It usually comes as a bellow from the bench: “Huddle!”
It comes when there is a break in action or a few seconds between plays, and it almost always comes from Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell.
Instead of coming together to discuss the next play or what defense they’re in or what happened on that previous play, Kentucky’s players retreat into themselves.
Like senior Evelyn Akhator, who sometimes drifts off after plays, especially if she thinks it’s her fault the opponent made a basket.
“People like Evelyn get real upset with themselves, and she will wander off and it’s not a bad thing,” Mitchell said. “She is really upset that she made a mistake.”
Huddling and communicating more have been big talking points for No. 17 Kentucky this week as it prepares to play No. 12 Oklahoma in Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.
With so many new faces on the team and so many young players in leadership roles, Mitchell and senior Makayla Epps often have to remind players to come together when there are stoppages.
“It’s really crazy we genuinely like each other and have a hard time communicating on the court,” Epps said recently. “It blows my mind. We’d probably rather be in the group chat texting or something.”
The players work hard and genuinely seem to care for one another, but sometimes they’re not thinking “team,” especially when the game gets tight, she said.
That’s something the Cats (5-1) are working on, the coach said.
“It has got to be about the team,” he continued. “The only way to make sure that happens is to huddle every time.”
In practice Tuesday, he kept noting the lack of huddles and ordered his players to get on the line and run.
“We just have to build that into the fabric of the team and make sure that they understand that it is important,” he said.
It has got to be about the team. The only way to make sure that happens is to huddle every time. We just have to build that into the fabric of the team and make sure that they understand that it is important.
There aren’t a lot of chatty Cats on the team. It’s a fairly mellow, quiet group. So the coach is having to create communication.
“You’ve got a couple of quiet people, then you’ve got a lot swirling around where people are trying to think of, ‘What am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing?’” he said.
“So, it’s hard to talk when you don’t know exactly what’s going on. That will get better. We just have to keep coaching it. I have to just demand it from them, and early in the season.”
With games looming against the unbeaten Sooners (5-0) and at No. 7 Louisville, Mitchell said UK has placed a premium on finding ways to better communicate.
He’s leaning on players like Taylor Murray, a sophomore point guard who has scored in double digits in three straight games, to start demanding the huddles, getting her teammates together at critical times.
“She’s not real talkative, but she’s working hard at it,” he said of Murray, who is becoming a leader on the floor, especially on defense.
Kentucky, which has played man-to-man defense almost exclusively in Mitchell’s decade as head coach, is now playing much more zone.
Talking has become even more necessary because of the constant defensive switches. The coach has charged Murray with communicating those changes to her teammates, especially with some grueling games coming up.
“One person won’t beat Oklahoma tomorrow night,” he said. “It will be a team effort. If we are able to get it done, it will be because everybody has been able to stick together and get it done for each other.”
So he will continue to pry open the lines of communication for this team like he has others in the past.
They are likely to hear “huddle” a few hundred more times.
Epps, Akhator honored
Kentucky seniors Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator have been named to the 50-player watch list for the Naismith Trophy, which is presented annually to college basketball’s player of the year.
Also making the list were Louisville sophomore Asia Durr, Cardinals juniors Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore, and Duke junior and Owensboro native Rebecca Greenwell.
No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 17 Kentucky
What: SEC/Big 12 Challenge
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Kentucky 5-1, Oklahoma 5-0
Series: Kentucky leads 2-1
Last meeting: Kentucky won 79-58 on March 21, 2016, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Probable starters: Maci Morris, 6-0, G, So. (10.8 pts, 3.0 rebs); Evelyn Akhator, 6-3, F, Sr. (16.8 pts, 11.7 rebs, 9 blks); Taylor Murray, 5-6, G, So. (10.8 pts, 4.8 rebs); Makayla Epps, 5-10, G, Sr. (17.2 pts, 5.2 asts); Alyssa Rice, 6-3, C, Jr. (5.3 pts, 5.3 rebs)
Key reserves: Makenzie Cann, 6-1, G, Jr. (9.8 pts, 4.5 rebs); Jessica Hardin, 5-8, G, Sr. (5.3 pts, 2.3 rebs); Jaida Roper, 5-6, PG, Fr. (1.3 pts, 1.3 asts)
Probable starters: Vionise Pierre-Louis, 6-4, C, Jr. (11.4 pts, 10.4 rebs, 10 blks); T’ona Edwards, 5-5, G, Sr. (4.8 pts, 4.0 rebs, 2.2 asts); Peyton Little, 5-11, G, Sr. (12.6 pts, 2.8 rebs, 4 blks); Maddie Manning, 6-2, Sr., G (11.0 pts, 4.6 rebs); Chelsea Dungee, 5-11, G, Fr. (5.0 pts, 1.4 rebs)
Key reserves: Gioya Carter, 5-9, G, Sr. (9.5 pts, 4.5 rebs); Gabbi Ortiz, 5-9, G, Jr. (5.4 pts, 1.5 asts, 5.2 rebs), Ijeoma Odimgbe, 6-4, F, So. (4.4 pts, 3.2 rebs), LaNesia Williams, 5-7, G, Jr. (2.6 pts, 9 blks)