After another close loss, another game in which Kentucky had a near-double-digit lead but couldn’t hold it, Matthew Mitchell used the phrase “it’s not an effort issue, it’s an experience issue.”
It has been quite the season of experiences for Kentucky freshmen Batouly Camara, Maci Morris and Taylor Murray.
While others have gotten a season to get seasoned at UK, the trio has been called on early and often to make big plays in big games for the No. 12 Cats.
Unforeseen defections and a dismissal have meant a shorter bench and loads of playing time for the freshmen, who have been learning on the job in the Southeastern Conference.
“Experience will benefit us at some point, but until then we have to make plays and really have to be more talkative out there on the court,” Mitchell said on Friday to preview Kentucky’s trip to Florida on Sunday.
In Kentucky’s 15 wins this season, the freshmen have combined to make 44.9 percent of their shots and 39.1 percent of their three-point shots.
In Kentucky’s four losses this season, the freshmen have combined to make just 27.1 percent of their shots and 18.7 percent of their three-pointers.
Veterans like Janee Thompson and Makayla Epps almost always get their double-figure games, but Mitchell is leaning on the guards to help him bring along the younger players as well.
“We are just not talking to our younger players enough,” Mitchell said. “It falls on their shoulders and they just have to do it right now because we have to get more out of our freshman class.”
The trio was 1-for-14 in the two-point loss against Vanderbilt on Thursday night. Many times it was just not making the extra pass or seeing the open player on the floor, the coach said.
“We just have to do a good job in practice and help them get some reps so they can see what they need to see and help them get better,” Mitchell said.
Much of practice after last week’s loss at Ole Miss, and then the Vanderbilt defeat, has been focusing on the fundamentals. Mitchell talked about Morris’ footwork being a bit off, Murray being in too big of a hurry and Camara watching the ball on defense.
“They are just struggling defensively, offensively, we are just a little bit paralyzed right now and we have to just show it to them and go out and practice,” Mitchell said.
“It is tough as a freshman sometimes when you get to where you are feeling like you are too far behind the eight ball to think the sky is falling and that they may never come out of this.”
But there is a way out of this, he said, even though Kentucky (15-4, 4-4 SEC) is starting a five-game swing that includes four games on the road.
The next two are at Florida (17-4, 5-3), where UK hasn’t won since 2012, followed by a game at No. 2 South Carolina.
While Mitchell focuses on the fundamentals and making sure practices are structured to help the freshmen find the open player and make the proper play, Thompson said she and Epps are trying to lead through difficulty as well as prosperity.
In all four of Kentucky’s losses this season, the Cats have had a lead. In three of those games, the Cats have led by nine or more.
“What myself and Makayla need to do a better job of is coaching them through the moments when we’re up 10 with four minutes to go, not when we’re down two with 14 seconds to go,” the senior guard said.
“Those are the times we need to put teams away and build our lead. I think if that’s something we can learn to do as a team, we won’t even be in position where the games are so close.”
No. 12 Kentucky at Florida
When: 1 p.m.
Records: UK 15-4 (4-4 SEC); Florida 17-4 (5-3 SEC)
Series: UK leads 27-24
Last meeting: UK won 62-56 last season in Memorial Coliseum
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630