UK Women's Basketball

UK women's notebook: DeMoss impressed with gains in UK program

Mickie DeMoss does not want to come off sounding condescending.

The former Kentucky head coach who is now back at Tennessee as an assistant was careful how she phrased it, but she wanted to make sure she said it:

"I am extremely proud and impressed by what Matthew's done," she said Tuesday of her former UK assistant, turned Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell.

Only Mitchell and others on her first UK staff could have a true understanding of just how far the Kentucky program has come since she was hired in 2003, said DeMoss, who stepped down unexpectedly in 2007.

As the former head coach watches tape of UK games now, she gets a warm feeling.

"When I see the fans sitting in there and the excitement and how (Mitchell) has been able to attract really quality basketball players to Kentucky, it was a vision we had and we believed in when we took the job," she said.

DeMoss said she's also happy for current UK assistants Shalon Pillow and Kyra Elzy, both former Volunteers.

Without being asked about it specifically on Wednesday, Mitchell also talked about the evolution of Kentucky since the early DeMoss years.

"What we've done, is we have at least shown it's possible to have a good program here," he said. "It wasn't for a real long time.

"Mickie (DeMoss) gave birth to that program and started that possibility and started that dream and we are just trying to work very hard every day and recruit the best players that we can."

DeMoss's first trip back to Memorial Coliseum was last season when the Vols topped UK 73-67. The former Cats coach said it "wasn't too bad" coming back.

"We had shootaround there the morning of the game and it was kind of funny stepping out on the Memorial Coliseum floor," she said. "I kind of got my anxiety out during shootaround. It'll be easier this time than last time coming back."

But she thinks the game itself is going to be anything but easy.

"They're tough," she said of ninth-rated UK. "They're really tough."

'Warm reception'

When your head coach comes out publicly with the admission that she has early- onset dementia, it's tough to know just how the season's going to go on many different fronts.

But so far it's been good for the No. 6 Lady Vols, who have won five in a row and 10 of their past 11 games.

Coach Pat Summitt said Wednesday that she believes her difficult diagnosis has motivated her players.

"They're very focused every day in practice and I don't think it's a pity party for any of us," Summitt said. "We're looking forward to continuing to play hard and hopefully cut down some nets."

On the floor, teams are still going hard against the Vols, but DeMoss has noticed a change in the crowds.

"We've gotten such warm receptions everywhere we've played from Madison Square Garden to Rutgers to UCLA, just standing ovations — the warm response from the crowds have been unbelievable," DeMoss said. "You can feel the compassion that goes out to Pat (Summitt)."

Avoiding a three-peat?

Last season in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Tennessee dominated Kentucky 90-65 behind the Vols' 16 three-pointers, a league record.

"It was one of those games where they weren't missing," star guard A'dia Mathies recalled of the loss, UK's worst of the season. "Everybody made threes that day; it was raining."

Lucky for the Cats, UT senior Angie Bjorkland, who hit seven of those 16, has graduated. But the Vols are still lethal from long range, hitting 38.1 percent from outside and averaging 6.6 threes this season.

But the Vols aren't the only ones with an outside shot.

Kentucky leads the SEC this season in three-pointers, averaging seven (UT is second), and the Cats are third in the league in three-point percentage, averaging 33.7 percent (UT is second).

One of UK's sharpest shooters, senior Keyla Snowden, believes the three-point line could be the line of demarcation in this game as well.

"It's going to be huge," she said. "Whoever's making those shots is going to win. We're going to try to prevent them from getting open shots like they did before."

Mathies matters

Kentucky can win without Mathies having a big game, but its chances improve exponentially if the junior guard is attacking, Mitchell said.

Since he challenged her to become more aggressive two games ago, Mathies has hit 16 of her 33 shot attempts (48.4 percent), including making 50 percent from three-point range.

"She doesn't realize how good she is sometimes and she needs to be more aggressive," Mitchell said. "When she plays that way, our team's better."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader