UK Women's Basketball

UK women might just be for real

John Clay
John Clay

You look at the 10-0 record.

You look at the win over defending national runner-up Louisville.

You look at Sunday's score of 101-67.

And you start to think, maybe this Kentucky women's basketball team is actually pretty good.

"I think we're really good," said Victoria Dunlap. "Especially when we play good defense."

It would have been difficult to argue against that point Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum when the Cats were forcing a ridiculous 38 turnovers, building up a 23-point halftime lead and stretching it into the 30s in the second half — "Pedal to the metal," said head coach Matthew Mitchell. All on the way to snapping a five-game losing streak to their arch-rivals by crushing the Cardinals before a happy crowd of 7,323 at Memorial Coliseum.

"I just left a real happy group of Wildcats in the locker room," Mitchell said afterward.

In his third year as the UK coach, this is Mitchell's best team. His best players. His best depth. His best team focus.

Here's how we know: This day and time, it's not easy to get college kids to focus on defense. They want glory, and stats bring glory, and points bring adulation. Yet Mitchell saw early on that this team could be pretty good, only if it could play very good defense.

Better yet, he has his team seeing that, too.

"I think you have to build some trust up with your players that that is the right formula, and I think that takes a little time," Mitchell said. "And then you have to get the right personnel and the right personality."

The personality of the current personnel is one of getting in your face. Come on now, 38 turnovers? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Yes, Louisville is not the Louisville of a year ago, and the Lady Cards are without a couple of injured point guards, and Coach Jeff Walz said afterward, "We do two things really well right now, and that's foul and turn the ball over."

But Mitchell's team did come into Sunday forcing an average of more than 24 turnovers a game. Opponents were shooting just 34.7 percent. (Louisville shot 39.7 percent.) Plus, the Cats had 21 steals Sunday, bringing their season total to 123 in 10 games. They've had six straight games of double-digit steals.

And, oh yeah, wasn't this a rivalry game where despite the injuries and shortcomings, you're supposed to toss the records out the window?

"I've never seen us as focused and intent on getting the job done as we were this week," Mitchell said. "That's why I'm so happy right now."

Afterward, his players seemed happy, but also focused on keeping it going.

When Dunlap, she of the 27 points and nine rebounds, was talking up her team's confidence, teammate Carly Morrow was quick to interject: "We've got a lot of room for improvement. We missed a ton of layups."

And it should be duly noted that the Cats have yet to play a game in the Southeastern Conference, where the degree of difficulty has been known to increase.

When Walz was asked to compare Kentucky with Tennessee, the team that beat the Lady Cards 86-56 earlier this week, the Louisville coach didn't really want to bite, but he did mention that the Lady Vols have this Kelley Cain, who stands 6-foot-6 and likes to swat shots to half-court.

Kentucky doesn't really have one of those. But the good thing about Mitchell's team is that it seems to know that it doesn't have one of those. It knows what it is, a focused, hard-working team that lives by its pressure defense.

And, oh yeah, a team that is 10-0.

With a 34-point win over Louisville.

And looking pretty good.