UK Women's Basketball

Cats looking to improve on their 'F' for effort

Kentucky isn't the tallest team.

Kentucky isn't the fastest team.

Kentucky isn't the most talented team.

But none of that has mattered this season because Kentucky always gave great effort, Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

That's not what happened on Thursday night in a 79-71 defeat at South Carolina, which Mitchell called UK's "most disappointing performance of the season."

It's left the coach rather steamed at his team.

"That was the first time we've been void of effort for the entire 40-minute span," he said. "Once you get to conference play, your effort needs to increase, not decrease.

"That's what makes it so puzzling, maddening and humbling," he said of the loss. "You think you have (the team) at a certain spot, and then something like this comes along."

Mitchell's specific complaint was about effort on the defensive end, which had been the Cats' signature this season. They went into South Carolina second in the nation in turnover margin, forcing at least 23 in 13 of their last 15 games.

Kentucky had been allowing just 54.7 points a game. It hadn't allowed an opponent to score more than 67 points so far. South Carolina scorched UK for 79.

Mitchell's players seemed to be just as disappointed as their coach.

"That's the worst we've played on defense all year," Victoria Dunlap said. "It's hard to explain. We just weren't in sync with each other."

There are things UK had been doing well all season, such as trapping on ball screens and stopping teams in transition, that they struggled with on Thursday, Mitchell said.

He called out all of his starters for leaving their defensive prowess in Lexington.

"Defensive effort was nowhere remotely resembling what we've done this season, and that's what's so puzzling," Mitchell said.

It was especially difficult to stomach given the team's big win (and solid defensive effort) over No. 16 Vanderbilt the game before.

"I was amazed by their effort and their will to win" against Vandy, he said. "You know it's there. That's what made last night so sickening."

The good news for coaches and players is that UK has another game on Sunday, against Alabama (8-9, 0-4 Southeastern Conference).

The Crimson Tide were the only team picked to finish lower than UK in the league this season by the coaches and media in the pre-season.

But that doesn't mean the Cats get a bunny to make them feel better.

"Alabama can really, really athletically match up with us and, if we don't do better than we did (Thursday) night rebounding, they're a team that can exploit that," Mitchell said.

He called the upcoming game a "toughness check" for his team, which has the benefit of playing the next three games at Memorial Coliseum, where it has won 11 straight.

Mitchell has faith that the team he saw on Thursday will not be the team the fans see on Sunday versus the Tide, who have lost four straight to the Cats.

"I'd venture to bet we'll bounce back from it and find that (Thursday night) was more the exception than the rule," Mitchell said.

Dunlap agreed.

"We have to learn from this, move on and get better," she said. "We have to take this game and learn from it. We know we didn't play well on offense or defense."