UK Women's Basketball

UK women face sizable challenge at No. 8 Georgia

Adolph Rupp had his Runts.

Maybe Matthew Mitchell can have his mighty mites.

The Kentucky coach knows his team is undersized with no true post player taller than 6-foot-1 Victoria Dunlap, but he doesn't think that will stop the Cats as they start Southeastern Conference play this week.

Mitchell will find out if size really does matter at No. 8 Georgia on Thursday.

The Bulldogs, who are unbeaten and one win shy of their best start in program history, are taller than UK at all five starting positions.

Of Georgia's top seven players, five are taller than anyone in UK's starting five.

To provide some perspective, UGA has a starting guard (6-1 Meredith Mitchell) who is as tall or taller than the Cats' starting frontcourt players of Dunlap and 5-foot-11 Amani Franklin.

But Dunlap doesn't seem too concerned about the vertical challenge.

"Our (defensive) intensity we're going to bring will definitely help offset that," she said. "We're very passionate about defense. ... As long as we come to play defense, it's going to be a battle for other teams."

UK goes into the Georgia game leading the nation in turnover margin (plus 10.8).

The Cats are turning that defense into offense, leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense with an average of 82.1 points per game.

"We've tried to build this team to combat some disadvantages we knew we were going to have," Mitchell said. "(Georgia) is an extremely big team, bigger than us at all positions. We've tried to build our defense to handle that by creating turnovers and scoring off turnovers."

The Cats have forced 20 or more miscues in 10 straight games and 11 of their last 13. They forced a season-high 40 turnovers in their last game versus Mississippi Valley State and 38 against archrival Louisville in late December.

"It'll be interesting to me to see how it translates to conference," Mitchell said. "I don't anticipate turning Georgia over 40 times. But can we create enough of those opportunities where we can score some? That will be a key to us having a successful conference season."

Dunlap said some people talk about UK's lack of size, but she sees it as an advantage for her and Franklin, a converted small forward.

"We can use our quickness to get to the basket," Dunlap said. "We both have advantages at our positions because we're smaller and quicker.

"Amani's a natural guard, so she can drive around people and get to the basket or shoot from outside."

The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in blocked shots, averaging 5.6 a game, but height might have little to do with that because UK is third, averaging 5.2 per contest.

Franklin said the Cats are going to have to focus on fundamentals.

"We can't let (a lack of height) be a problem for us," Franklin said. "We were still able to beat Louisville and they were a bigger team at most every position. For us, the big key is rebounding."

UGA is averaging 41.3 rebounds a game, 2.7 rebounds better than its opponents. UK is averaging 40.5 boards a game, nearly four better than its opponents.

Another number that's come up this week in the UK locker room is one from a few months ago, when both the media and the conference's coaches picked the Cats to finish 11th of 12 teams in the SEC.

"We're trying to prove everyone wrong," Franklin said. "We're a way better team than people thought we were at the beginning of the season. We're just going out there to work hard and prove everyone wrong."

Dunlap noted the team has a challenging SEC start. After the opener at No. 8 Georgia, the Cats will host No. 17 Vanderbilt on Sunday. But they have confidence because of their 12 wins and one loss.

"We have to go out there and show people that we are good and that we're better than they think we are."

If UK can score an upset at Athens, it will be a milestone. It's been 27 years since the Cats beat a top-10 SEC team on the road.