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Guard-heavy Cats will play faster, shoot better

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wbsk 08_09 uk_kyst web 19.jpgMatthew Mitchell cut straight to the point Wednesday at Media Day when he was asked if his team should be able to shoot better than last year's team.

"It wouldn't be very difficult to shoot it better," Mitchell said. "I'm not sure that shooting it better is the goal. We want to be able to do a good job shooting. Somebody said, and I don't know if it was John Calipari or somebody else, but they said 'We've always had shooters, we just haven't had a lot of makers.' We need makers, people that can make shots, not people that can just shoot shots."

This year's Kentucky women's basketball team is expected to be able to shoot, to be athletic and to be up-tempo. Quite frankly, it might be a team unlike anything anyone has seen under third-year head coach Matthew Mitchell.

"(Traditionally) we've had a really big low post presence," Mitchell said. "Our experienced frontcourt players now are not as tall but a lot more athletic and a lot more dynamic, and so it's just going to be a different look. We'll see how that plays out. It's much more difficult to implement, but we are trying to be much more dynamic offensively, up-tempo. It's a little different style."

Any coach will tell you that style is dictated by the parts of the system. For the first time in Mitchell's tenure, UK has the players to play a baseline-to-baseline game.

Thanks to a tireless recruiting effort by Mitchell and his staff, UK hauled in a class saturated with athletic, speedy guards and deadly sharpshooters.

A'dia Mathies, the reigning Kentucky Miss Basketball, is an electric guard that can score at will; LSU transfer Crystal Riley fits the prototype of Mitchell's point guards in the quick-run transition game; and sharpshooters Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden can rain 3-pointers in momentum-changing flurries.

"(Having shooters) will open things up a lot," junior point guard Amber Smith said. "First we'll go inside and we'll kick it out. Our shooters will knock them down and that will open up things so we can penetrate and get to the basket. It will definitely open up things."

To say UK struggled to shoot the ball last year would be like saying this Twitter thing is picking up steam. Uh, ya think? Kentucky ranked at or near the bottom in field goal percentage and 3-point shooting in the Southeastern Conference last year.

With Snowden, Akron's single-season record holder for 3-pointers in a season, the prolific perimeter threat Gray and a more consistent Carly Morrow, Kentucky shouldn't have much trouble lighting the scoreboard up from the guard position any longer.

"We should have a greater ability to shoot the 3-point shot and that transforms your offense," Mitchell said. "People haven't had to be real creative guarding us because they could just leave you open and not make shots."

It should open up the offense to a variety of things. First, it will give All-SEC forward Victoria Dunlap a little more room in the post to operate. Teams will no longer be able to double and triple team her if Kentucky can make them pay with shots from the outside.

Secondly, nothing works better in the transition game than the 3-pointer. Sure, layups are the name of the game in the fast break, but there's nothing that flattens the opposing team quite like a kick out in transition to the wing for a trey.

If all goes to plan, UK should be a more of a run-and-gun team. Spearheaded by Smith, a lightning-quick guard who Mitchell says is playing faster than ever now that she's removed her knee brace, the UK Hoops team will look much more like that other UK basketball team we saw Wednesday at the Blue/White Game than the one that struggled to put up 60 points a season ago.

"I came from a high school that played up-tempo, so I came here to play up-tempo," Smith said. "Injuries plagued us so we couldn't go up-tempo the whole game. But, it's my bread and butter and I love pushing the ball in transition. Lydia Watkins will benefit because she runs the floor hard. This year, we have Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden and they will really shine. We can kick it out to the shooters and they will be open to knock it down."

With the infusion of explosion, the wealth of guards and the smaller but more athletic frontline, Mitchell said it won't be out of the question to play three- and sometimes four-guard sets.

"It's very evident that we need to score more points than we have the last couple of years," Mitchell said. "I think we're going to have the capability to do that."

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