QUEENS, N.Y. — Matthew Mitchell has a way with words. After his team, which had four different players battling a stomach virus during the second round of the NCAA Tournament, managed to top Dayton to advance to its third Sweet 16 in four years, Mitchell called it a "gutty, gutty effort."
Then he had to correct himself. "Maybe gutsy, gutsy effort is what it should be," he said with a smile.
He coached Kentucky, feeling sick himself, through a game in which starters Kastine Evans and A'dia Mathies had the stomach bug.
"We were in close quarters; it was just a bad, bad deal, an unfortunate thing at this point in time," Mitchell said of the bug. "It was a great, great win."
Midway through the first half, Samarie Walker had to run off the court in the middle of a Dayton fast break to find a trash can.
"I tried to hold it and it came out," Walker said. "We've been passing around this bug and I told everybody I wasn't going to get sick: 'I'm not going to get it; I'm not going to get it.' Lord behold, as soon as I got in I started feeling queasy."
Walker made a mess of the floor around the Kentucky bench and down the front of her No. 23 jersey. The junior forward had to go to the locker room and get a retro 1990s No. 22 jersey to finish the game, in which she had six points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 30 minutes.
Somehow despite being down Walker on that break, UK managed to force a Dayton turnover.
In a telling sign, the Carnesecca Arena staff sanitized every chair on Kentucky's bench at halftime.
Senior guard Mathies said several players missed the shootaround in the morning they were so sick. Mathies wasn't sure if she was going to be able to finish the game after the first few possessions.
The guard ended up tying her career high with 34 points, including hitting a career-high six three-pointers in 32 minutes of play.
But the uncertainty throughout the day and seeing his players so low on energy all day was disconcerting for Mitchell.
"It was not a good day as a coach," Mitchell said. "Very low energy. I was very, very concerned about the team."
Kentucky needed every inch of its bench in the win, getting key minutes from little-used players like Brittany Henderson, who played 11 minutes and scored two points and grabbed a rebound. Jelleah Sidney, who is from this area, had four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes. UK's bench managed to outscore Dayton's reserves 19-5, including getting 12 points from Bria Goss.
On the road again
Saylor Rose Mitchell isn't even 2 years old yet, but when the Cats head up to Connecticut for the Bridgeport Regional this weekend, it will be the 23rd state for Matthew Mitchell's youngest daughter.
Mitchell's wife Jenna and Saylor travel with the team extensively so they can all spend time together.
"Some days I don't know if it's family togetherness or child abuse," Jenna Mitchell joked this week. "But it's fun to be a part of it all."
The Mitchells announced a couple of weeks ago via the coach's television show that they are expecting another baby on Oct. 15, right around time for Big Blue Madness.