UK Women's Basketball

UK women start difficult SEC stretch to finish season

Victoria Dunlap, pictured here, along with Jennifer O'Neill led Kentucky against Florida. Dunlap feels close losses to Duke and Tennessee "...showed us we can play with them, and anybody."
Victoria Dunlap, pictured here, along with Jennifer O'Neill led Kentucky against Florida. Dunlap feels close losses to Duke and Tennessee "...showed us we can play with them, and anybody."

Some teams would be immensely frustrated coming so close to beating not one but two top-five teams.

Kentucky is frustrated by the close losses to Duke in January and then to No. 4 Tennessee earlier this week, but the No. 15 Cats also are encouraged by how close they came to winning both.

"This showed us we can play with them, and anybody," senior Victoria Dunlap said.

Sophomore guard A'dia Mathies agreed.

"We now know we can play with anybody," Mathies said. "If we did a better job on the boards. ... And if we'd not given up after a little bit of fatigue, then we could have had the win."

After the close loss in the final minutes to the Lady Vols on Monday, Mathies said this loss would motivate the team to get back to the gym and work that much harder.

It's what UK (18-5, 7-3) is going to have to do to prepare for a brutal final stretch of Southeastern Conference games.

Kentucky plays four of its next six on the road, but more importantly, the Cats will face five teams currently among the top seven in the standings.

UK goes to South Carolina on Thursday to face the seventh-place Gamecocks, who are coming off a tough win on the road at Arkansas.

Then Kentucky follows that up at home against sixth-place Louisiana State on Sunday.

Next come games away from Memorial Coliseum at No. 24 Georgia, which is in second place in the SEC, and at Vanderbilt, which is tied with Kentucky for third place.

UK will close out the season at home against Arkansas and then at fifth-place Auburn.

"The next six are really tough, there's no way around it," Coach Matthew Mitchell said at his news conference Wednesday. "What we have to make sure we do with the team is focus so much on each game and try not to look ahead.

"We'll find out a whole lot about this team in the next six games."

The coach said he doesn't feel the need to talk about the next six games with his players, just the next game on the schedule.

But Mitchell admitted he has thought about this final stretch run, focusing mainly on what some quality wins will mean.

"They're all very good teams, and if you get wins against those teams, you increase your opportunity for the NCAA Tournament," he said. "Then you're talking about increasing your opportunity for a high seed."

And while Mitchell was disappointed in the loss against Tennessee, which snapped a seven-game win streak for UK, he has been encouraged by the play he's seen on the court in the past two games.

What Mitchell said he has seen is a team putting forth solid effort.

"We did that for the last two games, but what would get me very excited is if that happens again Thursday night because then you're thinking that you're getting through to them ... on what they need to do to be special," he said.

Mathies said the close losses will be a motivating factor moving forward.

"We've got to continue to play together," she said. "We've got to just take what we can from this loss and use what we can and then focus our energy on South Carolina and the rest of the teams we have coming up."

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