UK Women's Basketball

Mitchell hopes Sidney 'missing piece' for struggling Kentucky women

Kentucky forward Jelleah Sidney scored during the first half Sunday against Florida.
Kentucky forward Jelleah Sidney scored during the first half Sunday against Florida. Herald-Leader

Jelleah Sidney is quiet, uncomfortable in the spotlight, short with her answers, but quick to smile.

So when her Kentucky teammate Jennifer O'Neill said Sidney was "like a Ron Artest" recently, it caused some to do a double take.

Even the players' head coach paused at that comparison.

Sidney is definitely more Metta than Artest, who famously got into a brawl with fans in the stands during a game in 2004.

"Jennifer and I love each other very much, but we may have some disagreements about how to describe certain players," Mitchell laughed as he previewed No. 13 Kentucky's trip to Georgia (14-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) this week.

But as the coach pondered the comparison, he seemed to agree a little more with his point guard, who described Sidney as "the missing piece.

"Just goes out there, gets rebounds, knocks people down, blocks shots," O'Neill described. "She's the type of player you want to play with."

Sidney, a 6-foot-2 junior college transfer who played high school ball with O'Neill at the now defunct Saint Michael Academy in New York City, earned her first start on Sunday in UK's win over Arkansas.

She did it by competing hard in practice, playing with energy, doing what her coaches asked of her.

It's the reason UK fans likely will be seeing more of Sidney — much more than the 11 minutes a game she was averaging before Sunday — as the season goes on.

"Jelleah really, really gives it everything she has and that's why she's in such good favor right now with this team," Mitchell said. "I don't have to worry about her intentions. She makes some mistakes, but I don't ever have to worry about if she wants it or wants to win."

In her time on campus, Sidney has never led Kentucky in scoring (3.7 points a game).

But she's led UK in rebounds twice and blocks eight times even though she's never played more than 20 minutes in a game.

"My mindset is always just to work hard for my team and bring some energy," Sidney said on Wednesday.

"I just try to work hard, just try and maintain the energy of the team, whether it's on the bench or on the court," she continued. "I'm constantly talking to my teammates, trying to push them to keep going."

Sidney has never scored in double figures while wearing a UK jersey; her career high is nine points versus Bradley in November.

Some games she hasn't even played five minutes, but she does a lot with the minutes she plays, her teammates said.

"JJ's one of those players that do a lot of the little things right," junior Bria Goss said. "She'd play a lot more if she didn't foul so much, but that's just her being so aggressive and so energetic and so intense. She has that fight and that fire in her."

It's what Mitchell is hoping to see from his post players as Kentucky continues SEC play.

The Cats (16-4, 4-3) have struggled as of late, going through a stretch where they lost three of five games, including being upset on their home floor by Florida and Alabama.

Some of the key issues in those losses also showed themselves early in the win over Arkansas, whom UK trailed by as many as 10 points.

"The game was close against Arkansas in the first half because our post players were 0-for-8 on layups," Mitchell said. "People think there's something wrong with us and what's wrong with us is our post players aren't making layups. There is something wrong with that."

But the biggest difference between Sidney and some others is that she keeps giving effort even when shots aren't falling, Mitchell said.

It's why she played a season-high 17 minutes against the Hogs, including getting a key putback in the second half.

After the win over Arkansas, Mitchell commended Sidney and fellow junior Azia Bishop, adding that he hoped UK's other frontcourt players would play with that "kind of fire."

"They gave us some energy and effort and they looked like they didn't want to lose there and really got us going in the second half," he said.

Mitchell was back on Sidney in practice on Tuesday after she missed layups. He's frustrated to see her work so hard to get in the right position and not finish. But he hopes she's turning a corner.

"If she can just make some layups for us, she does a great, great job in other areas," he said. "She's somebody that's very important to our team."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader