ranks second in free-throw percentage (.819). She and O'Neill are two of 30 Wildcats to have scored 1,000 or more career points.
The group was so much more than its final loss, Mitchell said of his four seniors, which included two McDonald's All-Americans in Goss and O'Neill.
"Disappointing end to a season that I will always remember," he said. "I'm real grateful to our seniors. They had a great career here and what they did for us down the stretch to help us know what we needed to know what we needed to do going forward I'll always remember."