UK Women's Basketball

UK women: Mitchell losing sleep over lack of hustle plays

UK's DeNesha Stallworth, right, and Alabama's Briana Hutchen went after a loose ball during Alabama's 57-55 victory Thursday.
UK's DeNesha Stallworth, right, and Alabama's Briana Hutchen went after a loose ball during Alabama's 57-55 victory Thursday. AP

Kentucky's coaching staff had a long meeting after the Cats' upset loss at home on Thursday night.

Coach Matthew Mitchell didn't get home until almost midnight and even though he was tired, he couldn't sleep.

"I am glad that we have won a lot around here because I don't sleep at all on a performance like last night's," he said Friday.

Restless, he put on the Alabama game film.

It was the stuff his nightmares are made of.

"I was surprised with just the complete lack of effort and competitiveness last night and it was just all across the board," he said of the game film. "It just can't happen."

The word "hustle" popped up several times in his post-game comments after UK lost 57-55 on Thursday night to an Alabama team it had beaten by 22 points just 21 days before in Tuscaloosa.

The word was brought up again the next day as he previewed the ninth-ranked Cats' game on Sunday against Arkansas (15-4, 2-4 SEC) at Memorial Coliseum.

"As a coach, I've got to find the right combination of people who will go in there and hustle on Sunday and battle our way toward victory," he said.

It's hard to put a finger on how Kentucky went from a team that was scoring 94.5 points a game against non-conference foes and winning those games by an average of 26.9 points to a team that is averaging just 70.8 points a game in league play, winning those games by an average of 2.3 points a game.

But hustle seems to be a key factor.

The so-called "hustle stats" show a much different Kentucky than the one that came into SEC play 12-1 with the lone loss coming to then second-ranked Duke.

The Cats are averaging 8.8 fewer rebounds in SEC play versus non-conference play and they're being outrebounded by an average of two boards a game. UK was outrebounding non-conference foes by 10.3 rebounds.

In SEC play, UK is averaging five fewer steals a game.

Kentucky has taken just eight charges in six SEC games (1.3 a game) compared to an average of 2.1 a game against non-conference foes.

"If we can find a few players that will really, really compete hard I think a lot of things will flow from that," Mitchell said. "Until we get that straightened out, you can have all the talent in the world, if you don't play hard and don't compete, if it doesn't mean something to you to win, then I don't know who you are going to beat."

The problem for Kentucky (15-4, 3-3) is so much of its offense flows from those hustle plays.

Since getting into conference play, the Cats are shooting 7.3 percent worse from the field and 6.1 percent worse from three-point range. Even UK's free throw shooting has taken a hit, with the team shooting five percent lower from there since SEC play started.

So where do the Cats go from here?

"Practice is the only place we can go," sophomore guard Janee Thompson said after the loss. "All we can do is just get back and practice and keep working hard. Try to come together and figure it out in practice."

Mitchell seemed to agree.

Everything will be competition-based in practices leading up to Sunday's game, he said. The players who compete will be the ones who play against Arkansas, which leads the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 49.4 points a game.

Kentucky has won three in a row over the Razorbacks, but barely eked out a win in Fayetteville last year, 80-74 in overtime.

But Mitchell isn't concerned about that.

He's more worried about his team, which he thinks is beating itself.

"It's certainly not time to start folding the tent up and saying the season's over," he said. "There's nowhere to go or nowhere to hide or no magic pill we can take."

The coach still believes his team can win a lot of games going forward if it just remembers what won it so many games over the past few years.

He said: "I don't think teams will win games against us if we will just go out with a great zeal for competition and a great love for our opportunity to be here at Kentucky."

Ex-Cat Whitaker named SEC Legend

Former Kentucky basketball standout Jodie Whitaker has been selected as the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference Basketball Legend and will be honored at this year's SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga.

Whitaker, a native of Fishers, Ind., who played guard at Kentucky from 1986-89, is one of UK's all-time leading scorers. She scored 1,433 points which ranks 13th on UK's career scoring list. She was a two-time All-SEC selection by league coaches and earned SEC All-Tournament honors in 1988. She ranks in the top 10 on six UK career lists, including third all-time in free-throw percentage, assists, and assists per game.

After graduating from UK, Whitaker spent 13 years as the head girls' basketball coach at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis before retiring in 2009. She currently teaches physical education at Skiles Test Elementary School in Indianapolis.

Whitaker is one of 45-plus alumni who will be honored at halftime of Sunday's game vs. Arkansas for Alumni Day.