UK Women's Basketball

Mitchell's new approach working well

In Mississippi, where Coach Matthew Mitchell is from, they refer to it as "raising a little Cain."

To be fiery and aggressive.

To make noise and stir up emotion.

That is how the Kentucky coach would like to coach.

But it's not how this Kentucky team wanted to be coached.

Mitchell learned that the hard way when his team started the season a disappointing 5-5 with a loss to a team (East Tennessee State) that no Southeastern Conference team should lose to in its home gym.

It was a low point for Mitchell and his team.

"We had a lot of basketball in front of us," he said. "We'd had 10 games and we were 5-5 and we certainly weren't happy about that, so you can either be stubborn to a fault or you can make some adjustments."

Normally when coaches talk about an attitude adjustment, they are talking about getting one from the players.

Not Mitchell. He had his own attitude to adjust.

At the prompting of a well-intentioned assistant, the second-year UK coach decided to try a different approach with his team.

"With this particular group, it's extremely important to focus on successes they have," he said. "I've had to try to coach them in a manner that best suits their personality. ... It's yell less, teach more with this group."

It seems to be working. Since a loss at Louisville on Dec. 14, the Cats have won seven of their last eight games. That lone loss was at No. 7 Tennessee, a game where Kentucky was in it before falling in the waning minutes 69-64.

The changes in Mitchell have not been lost on his players.

"He's a lot more positive and encouraging," junior guard Amani Franklin said. "He gets on us when he needs to, but he's been a lot more encouraging. We feed off of that and we execute and we're able to make plays.

"With him being that way the last few weeks or so, we're able to go to a different level and win games."

These changes have shown in the play of sophomore Carly Morrow.

In her first 10 games of this season, Morrow was averaging a mere 5.2 points and 1.6 rebounds. She was shooting 25.8 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three-point range.

But since then, she's averaging 12.3 points and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 39.3 percent from both the field and behind the three-point line.

Morrow isn't the only player who has seen her stats improve dramatically and it's certainly not all thanks to her coach's attitude adjustment, but some of it can be attributed to that.

"I don't know how to explain it," she said. "Before it was him letting us know how it needed to be, now it's him letting us have the time to fix it. We're setting the standards now."

She pointed to a practice recently in which the team missed six layups in a 10-minute span. The coach didn't raise his voice despite his obvious displeasure.

"You could tell he was over there getting angrier and angrier, but he didn't say a word," Morrow said. "He let us work it out.

"That's when everyone caught on that he's changed from a more aggressive style of coaching to this new coach. Everyone's more aware of it now."

But don't think Mitchell lets his team get away with making mistake after mistake. And definitely don't go as far as to compare Mitchell to a UK cheerleader — even though he says with tongue firmly planted in cheek that being a cheerleader has always been "a life goal."

"Cheerleaders are always cheering and it doesn't matter what's going on in a game, the cheerleaders are still cheering. I don't want to be that," he said. "I want to be an encourager and more of a teacher."

It's an attitude adjustment that has made his players stand up and cheer.

"We've all come to a kind of understanding that this could be a special season if we just learn how to talk to each other," Franklin said. "We're learning how to do that more every game."