UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky women's '40 minutes of dread' tough on post-season foes, but will it bother SEC opponents?

Maegan Conwright, left, and Crystal Riley trapped Arkansas' Erin Gatling in the Cats' win at home. UK has a plus-276 turnover margin this season. Check out a side-by-side comparison of the UK men and women on Page D3.
Maegan Conwright, left, and Crystal Riley trapped Arkansas' Erin Gatling in the Cats' win at home. UK has a plus-276 turnover margin this season. Check out a side-by-side comparison of the UK men and women on Page D3.

NASHVILLE — Some coaches throw in two extra practice players to try to simulate Kentucky's pressure defense.

The two extra bodies help illustrate how quickly UK can trap a ball handler and how fast the Cats can get down the floor to score after forcing a turnover.

In post-game interviews this season, several coaches and players said there was no way to adequately prepare for the pressure that Kentucky puts on the ball, forcing opponents into an average of 28.6 miscues a game.

"If they're not pressing you the whole game, they're pressuring you the whole game," said Georgia guard Meredith Mitchell, who played the full 40 minutes against the pressure. "It gets you tired."

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell has said many times since instituting his "40 minutes of dread" defense a few years ago that it's a style built for post-season play.

Most tournament games come on such a quick turnaround, sometimes with only a day to prepare, that opponents aren't ready for it.

UK's style of play is so unusual that teams can't adequately plan for it.

But does Mitchell's theory hold up in the Southeastern Conference Tournament?

After all, the No. 10 Cats will be facing teams that already have faced their run- and-jump style at least once this season.

Florida, UK's opponent Friday after the Gators' win over Auburn on Thursday, already has played the Cats twice this season.

UK won both games by a combined eight points.

Does Kentucky's chaos-creating system still cause issues for players who have played against it that many times?

That's up for debate.

National women's basketball analyst Carolyn Peck, who will be calling the tourney semifinals and finals for the ESPN family of networks, said previous meetings allow teams to learn from previous mistakes.

"The key element of playing Kentucky is being able to go back and look at the film and see where you were turning the ball over," Peck said. "If you can figure out how to correct those mistakes, you give yourself an opportunity."

After their win over Auburn, Gators coaches and players indicated they would be studying up. There's plenty to learn, Coach Amanda Butler said.

"A couple possessions here and there" were the difference, she said Thursday. "We know we're going to have to handle their pressure, be ready not to back down."

Florida is a dangerous first-round opponent, Mitchell said on Thursday evening.

"Florida knows us very well and they're very well coached," he said. "They're a senior-laden team. They can absorb scouting and can counteract what you're trying to accomplish.

"They will be very familiar with what we're going to try and do."

But just because you know what UK is going to do doesn't always mean you can beat it, Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said this week after the Bulldogs fell to Kentucky for the second time.

"Yes, you have a better adjustment playing them a second time," she said. "But you still have to have the ability to handle it, the focus to handle it."

Therein lies the rub.

The press can change the game in seconds.

"Sometimes just a couple of turnovers at a key time just sets a pace for them," Fanning-Otis said, snapping her fingers rapidly. "They feel it. They tighten up and they put you in a choke hold."

Mitchell still is confident that UK's style, which is bolstered by its depth, gives it an edge in tournament play.

"I still think more time is better than less (time) to prepare for it," he said.

But style of play doesn't win a tournament, he's going to remind his team before it takes the Bridgestone Arena floor on Friday afternoon.

"The past couple of years, I don't know if our style of play had as much to do with it as we had some players play awfully hard," he said.

The first four minutes of the game will be key against Florida, he said, especially when the Gators (19-11) might have extra incentive.

"The thing that concerns me about them is you have to believe they're really hungry for an NCAA bid," he said. "And while I think they're in, I know being on the other side when you're thinking maybe you're not, that can motivate your team."

But Kentucky (24-5) is motivated, too, he said, to win its first SEC Tournament title in 30 years.

"This is a pretty competitive group," he said this week. "They've been able to rise to the occasion all year in big moments."

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