UK Women's Basketball

Matthew Mitchell: The sky is not falling

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said people focus too much on the last couple of games rather than the whole season.
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said people focus too much on the last couple of games rather than the whole season. Herald-Leader

The sky is not falling.

That has been Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell's message to his players, to friends of the program, to curious onlookers the past couple of days.

After winning 11 straight to start the season and being ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation, UK has now lost three of its last five games, including two in a row.

"If you focus on the last two games like most people do, then the sky is falling and everything is out of whack," he said on Friday after the Cats returned from a tough loss at No. 10 South Carolina and before they turn around to take on Missouri (13-3, 2-1) at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. The Tigers are coming off an upset of No. 25 Georgia on Thursday.

"As a coach, you rely on that experience and you need to let your players know that everything is not out of whack."

The sky is not falling, but neither are UK's shots.

And that's something Kentucky has to fix if it hopes to win a Southeastern Conference title and get to a Final Four this season.

The Cats (13-3, 1-2 SEC) started league play as one of the top offensive powers in the country, averaging 94.5 points a game.

They have not looked the part of offensive juggernaut in their three losses this season to Duke, Florida and South Carolina, though.

In those three games the Cats averaged just 64.3 points. They also were playing without leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth at full strength.

In the Cats' 13 victories this season, they are shooting 14 percent better than they did in the losses, more than 15 percent better from three-point range.

"You know we've got good shooters, we've proven it," Mitchell said after the loss at South Carolina, which saw three of the Cats' top five scorers (all guards) go 4-for-30 from the field. "We know we can play. We know we can score."

He's still convinced they're good shooters who need to sharpen up a few things.

"I didn't walk into our film session today with a bunch of bad players in the room," he said Friday. "There are a bunch of good players in there."

After the loss to the Gamecocks, Janee Thompson was asked if the team, which managed season lows in field goal percentage and points scored, had lost some of its confidence on offense.

"Not at all," she said. "We try to pick each other up and stay together. It was just one of those types of nights that we have to learn from."

One of those types of nights included calls that got players frustrated and out of rhythm, Mitchell said.

Some of them even bothered the coach, who crouched in front of the scorers' table looking like he was banging his head against it early in the second half.

He said UK's offensive execution, which included one seven-minute field goal drought early in the second half, was "very frantic.

"We got really upset with some situations in the game that didn't allow us to really focus on what we needed to do," he said. "A tough call that goes against you, you have to find some way as a player and as coaches ... to keep your cool."

The Cats' lack of poise seems to come through in the free throw percentages in losses versus wins. In their victories, UK has shot 69 percent from there; in losses, just 52.1 percent.

South Carolina said afterward that it had as much to do with the Cats' lack of poise as some frustration over calls.

"We just try to take strengths away," Coach Dawn Staley said. "Try to take what Kentucky's strength is, maybe in transition, and get them in a half-court set. For the most part, I think we did that. We made them work.

"And I thought we tired them out because we made them work on both sides of the ball."

South Carolina definitely showed UK it has work to do. But the Gamecocks didn't shatter the sky.

Mitchell refuses to believe that it's falling.

"What you do is you just don't panic," he said. "There's some things we can work on, but I think it's a long, long season. Sometimes you go through patches like this, but I don't think having any kind of confidence issues is the way to go."