UK Women's Basketball

UK women: Deep bench shares minutes, limelight

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said the turnstile nature of his bench keeps teammates rooting for each other, rather than engendering jealousy.
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said the turnstile nature of his bench keeps teammates rooting for each other, rather than engendering jealousy.

Imagine the ocean is shades of Kentucky blue.

That's what sixth-ranked Kentucky wants to be, a powerful, never-placid force that knocks opponents off their feet.

Much like the ocean, Kentucky has seemingly endless depth.

It sends wave after wave of players, sometimes five off the bench and into the game at a time.

"They sub so much, and they wear you down," Coach Tom Collen said after the Cats topped Arkansas earlier this season. "They put one on you, and you survive it. They put (another) one on you, and you survive it. Then, they finally put one on you, and you succumb to it."

Lots of teams claim to have depth, but Kentucky is different. Kentucky has productive depth.

Ten players have scored in double figures for the Cats this season.

Six have led UK in scoring.

"That shows you we have a chance to have a really good team," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "When your leading scorer gets a lot of attention, somebody else has to step up, and that's what a good team does."

Bria Goss, a freshman who has led the team in scoring five times this season, said competitive practices make UK better.

"It's why we go so hard at each other and push each other in practice and make each other better because it can be anybody's night on this team," said Goss, a day after leading UK past Georgia with a career-high 22 points.

Maybe the knowledge that the scoring isn't going to just go through Goss or star junior A'dia Mathies has managed to keep any jealousy at bay.

"It doesn't matter who scores the points as long as we walk away with the win," Mathies explained.

It's something that Mitchell has been stressing to Kentucky (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) since the pre-season.

It seems to be working, the coach said.

"We have a team full of kids who really seem to be pulling for each other and rooting for each other," said Mitchell, whose UK team is off to its best SEC start in school history. "You need that when you have a deep bench because there aren't as many minutes to go around."

But the turnstile approach means that a lot of players still get plenty of minutes.

Eleven of UK's 13 players average more than 12.5 minutes a game, including four who average 20.4 minutes or more.

It has helped decrease the potential for hurt feelings.

"It's something I like about our team that we're such a well-balanced team," said senior Keyla Snowden, who started much of last season but now scores 9.9 points a game off the UK bench. "Having a variety of people being able to step up every game, I think that's good."

The Cats' bench is averaging 18.1 points a game more than their opponents' bench, and Kentucky is 15-1 this season when its bench can outscore its opponents.

At Georgia on Thursday, UK's subs outdueled the Bulldogs' reserves 34-0.

Georgia, which was without two players, admitted it was difficult to keep up with Kentucky's pace and depth.

"If they're not pressing you the whole game, they're pressuring you the whole game," said Meredith Mitchell, one of two UGA starters who played the full 40 minutes. "It gets you tired."

Having so many players also means that Kentucky is able to play in many different styles.

The Cats are back in action at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday against Florida, where Mitchell first started to see the Cats' potential versatility.

In its first game after a loss at Middle Tennessee on Jan. 1, Kentucky's confidence was down at Gainesville.

Without much faith in their press, the Cats went without it for much of that game. Mitchell learned something new about his team.

"I didn't know whether we could sort of grind it out and do it, but we did exactly that," he said. "We had tremendous half-court defense. That showed us we can win with a different style."

In fact, Mitchell noted that none of Kentucky's six wins against SEC opponents this season has been the same.

Maybe that's because the personnel is never the same, either.

"It really says a lot when you can win games with different styles," he said. "We haven't always been able to do that here at Kentucky, so it's great."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader