UK Women's Basketball

Cats want more than NIT bid

They were the wins that got away.

Of Kentucky's nine Southeastern Conference women's basketball losses this season, seven were by 10 points or less. Four were by five points or less.

The Cats and Coach Matthew Mitchell could dwell on the should-haves and could-haves of the regular season.

They could talk about the play here that could have won a game or the play there that lost it, but they don't. Instead, as 10th-seeded UK starts SEC Tournament play Thursday against No. 7 seed Georgia, they talk about a chance to right some wrongs.

"We have this opportunity in front of us to go back and play these teams again," said leading scorer and rebounder Victoria Dunlap. "We know what we can do and how we can do it better.

"We can beat any team if we put our minds to it."

During the conference season, UK didn't experience any 25-point routs by far-superior teams. In fact, the Cats' two worst losses were by 15 points at then-No. 12 Florida and by 12 points at then-No. 5 Auburn.

Even better for Mitchell and his team, Auburn and Florida are on the opposite side of the bracket.

"I feel good about the teams we could be playing," he said. "We've been competitive with just about everybody in the conference, which should give us some reason for optimism."

In the coach's mind, he said, the SEC doesn't have its usual frontrunners this year.

No team has been safe from defeat, which makes this tournament at North Little Rock, Ark., a bit more intriguing.

"There's that feeling in the air that just about anybody can win the tournament," Mitchell said. "We have a great deal of optimism because we've played everyone on our side (of the bracket) very competitively. There's a feeling that if we go down there and play well, we have a chance to win the tournament."

No team in the bottom portion of the bracket beat the Cats by more than 10 points, giving them hope that a few adjustments might turn a close loss into a close win.

Eleia Roddy has special motivation to defeat Georgia.

The Bulldogs beat UK on her Senior Night last week, and she has the memory of a poor individual performance to inspire her.

She hopes she can carry that through more than just the tournament opener.

"We've been saying all along that we can beat anybody in this conference, and we have a chance to prove it," Roddy said. "We're real ly focused and want to win it. We don't have the short-minded focus of just winning one or two games."

Mitchell said the stinging 61-57 loss on Feb. 26 has helped keep practice lively.

"We'll be motivated to play well because we played so poorly against them last week," he said.

Mitchell has been preaching the "new season" concept.

With a 15-14 record, even a quick tournament exit would keep UK eligible for a third consecutive Women's National Invitation Tournament.

But he says the Cats still have a chance to do something more.

"I believe in this team; I believe this team has the capability of playing in the NCAA Tournament," he said. "We are down to the option of winning the tournament for that to happen, but I have a deep belief we can do it."

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