UK Women's Basketball

Cats helping themselves with in-your-face defense

Kentucky has ripped an idea from a self-help book and put it to work in its own playbook this season.

Guru Maxwell Maltz once said that it takes 21 days of doing something to form a new habit.

Coach Matthew Mitchell is hoping his squad will turn out to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation now that it is on day 22 of continuous defensive drills.

"We're playing the best defense we've played since I've been here," senior Amani Franklin said. "We're causing a lot of havoc out there."

It's meant a lot of repetition in practice, a lot of doing the same things over and over again.

The team has worked constantly on things like talking on defense, increasing ball pressure, moving into passing lanes and defending different offensive sets.

"We wanted to bring another level of defensive intensity," Franklin said.

Mitchell has seen dramatic improvement.

"We've been working really hard on defensive fundamentals and I'm starting to see those take root," Mitchell said. "It's all about footwork and positioning and that's something we have drilled, drilled, drilled. We can really see a big difference in it."

The Kentucky numbers back up Mitchell's and Maltz's assertions.

UK, which takes on defending Mid-American Conference champion Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday night at Memorial Coliseum, has shown it can be a dangerous defensive team.

And that was even before Kentucky got to day 21.

The Cats (6-0) have forced their last three opponents into 20 or more turnovers.

"Every day we come out here and do the same drills and keep working at it and obviously it's been showing on the court," Franklin said. "We've been applying a lot of pressure and getting a lot of turnovers."

Kentucky is holding foes to 36.7 percent shooting, including a Southeastern Conference-best 24.3 percent from three-point range. No team has hit better than 29.4 percent from long range so far this season.

Dunlap said she can see teams start to get frustrated by UK's in-your-face defense.

"It's in their body language," said Dunlap, who is third in the SEC in blocked shots (2.0 per game) and fourth in steals (2.5).

Kentucky leads the SEC in blocked shots, averaging nearly six a game. At the bottom of the SEC in steals for the past five seasons, the Cats are now swiping 10 a game, fifth in the conference.

UK is fourth in turnover margin at plus-8.3.

That defense has helped create offense, too. In fast-break points, UK is outscoring opponents 62-8. Kentucky is outscoring foes 156-68 in points off of miscues.

"I don't think (our defense is) where it needs to be when we get to SEC play, but it's definitely more of a habit than it was when we first started," Dunlap said. "It's definitely become more natural for us because we've done it so much in practice."