UK Women's Basketball

UK women will stick to their strengths against Baylor

Coach Matthew Mitchell is coaching the University of Kentucky women's basketball team in a day game against Miami (Ohio).
Coach Matthew Mitchell is coaching the University of Kentucky women's basketball team in a day game against Miami (Ohio). Herald-Leader

Maybe if Kentucky were facing Baylor in the Final Four, the Cats would have a different plan.

Maybe Coach Matthew Mitchell and his sixth-ranked team would decide to throw everything including the plumbing for the kitchen sink at 6-foot-8 superstar Brittney Griner and her top-ranked teammates.

But for now, in the second game of the season for both teams, the Cats' plan is simple: Stick to what they do best.

And what they do best is force turnovers, leading the nation in that stat a season ago.

"In this game, we just have to turn it loose, go play really hard and try to stick to our identity if we can," Mitchell said on Monday, the day before UK plays the defending national champion in its gym on ESPN2. "Whether that's a good formula to play Brittney Griner or not, we're not sure. We'll find out tomorrow night."

What Mitchell and company may find is that what worked against most teams last season, may not work against the Bears (1-0), who return all five starters from a team that has won 41 straight games.

Last season they won those games by an average of 26.3 points and by hitting a national best 48.8 percent of their shots.

But UK (1-0) is going to give it a go, go, go.

At least one women's basketball analyst is intrigued by Mitchell's plan and how it could impact the nation's best player on both ends of the floor.

"If Kentucky can play at that pace, it really changes the impact Griner can have," ESPN's Rebecca Lobo said. "If they're picking up full court and if Baylor has difficulty against that pressure, then Griner won't be as much of a factor. If they can't get the ball over halfcourt and get the ball to her offensively, it limits her effectiveness offensively.

"If Kentucky can get steals, Griner will still be at the other end of the floor when they're down there shooting layups."

That seems to be Mitchell's plan, at least as much of it as he laid out for the media on Monday. It's one way the Cats hope to stop Griner, the National Player of the Year, who averaged 23.2 points (while hitting 60.9 percent of her shots), 9.5 rebounds and 5.2 blocked shots.

She was so dominant in this season's opener versus Lamar, she had opposing coach Larry Tidwell making a huge comparison.

"I'm showing my age here, but you're looking at a person that dominates the women's game like Wilt Chamberlain dominated the men's game for so long," Tidwell said. "It's incredible."

Kentucky knows what it's up against in Griner, but the goal remains the same: limit her by bothering the other four players on the floor.

"We've always tried to take away people's post play by pressuring the basketball," Mitchell said. "We talk about playing post defense really far away from the basket. If they can't see her, she's not open, basically is our philosophy.

"It's very important to speed them up, get them out of what kind of rhythm they would want to be in."

That might be easier said than done against the Bears, who not only have Griner, but point guard and fellow All-American Odyssey Sims, among others.

As a team, they averaged just 13.7 turnovers a game last season, sixth best in the nation.

"Thirteen turnovers a game is outstanding, especially when you play at that pace," Mitchell said. "They play at a great tempo, a great pace. ... It'll be a big challenge."

The Cats, who have forced double-digit turnovers in 118 consecutive contests, are 41-5 when forcing opponents into 25 or more miscues since Mitchell put in his pressure-packed defense.

The game being so early in the season makes the strategy more complicated.

"We're not as sophisticated on defense as we might be two months from now," Mitchell explained. "That part of it is one of the big unknowns: How our defense will work going against their offense."

UK star senior A'dia Mathies is fine with Kentucky's plan against Baylor, a team she said the Cats are excited to play.

"It's not going to make or break our season, but we are definitely going to put all we have into it, as we do every game," Mathies said. "If we focus on Kentucky, do the things we should do well, play aggressive and play our best, then we should come out with the victory."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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