UK Women's Basketball

UK women still looking for vocal leader, third scorer

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell talked to his team during a timeout against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday night. Mitchell's team still lacks some winning ingredients, he said.
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell talked to his team during a timeout against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday night. Mitchell's team still lacks some winning ingredients, he said.

Matthew Mitchell talks like a man sitting in front of a billion-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Some portions of the puzzle are completed and fit together quite nicely, then he looks over and notices a missing corner piece or two pieces flipped over backward and upside down.

The coach of No. 14 Kentucky sees what the puzzle is supposed to look like in his head, but it still hasn't fully connected.

"We still have a ways to go before that actually happens," he said. "I'm not unhappy with them but I think we could be further along right now, but we have to keep plugging along. We are where we are."

There's no denying Kentucky (6-1) is at a critical juncture, with a game at Chattanooga (3-4) on Saturday night and then four straight home games through the end of December, all potentially winnable.

By January, Mitchell hopes the puzzle is mostly finished before a game at No. 5 Duke, then the start of Southeastern Conference play.

"We're coming to the point in the season — it's fast approaching — where execution is going to be key," Mitchell said Friday.

Some key pieces that have yet to fall into place include finding a vocal leader, something the team has missed greatly since Amber Smith tore her anterior cruciate ligament in July.

Mitchell said by early February it will be more clear whether Smith will re-join her teammates or take a medical redshirt and return next season.

But the coach said the team can't dwell on what it doesn't have.

"We would be lying if we said we didn't miss that," Mitchell said. "But we don't have it, so there's no reason to focus on it. We just have to find another way and I think we can do it."

Star senior Victoria Dunlap has tried to be more vocal, as has sophomore guard A'dia Mathies, but Mitchell said they aren't Smith.

"Neither one of those are the firecracker that Amber was," he said. "While that doesn't exist right now, hopefully it will emerge, and if it doesn't, we have to find another way.

"We are looking for that catalyst. We're trying to create an environment where that can emerge."

Another missing piece for UK is a reliable third scorer to accompany Dunlap (18.2 ppg) and Mathies (15.0 ppg).

Mitchell said three-point specialist Keyla Snowden is a possibility, but she needs to work harder on the defensive end.

He lamented that McDonald's All-American Jennifer O'Neill has yet to become a reliable scoring option and free up others like pinch-hitting point guard Maegan Conwright to become true scoring options.

"You have a lot of possibilities there with Maegan," he said. "She's a very explosive guard sort of like A'dia."

O'Neill is finally recognizing the importance of defense and practice intensity, Mitchell said.

"For the first time this season, there's sort of a ray of hope that she's going to do what we know she's capable of," Mitchell said.

Another player that could become a scoring threat — maybe even as early as Saturday versus the Lady Mocs — is Samantha Drake.

The freshman forward from Bardstown has been battling various injuries but is turning a corner, he said.

"Samantha Drake is a talented player who could really take on a scoring load," Mitchell said. "If we can get her consistently on the practice floor, she's going to be really good for us."

Until then, Mitchell will just keep working his puzzle piece by piece by piece.