The Kentucky women's basketball team will take the floor in Memorial Coliseum for its home opener on Tuesday against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The Wildcats are coming off a 96-60 win on the road over Morehead State, using a 65-point second-half outburst to overcome a lackluster start.
"We're excited to get back on the court and play," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Friday night's game gave us a lot of areas where we can improve."
More than execution, decision-making or anything else, Mitchell was not pleased with the intensity his team brought to the table in the opener.
"We just didn't give a good Kentucky effort," Mitchell said. "We're all about energy and hustle and trying to outwork the other team, and we were outworked in the first half."
However, UK was able to respond after trailing 32-31 at halftime, led by a career-high 23 points from sophomore guard Kastine Evans. Evans starred during Friday's opener mainly because of hard work, which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise based on her approach during the offseason.
"She has a great passion for being an excellent basketball player and I'm telling you she worked unbelievably hard in the offseason and it shows," Mitchell said. "It's just a really exciting thing as a coach to see someone work that hard after you've tried to preach that to your team and then see her go out and have success and just flat out play harder than anybody on the team and have the best game."
Averaging just 2.6 points per game a season ago, Evans was not talked about a great deal during the offseason with a talented class of newcomers and returners surrounding her, but Evans' practice and conditioning habits are paying dividends.
"We really try to make it about competition and about honesty, hard work and discipline," Mitchell said. "Kastine's embraced those things. For me, it is thrilling to see her be able to break through and playing so well."
Evans and the Cats will face a unique series of tests beginning with a rare morning game. UK has six games over the next 12 days, comprised by two different stretches of three games in five days. The Wildcats have the depth to be able to cope well with the grueling schedule, provided the players respond mentally to the challenge.
"If we come mentally prepared over these next few days and all these games we have back-to-back, we should be in great shape because physically we have some very talented players," Mitchell said. "I think it's more of a mental and emotional exercise. Can we stay focused on what's in front of us, one game at a time, one day at a time?"