UK Women's Basketball

'Uphill battle' continues with LSU

By this time in the season, most coaches talk about taking it one game at a time.

They refuse to look forward.

They decline to look backward.

But Matthew Mitchell isn't that kind of coach. When his team was preparing for No. 13 Tennessee this week, he laid out all of the scenarios.

"If you don't win any more games, it's pretty clear what's going to happen," he said he told them before the Tennessee game. "If you win the rest of the games through the SEC Tournament, you get the automatic bid and then there are scenarios in between."

He didn't necessarily want his players looking ahead, but he definitely didn't want them dwelling on the less-than-stellar Southeastern Conference record behind them.

"We've tried to let them know they have a lot to play for," he said. "At 3-7 you can get discouraged and we do still have a chance. ... It's going to be an uphill battle, there's no question about it."

But UK took a big first step on its steep climb by knocking off the Volunteers 66-56 on Thursday night.

The victory gave UK a résumé enhancing win. It allowed them to imagine still going 7-7 in conference, which is often free admission into the NCAA Tournament for an SEC team.

"We're realistic," junior guard Amani Franklin said. "We know what we're up against, but that (Tennessee) win gives us some confidence that we can win these big games and that we still have a chance to surprise some people."

The climb continues Sunday at Louisiana State (14-9, 7-4 SEC), a team Kentucky (14-12, 4-7) hasn't beaten in 15 straight tries.

That stat doesn't discourage Kentucky's players. Much like a previous close loss to Tennessee motivated UK, a close loss against LSU might be equally as motivating.

The Tigers won out 59-56 and avoided overtime when an Amber Smith three-pointer at the buzzer clanked off the side of the rim.

Mitchell made it clear to his team seconds after its Tennessee victory Thursday night that there was a celebration expiration date.

"We only have three days to enjoy this one," guard Amber Smith said in the post-game euphoria before realizing she was wrong. "I guess we really have tonight, then we have to start focusing on Sunday's game."

For the Tennessee win to truly be special, it has to propel UK to bigger and better things, Mitchell said.

"It has the potential to become better and better really, depending on how we close this season out," he said.

Twice this season, SEC teams have come off a big win over Tennessee and then faltered in their next game. Auburn dropped the Vols 82-68 to remain unbeaten only to fall to an unranked Georgia team in the next game.

Florida tripped up Tennessee 66-57 on Feb. 8 and propelled itself into the top 10 but has now lost three straight games.

Mitchell doesn't expect a similar letdown from this group.

"If our team wants to be satisfied with that win last night, they don't really have a clear understanding of what our situation is," he said.

The players know what they're playing for.

He's made sure of it.

"We need to keep plugging because our path right now has got a little incline to it," he said. "When you're headed uphill, you've got to run extra hard and lean into it and work. That's where our team's focus needs to be."

Bett suspended indefinitely

Reserve center Catina Bett has been suspended indefinitely, Mitchell confirmed Thursday afternoon. She was not on the bench for the Cats' win over No. 13 Tennessee.

"It's for a violation of team rules and it has to do with some academic situations, some responsibility issues," he said.

He said the suspension is game-to-game and would not necessarily keep her out the rest of the season.