SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In Samarie Walker, Coach Matthew Mitchell saw a great rebounder and flashes of a player who will be able to put up big-time points this season for Kentucky.
But the coach also saw something on Sunday that he did not want to see, which was the Connecticut transfer trading verbal jabs with Notre Dame's players.
"She didn't keep her emotions in check there in the second half," Mitchell said of Walker, who had seven points, seven rebounds, one block and one steal in her debut for Kentucky after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
"It got heated down there, and she was talking," Mitchell continued. "I don't want that happening on our team. No matter what's going on, you don't need to lose your focus."
The verbal sparring match seemed to be mostly with Notre Dame senior Devereaux Peters, who had 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the Irish's 92-83 win.
"She played with a lot of passion today, as she always does," Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said when asked about Peters. "She really wanted to win that game. There were some things that were said, and she wanted to respond to it. She did with a double-double."
Walker got in foul trouble in the first half, and Mitchell sat her the final 8:06 of the game, but he said he's sure the 6-foot-1 forward will learn from the experience.
"She's a good player," he said. "And she'll be a good player for our team."
One way Kentucky has been able to wear down opponents this season is by constantly running players in and out of the game. That didn't appear to be as much of an option on Sunday.
Leading up to this game, the Cats didn't have a player averaging more than 29 minutes a game. But against the Irish, UK had three different players play 32-plus minutes in Bria Goss (35 minutes), Amber Smith (33) and Kastine Evans (32).
That's too many minutes to expect those players to play at that intensity level for that long, the coach said.
"Everyone didn't play as hard as they could, so that really puts us in a bad position, and you're putting people who play extremely hard" in a bad position, Mitchell said.
The coach didn't call any players out specifically, but on the bench he seemed to be displeased with Maegan Conwright, who played a season-low nine minutes, and Azia Bishop, who starred in UK's win over Duke and then managed just two points in four minutes versus the Irish.
Brittany Henderson also played a season low in minutes (seven), as did Keyla Snowden (five) and Crystal Riley (three), who has been battling a foot injury.
Mitchell questioned his team's effort after the loss.
"(Notre Dame) clearly wanted the game more than we did today, and they played with much more effort than we did today," he said. "They played with much more precision and executed better. They were better coached today."
Even though the fall semester was over and students had left town, Notre Dame managed its first sell-out of the season with 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion on Sunday.
Late in the game when the Irish were making their 11-0 run to put it away, the crowd made a big difference, Mitchell said.
Before this game, the Cats had not left the state of Kentucky to play this season. This was their first true overnight road game of the year.
"What an impressive crowd," Mitchell said afterward. "It really bothered us at the end of the game. We let it take energy from us."