UK Women's Basketball

UK women: If we win, rankings will come

The coaches and players know that the natives are restless.

They know Kentucky fans believe that with a 13-2 record and a recent upset of 17th-ranked Vanderbilt, their Cats should be among the nation's top 25 women's basketball teams.

But if you ask the coaches and players, it doesn't matter.

"It's not a big deal to us," junior Victoria Dunlap said. "It's not something we have conversations about in the locker room."

In fact, Coach Matthew Mitchell would be perfectly happy if the Cats remained unranked all season.

"The danger there is, we get ranked, and they think they've arrived; they feel good. They let off the gas, and that's why I don't want them to attach a lot of significance to that," he said. "Right now, we need to keep the pedal to the metal."

The coach did concede, however, that he's glad UK has had enough of a resurgence that fans are discussing rankings and ratings.

"I really appreciate that it means something to our fans," he said. "They're a major reason why this is such a great place to coach. The reason I want to be the coach here forever is because it does mean something.

"To feel overlooked means someone in this town and in the commonwealth cares about that. That part means a tremendous amount."

Kentucky is receiving some votes in the coaches' and Associated Press polls.

If the polls were extended out a team or two, UK has enough votes to be No. 27 in one and No. 26 in the other.

Even if Mitchell and his players won't say it, the grumbling Cats fans might have a case to make.

In this week's Associated Press poll, there are three teams that have similar records and less difficult schedule strengths than UK, according to RealTimeRPI.com.

The Cats' schedule strength was listed as No. 98. They are No. 29 in the national RPI, according to that site.

The ranked teams with the weaker schedules are No. 25 Miami (Fla.) at 13-2, No. 17 Wisconsin-Green Bay, which is undefeated, and No. 9 Baylor (13-2).

But the Hurricanes' two losses have been to No. 11 Nebraska and No. 19 Texas.

Four teams ranked in the Top 25 (Miami, Green Bay, No. 16 Florida State and Baylor) have a worse RPI than the Cats.

And it's not as if every team in the Top 25 has a dominant strength of schedule, which has been the knock on Kentucky.

Several other teams in the poll have schedule strengths that also are 50 or worse, such as No. 10 North Carolina (13-2), No. 12 Louisiana State (13-2), Florida State (14-3), No. 18 West Virginia (91) and No. 22 Texas Christian (12-3).

Mitchell said fans and pundits can look at the numbers until they go cross-eyed, but he's not wasting his time.

"Being the 25th or the 23rd team in the country doesn't guarantee entrance into the NCAA Tournament," he said. "If we win a certain number of games, we'll get in the NCAA Tournament, then you don't have to worry about whether or not you're ranked."

Point guard Amber Smith said the rankings will come as long as UK keeps winning, which she hopes will continue at South Carolina on Thursday and then against Alabama on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.

"We just have to keep playing hard and keep playing our game, and (the voters) are going to have to respect us," she said. "We're going to force them to because we're going to play hard every night."

To get to that Top 25 level, UK is going to have to worry about winning its next game at South Carolina (8-7, 1-2 Southeastern Conference).

The Gamecocks' two SEC losses have come against ranked opponents, Tennessee and LSU. The Gamecocks have played one of the nation's toughest schedules and have gone 1-5 against Top 25 opponents.

South Carolina has the third-best scorer in the conference in guard Valerie Nainima (18.7 ppg).

Freshman Kelsey Bone, a 6-foot-5 freshman center and one of the nation's top recruits last season, averages 13.8 points and 10 rebounds a game.

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