Mitchell discusses common threads in recent UK losses
When things start to go adrift, coaches look for patterns, statistical anomalies, anything that could be fixed to end a losing streak.
Kentucky is no different.
After dropping three of their last four games and falling out of the national rankings for the first time in 132 weeks, the Cats’ coaches and players have been trying to find answers.
Some of it is beyond their control, such as a rash of injuries.
But some of it they think they can fix, such as finding ways to have more fun on the floor again and to get more offensive rebounds.
In the Cats’ six losses this season, opponents have more than twice as many second-chance points — 97 to 46 — as Kentucky, which has just two true post players in Evelyn Akhator and Alyssa Rice after several player defections since last season.
“Trying to find some way over the course of the season to improve on our box-outs,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said on Wednesday of UK, which had just eight second-chance points compared to 22 for Texas A&M last time out.
“Just haven’t been able to hold off really strong players,” he said. “We’re going to have to find some way in practice every day to find some way to box out a little bit better, a little bit stronger. The second-chance points have been a problem for us in the losses.”
That could also be a problem for UK (10-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) when it faces Alabama on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide (14-2, 2-1) are No. 7 in the country in rebounds per game with 46, their best rate in 20 years. Alabama is averaging nearly 10 more rebounds per game than opponents, good enough for second in the SEC and 14th nationally.
Alabama’s 30.6 defensive boards per game are second best in the conference, and that could limit the Cats’ chances at second-chance points even more.
In Kentucky’s six losses, it is being outrebounded by 5.2 per game. In its 10 wins, UK is outrebounding opponents by 6.2.
There’s more to the losses than statistics, though, said Mitchell and sophomore guard Maci Morris.
“Our last game we didn’t look like we were having any fun, and we have to start playing as hard as we can, get after it and start having fun because that’s when we play our best,” Morris said of the 77-68 home loss to Texas A&M on Sunday.
The players had individual meetings with Mitchell after that loss, and then a players- only chat before practice on Tuesday. Both helped.
“We had a really good practice yesterday and the energy was really good and it just felt like we were back to our normal selves,” Morris said. “So hopefully that will carry over.”
Mitchell called Tuesday’s practice “one of our best days in a long, long time.”
They all hope the energy boost can help them going forward.
Said Mitchell: “We just need to go play and play with some freedom and have some fun playing and not have all this pressure weighing us down.”
Kentucky has gone winless on the road this season, but Mitchell and his players don’t blame it on the rims or the crowd or the pillows at their hotel.
Mainly it’s that UK’s four road losses all have come against good teams, such as No. 9 Louisville and No. 12 Duke as well as teams receiving votes in the Associated Press poll in Tennessee and Colorado.
The Cats also had some travel issues against the Buffaloes that included being delayed getting to the arena because the football game ended at the time UK was arriving.
UK would like to see its road woes end in Tuscaloosa, especially since four of its next six games are on the road, including games at LSU, Auburn and Missouri in January.
Alabama is 11-0 this season at Coleman Coliseum, where the Crimson Tide are playing now after several seasons at Foster Auditorium.
News and notes
▪ Alabama leads the nation in free-throw attempts with 411 in 16 games. The Tide are fourth in the country in free throws, but once they get to the line, no promises. Shooting just 66.2 percent from the stripe, they’re 240th nationally in percentage and 12th in the SEC.
▪ UK reserve Jessica Hardin is feeling better as she works her way through the concussion protocol, Mitchell said, but she has not been cleared and likely will not play at Alabama or on Sunday versus Georgia at home.
▪ The Cats have won 11 of the last 13 times they’ve faced Alabama, including the last three games in Tuscaloosa. UK throttled Alabama last season 73-48 at Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky at Alabama
When: 8 p.m.
Records: UK 10-6 (1-2 SEC); Alabama 14-2 (2-1)
Series: UK leads 26-17
Last meeting: UK won 73-48 on Jan. 7, 2016, in Memorial Coliseum
Online: SEC Network Plus
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Probable starters: Maci Morris, 6-0, G, So. (11.8 pts, 2.8 rebs, 1.8 asts); Evelyn Akhator, 6-3, F, Sr. (13.6 pts, 10.1 rebs); Taylor Murray, 5-6, G, So. (13.3 pts, 4.9 rebs, 2.4 asts); Makayla Epps, 5-10, G, Sr. (17.0 pts, 4.4 rebs, 3.9 asts); Alyssa Rice, 6-3, C, Jr. (3.9 pts, 5.4 rebs)
Key reserves: Makenzie Cann, 6-1, G, Jr. (7.0 pts, 3.8 rebs); Paige Poffenberger, 5-8, G, Fr. (1.6 pts); Jaida Roper, 5-6, PG, Fr. (1.9 pts, 1.3 asts)
Probable starters: Jordan Lewis, 5-7, G, Fr. (10.3 pts, 4.3 rebs, 4.7 asts); Hannah Cook, 6-0, C, Jr. (11.9 pts, 5.1 rebs); Meoshonti Knight, 5-8, G, Jr. (13.5 pts, 5.1 rebs, 2.1 asts); Ashley Williams, 6-0, F, Jr. (6.9 pts, 5.3 rebs); Shaquera Wade, 6-0, F, So. (11.3 pts, 6.9 rebs)
Key reserves: Quanetria Bolton, 6-0, F. Jr. (8.9 pts, 4.1 rebs); Alana Da Silva, 5-6, G, Jr. (1.9 pts, 1.6 asts); Coco Knight, 5-7, G, Jr. (3.4 pts, 1.8 rebs); Ashley Knight, 6-5, F, Fr. (8.1 pts, 6.3 rebs)