UK Women's Basketball

UK freshmen need to get up to speed

Kentucky freshmen Sarah Beth Barnette (11), Samantha Drake (31), Maegan Conwright (20) and Jennifer O'Neil, right, waved to fans as they left the court following a victory over Morehead State. Also pictured is junior Crystal Riley (3).
Kentucky freshmen Sarah Beth Barnette (11), Samantha Drake (31), Maegan Conwright (20) and Jennifer O'Neil, right, waved to fans as they left the court following a victory over Morehead State. Also pictured is junior Crystal Riley (3). Charles Bertram | Staff

The wheels are turning, but by the time the light of recognition comes on, the ball has been thrown out of bounds or the possession has been wasted.

That's what Matthew Mitchell sees from his rarely utilized seat on the Kentucky bench.

He sees his six freshmen — half of the 14th-ranked Cats' current eligible players — struggling at times, especially on the offensive end.

"They look a little bit like deer in headlights at times," he said. "There's a hesitation. ... They're good players, it's just not clicking in with them as quickly as I had hoped."

Mitchell hopes the familiar light of recognition is ground in repetition.

Trying to get the freshmen up to speed, the coach is trying something he's never tried before.

Mitchell is holding two-a-day practices for the next couple of weeks, but one of those practices will be exclusively for the freshmen: Sarah Beth Barnette, Maegan Conwright, Samantha Drake, Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett and Jennifer O'Neill.

"Before we break for Christmas we have a couple of weeks here where we can really try to get some work in with some of our freshmen," he said. "The development is so slow right now. ... We're depending on some of those kids to step up and play."

In fact, the coach said his team's Final Four aspirations could depend on the six newbies. Stars like senior Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies are key, but they need more of a supporting cast, he said.

And because the supporting cast is made up predominantly of freshmen (he started Conwright, Drake and Evans on Tuesday), there's a need to get them up to speed quickly.

"There's no other option here but for them to improve if we want to be anywhere close to the kind of team we think we can be," he said.

For various reasons, UK's freshmen haven't been advancing as quickly as he'd like.

He noted O'Neill's "slow development" at point guard, various injuries and new players trying to learn too many positions.

"We've just not been able to get into as much stuff as I'd like to be able to," Mitchell said. "It's important for us to have some sessions where the freshmen can focus on learning the plays and getting enough repetitions."

When the younger players have gotten repetition, they've responded well, the coach said.

He noted their proclivity for things they've spent time on in practice like defensive fundamentals, press defense and transition offense.

The wheels start turning more slowly when it comes to half-court offense, whether it's against a man-to-man defense or a zone, he said.

The deficiencies became more clear in Sunday's loss to Louisville.

"There's no offensive flow to our team," Mitchell said. "We've got some talented kids over there on our bench that if they can get it together, it's going to improve us a great deal."

Junior guard Keyla Snowden said it's only a matter of time before it clicks for the freshmen.

"It's nothing major that can't be fixed," she said. "It's hard making the transition from high school to college. It gets overwhelming at times, but eventually they'll get it and we'll be a better team because of it."

This is a key time for the freshmen to make advances. The Cats have a winnable stretch of games coming up, including four of the next five in Memorial Coliseum before a trip to No. 5 Duke and their Southeastern Conference opener at Arkansas.

They head to Chattanooga for a game on Saturday.

So this is the time for the freshmen to get better, Mitchell said.

"This team can be good," he said. "We're not very good right now. We have a chance to be pretty good and I believe the players will get it together."

  Comments