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Mitchell still smarting as UK Hoops prepares to play following first loss

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Samantha Drake scored a career-high 21 points against Notre Dame in UK's first loss of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Samantha Drake scored a career-high 21 points against Notre Dame in UK's first loss of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Following Kentucky's first loss of the season against third-ranked Notre Dame, you couldn't help but wonder what might have been.

What if A'dia Mathies and Samantha Drake had been able to stay out of foul trouble? What if Samarie Walker had been better able to keep an even keel and stay focused in her first game at UK? What if the Wildcats' supporting cast had made more of impact and allowed Amber Smith, Bria Goss and Kastine Evans to rest a little more?

In spite of all that, UK still was in position to win a tough road game, holding a lead with less than five minutes to go before the Fighting Irish surged to a 92-83 victory. There simply aren't many teams capable of keeping up with Notre Dame in the Joyce Center, and even fewer that could do so without playing their best game, but that's exactly what Kentucky did.

In reflecting on Sunday's loss and watching the tape, Matthew Mitchell isn't interested in any talk of silver linings.

"It's hard to look at it from my perspective like that," Mitchell said. "There are a lot of people that know a lot about basketball that would say that's a positive sign, but it was just so painful for me to watch us not show up and do our best."

Mitchell wouldn't have enjoyed it, but he could have coped much better with the first blemish on his team's record had the Wildcats played the kind of game and exhibited the type of effort he demands of the.

"You're not upset about losing if it's just getting beaten because you are not as good as that team," Mitchell said. "Notre Dame is fantastic but I felt like we could have done a lot better job and possibly impacted the game."

Mitchell has spent most of the last two days scratching his head over why the Cats played the way they did. It could have been the team's first road trip in over a month, the hostile road crowd, an experienced and talented Irish team or any combination thereof that played a role, but he's not interested in making excuses.

With a game coming up on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Samford Bulldogs (6-4, 0-2 Southern Conference) in Memorial Coliseum, UK is now focused on turning the page while bearing the lessons learned through defeat in mind.

"The important thing is we've looked at it," Mitchell said. "We see so many areas where we can improve and now it's time to go about the business of improving them and putting Notre Dame behind us and getting our sights focused on Samford."

Mitchell is familiar with Mike Morris and the Samford coaching staff from his time at Morehead State, so he didn't even need to look at the tape to recognize the challenge awaiting his team. The Bulldogs deploy the Princeton offense, a sort of kryptonite for high-pressure brand of defense UK relies on.

"If there is an offense that is constructed and devised schematically to beat pressure defense, it's the Princeton offense," Mitchell said. "They run that and they do it well."

The Bulldog's offensive philosophy will put them in positions to exploit holes in the Kentucky defense. Samford ranks among the top 35 teams nationally in both 3-point field goals (7.0 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (35.7 percent), so any open looks the Bulldogs do get will be taken.

Meanwhile, Samford will be looking to keep UK in more of a slow-paced game than the Cats would normally prefer, predicated on an offense that is ranked 13th in the country in fewest turnovers committed (13.8 per game). With UK forcing 33.7 turnovers per game, something will have to give.

"They really do a good job with backdoor cuts and backdoor passes," Mitchell said. "They're a great 3-point shooting team so we will have to be locked in and ready to go and ready to see if we can earn a victory tomorrow against a good Samford team."

Injury updates on Mathies, O'Neill

A'dia Mathies is not expected to be limited in Wednesday's game. She is still recovering from a bone bruise in her ankle, but was able to play against Notre Dame and score 17 points in 21 foul-limited minutes. Mitchell said her ankle may not feel 100 percent just yet, but she has passed all strength and flexibility tests and should be able to play through any discomfort.

Jennifer O'Neill is also coping with a foot injury and is set to get another round of x-rays this week to determine where she is in the recovery process. The sophomore guard wants to be able to help her team right now, but the coaching staff will not rush the former McDonald's All American back to the floor. Mitchell hasn't set any specific timetables for making such decisions, but redshirting her is not out of the question.

"She wants to help this team win," Mitchell said. "She wants to play this year but if it is a situation where we're in the first week of February and she's not going to be full-speed for two more weeks, I would really talk to her about a redshirt at that point in time."

The only way Mitchell would consider a redshirt is if O'Neill is unable to have a "quality experience" this year and contribute meaningfully.

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