UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky women hoping smaller goals lead to bigger results

Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill drove around Pikeville's Dee Foster during an exhibition game Nov. 6. Kentucky won 141-63.
Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill drove around Pikeville's Dee Foster during an exhibition game Nov. 6. Kentucky won 141-63. Herald-Leader

The goals of last season are gone.

The talk of breaking down walls and getting to a Final Four has been muted.

Instead, Matthew Mitchell has more nebulous goals.

He wants Kentucky to be the fastest team in the nation, the most disruptive team in the nation and the toughest — mentally and physically — team in the nation.

"They're capable of it," Mitchell said. "They're already showing some great signs in all three areas, but that's what I'd like for them to become."

And then maybe the rest (the aforementioned Final Four trip) will follow.

"It's easier for us to reach for these goals," senior guard Jennifer O'Neill said. "When you say Final Four, it's just so far away still. For you to say, 'Today, I'm going to give it my all,' or you can say, 'Today, I'm going to be a great teammate,' you can mean those things."

So that's why, for now, the goals for No. 11 Kentucky are simple: speed, disruption and toughness, starting in the season opener Friday night versus Appalachian State.

"This team has so much room for growth it's incredible," Mitchell said of his Cats, who lost three veteran starters from last season's NCAA Sweet 16 team, which had its share of ups and downs.

"I do know that about us right now: We're going to get much, much better than we are right now," he said.

Kentucky is playing in arguably the nation's deepest conference starting in January, and the Cats are breaking in three new post players in Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Alyssa Rice and Alexis Jennings.

So it's going to take some incremental changes to get Kentucky moving in the desired — although unspoken — direction.

"If we look like a million bucks this week, we're going to look like $5 million at some time," Mitchell said. "If we look less than that, we'll increase in value with this team. I don't know exactly what that's going to be. And we'll have a better idea after this opening stretch."

That stretch includes three games in six days, starting with the opener in Memorial Coliseum on Friday, a showdown with No. 8 Baylor on Monday in Rupp Arena and then Morehead State two days later.

So the focus isn't on the future, it's on the now, senior guard Bria Goss said.

"We just want to be our best," she said. "We're going to make the season go the way we want through the way we play."

Rupp game nearing sellout

A limited number of tickets remain for Kentucky's game Monday against No. 8 at Baylor in Rupp Arena, UK officials report.

As of Thursday morning, there were 20,500 tickets distributed for the event, which will be part of the ESPN Tipoff Classic marathon and will be shown live on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

"What a great opportunity for our program to be showcased nationally with a sold-out Rupp Arena," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "There's going to be a lot of eyeballs on Rupp Arena that night, and if we can sell out Rupp and create a great atmosphere, that'll help our players, and a big win and a great night would help us a bunch."

Tickets for $2 are available at Ticketmaster.com until 11:45 p.m. Sunday using the code "2BUCKS."

The Cats, ranked No. 11 in the preseason polls, sold out Rupp Arena last season with a school-record 23,706 fans for the game against No. 2 Duke.

Platoon review

As John Calipari was plotting platoons this summer, the Kentucky men's basketball coach didn't have to go too far to get some first-hand information. The men's basketball coach just walked across the hall to Mitchell, who has used a similar substitution strategy with the UK women in recent years.

"Over the course of the summer, we have had some conversations about it," Mitchell said. "I think the two programs can both tap into the depth that we both have and be successful."

While the UK women won't be utilizing a true platoon system this season, Mitchell's teams have gotten a big boost from the five-in, five-out strategy, he said.

"There is a lot of advantages to that with the way we play the game, especially to start a game," Mitchell noted. "When we have been successful, we have gone first four minutes, second four minutes and then we would start plugging gaps or who was playing well."

Mitchell added that it's difficult to go a full 40 minutes using a platoon system, though. For his teams, it's usually been a first-half thing that evolves as the game goes on.

"We very rarely played a 40-minute game where it was five-in, five-out like a hockey line change," Mitchell said. "We haven't really done that."

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