UK Women's Basketball

UK's Matthews develops style to match his recruiting

UK's 5-foot-8 freshman Maegan Conwright has played every position but center so far this season.
UK's 5-foot-8 freshman Maegan Conwright has played every position but center so far this season.

Matthew Mitchell starts his explanation in a "once upon a time ... " kind of way.

A few days before ninth-ranked Kentucky has its biggest home non-conference game in a long time versus No. 12 Notre Dame, the UK coach is asked to explain how he ended up with a team full of what many college coaches refer to as "tweeners."

They're players that might not get as highly recruited because they're too small to be a forward, or too big to be a guard by standard definitions.

Mitchell used to be a traditionalist, too.

He'd aim to sign a great post player or a great power forward or a perfect point guard. But in three seasons of not always signing those players, his views have evolved.

"I just wanted people who wanted to come to Kentucky and we'd figure the rest out," he explained. "We'd figure out what position you play, what we're going to do. That's sort of what happened with a couple of those classes and now we've created a style out of those types of players and now we're looking for those types of kids that can swing and play different positions."

It's a versatility that has made Kentucky a better defensive team, a better transition team and a team that has more options and versatility, the players say.

"The options are pretty endless," sophomore A'dia Mathies said. "Almost all of us play at different spots throughout the game."

It makes UK difficult to scout and difficult to match up with at times, said Mathies, who already has played all five positions in just two games this season.

The sophomore isn't alone.

Senior Victoria Dunlap has played three different positions. Freshman Maegan Conwright, all of 5-foot-8, has played every position but center for the Cats.

"I am willing to step in wherever I can to help the team," said Conwright, who played 31 minutes in UK's last game at Miami (Ohio), scoring 15 points to go with her five steals and four assists.

Dunlap, who with Mathies leads the team in scoring averaging 17 points, said it's a big help to have so many interchangeable parts.

"Especially with all the injuries we've had, we need different people to step up," the senior said.

When shooting guard Keyla Snowden went down in the first game with a knee injury, several different players could fill in that spot. Some of those same players filled in again when power forward Samantha Drake left the Miami game with a knee injury.

"We have all of these players that can play multiple positions," Mitchell said. "That helps us."

It also helps when UK plays its up-tempo, aggressive defense. It's a difficult way to play for a long period of time, so having a player who can sub in or out at multiple spots has been key to Kentucky's success.

"It gives us some depth and makes us hard to figure out for other teams," Mathies explained.

The players and coaches also conceded that it's made UK's offense look unpolished this early in the season.

"I struggle a little bit remembering all the plays and where I'm supposed to be all the time," Conwright said. "But Coach helps me a lot and I'm willing to play wherever."

On a team that has six newcomers, the offense isn't always going to look as pretty this early in the season.

"Especially having six freshmen, it's going to take us a little while to figure out where everyone wants the ball and look good on the offensive end," Mathies said. "As the season goes along, we'll get better on the offensive end."

Mitchell agreed, seeming confident that his "once upon a time" recruiting story will have a happy ending.

"You always want the execution to be very, very good right now," Mitchell said after the win at Miami. "But you're seeing enough out of this team to see some possibilities that when we really start clicking, we're going to be tough because we can make some plays in the open court."

"Before too long you're going to see a team that will start taking shape. We have a chance to be a good offensive team before the season's over with."

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