By: Tyrus York
All has not been good in the world of Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops after a disappointing start to the SEC schedule at 3-3, capped off by a stunning loss to Alabama at home on Thursday.
The Wildcats only had 2 full days of practice to right the ship before hosting Arkansas on Sunday, but it would appear that the coaches and players made use of that time very well.
#9/8 Kentucky (16-4, 4-3) handled business Sunday defeating Arkansas (15-5, 2-5) by a deceiving score of 68-58.
This game was extremely close throughout and required Kentucky to play at a level of energy that had been lacking at times during conference play.
Jennifer O’Neill grabbed the reins and led the team with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Starting for only the second time all season, O’Neill started the game with 13 points early in the first half to help set a high energy tone for her team.
Fellow point guard Janee Thompson kept that energy going pouring in 13 points of her own. She also managed to swipe 3 steals from the Razorbacks to keep Kentucky’s trademark ball pressure alive.
Bria Goss was another top performer for the Cats as she scored 10 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Goss and O’Neill combined for 12 rebounds, each matching Azia Bishop’s total of 6 rebounds as well.
But therein may lay the problem that Matthew Mitchell is dealing with. His post players at the beginning of the season were as dominate that maybe UK Hoops had ever seen. Since conference play began, things have changed for the bigs down low.
Samarie Walker seemed to give good effort at times, but managed only two points on 1-5 shooting, missing several baskets very close to the rim. Walker was able to maintain some productivity by grabbing 4 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal.
Since returning from a knee injury (that Matthew Mitchell insists is 100%) Denisha Stallworth has struggled. Against the Razorbacks she saw only 10 minutes of action, and scored only 3 points on 1-3 shooting.
That leaves Jelleah Sydney and Azia Bishop to give the Cats some spark down low, which they did against the Razorbacks.
The recipe for success under Matthew Mitchell has always been extreme effort on defense to pressure the ball which leads to many easy baskets.
The guard play against Arkansas was the difference in the game as Kentucky was able to get back to that style of basketball.
Kentucky only managed to turn Arkansas over 16 times Sunday, but they were able to finally start wearing down a team down the stretch.
Coach Mitchell cautions that they’re not out of the woods yet. His playing time philosophy has changed and will likely remain the rest of the season, simply rewarding those that play the hardest in practice with the most playing time.
As he calls it, “no more Mr. Nice guy”.
UK Hoops returns to action on Thursday night when they travel to Georgia. They will return home on Sunday to face LSU at noon.