CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With mentions of sharks, blood in the water, attacks and wrath, Kentucky's women's team set an aggressive tone at the Southeastern Conference Media Days Tuesday.
Coach Matthew Mitchell made it plain to his players the aggressive style he wants in the 2014-15 season.
"He simply said he wants us to be the fastest, most disruptive team in America," guard Bria Goss said.
Teammate Jennifer O'Neill emphasized the need to stay in attack mode.
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"When we're on defense, we're going to be on offense, as well," she said.
Mitchell and his players cited Virginia Commonwealth's men's team as an example the UK women hope to emulate.
"Real aggressive, pressing and causing havoc ...," O'Neill said. "They've just been a grind-and-gritty team. They probably don't like to play defense, but they play defense because they want to score that bad."
An example that might come to the minds of Kentucky fans are the Rick Pitino-led UK teams of the 1990s. They pressed. They pressured. They played what Pitino memorably called mother-in-law defense; constant harassment.
"I think there's a lot of people my age that learned a lot from those teams and learned a lot from that coaching philosophy," Mitchell said. "I've always had a real passion for playing hard and trying to compete and trying to out-hustle your opponent. Those teams sort of embodied that."
Kentucky's women's team played that way two years ago. The Wildcats routinely frazzled opponents with pressure defense and fast-break offense.
Somehow, the team got away from the attacking style last season.
"I didn't do a very good job as a coach giving our team enough reps in the press," Mitchell said. "I had a veteran team and I just felt it'd sort of come together. So I learned a lesson. If you're really going to be disruptive in a full-court press, you have to give your team a lot of reps. You have to practice that way."
It's been a busy offseason for the UK women as they worked to play a more aggressive style that requires a high level of fitness. The players talked about 6 a.m. wake-up calls and conditioning work that began 30 minutes later.
"I've been here four years," Goss said. "This past summer has been the hardest offseason."
There's a direct correlation between summer sweat and the talk of an aggressive style this winter, she added. "We can't just say that. We have to go out and practice it and play like it."
A case can be made that the rules can help or hurt Kentucky in its aim to be more aggressive. The women's game instituted a 10-second rule last season. Like in the men's game, the ball must be advanced beyond the half-court line within 10 seconds or it's a turnover. That can help the aggressive team.
But as with the men, the referees are intent on reducing physical play. That could hurt.
"You have to pay a lot of attention to your discipline," Mitchell said. "Everybody knows the second touch is an automatic foul."
O'Neill seemed unconcerned.
"We're just going to play," she said. "(The referees) are either going to have to adjust to us or we'll have to make an adjustment."
Whatever the officiating, the Kentucky players seemed intent on setting an aggressive tone.
"People are hungry," Goss said. "People have things to prove. People aren't taking it for granted. For us especially, we want to go out here and we want to make sure (opponents) know 'We're about to play Kentucky. We're about to leave here feeling the wrath of Kentucky."
Recalling two seasons ago, O'Neill gave a vivid description of what it feels like to discombobulate an opponent.
"It's like blood in the water," she said, "and we're a shark."
Clearly, the Wildcats hope to make SEC waters unsafe for other teams this coming season.