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UK Hoops not letting disappointing performance linger

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Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats will play their SEC opener on Sunday against Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats will play their SEC opener on Sunday against Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell freely admits that he's prone to a bad mood, even going so far as to say he actually gets a bizarre sense of satisfaction from being miserable on occasion.

If ever there were a time for one of those foul moods, you would have thought it would be in the wake of his team's disappointing defeat this week on the road against Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders upset the sixth-ranked Wildcats in a decisive 70-58 win in which UK failed to bring the necessary intensity and effort to make its high-pressure style of play successful.

Just two days after the loss, Mitchell showed no sign of any such mood. Instead, his spirits were boosted by the way the Wildcats had responded since Wednesday night.

"It was a very good response by our team (Thursday)," Mitchell said. "We were so disappointed by what happened Wednesday night and it happens, it's a long season. What we're trying to do in the growth of our program is to cut down on those."

The Wildcats didn't return home from Murfreesboro, Tenn., until the wee hours of Thursday morning, but multiple members of the team were up early shooting in the gym just hours later nonetheless. After that, UK had a pair of spirited practices, punctuated by a Friday morning session so physical that it sent sophomore guard Maegan Conwright to the dentist with a chipped tooth. Mitchell was pleased with the effort, making him all the more excited to get back on the floor later in the day.

"It was a physical practice this morning," Mitchell said. "(There was a) big emphasis on hustling. That's our entire starting point is with hustle and then everything has to flow after that.

"I thought they had a tremendous workout this morning and I look forward to getting back on the floor with them this afternoon."

Mitchell recognizes how demanding he is of his players and that an off night like the one UK had against MTSU is a near inevitability.

"What we're trying to do in the growth of our program is to cut down on those," Mitchell said. "A couple years back we had a few. Last year we had four. Hopefully this year we only have one. We're over it. It's just a tough, long season. We ask a lot out of them in practice, it's a tough style of play. I've told you all this many times, when you're a step slow on a night you look silly, and we looked a little silly on Wednesday night. Those things happen. We must move past it."

UK's first test to see whether they have managed to move on will come on Sunday in its Southeastern Conference opener. The Wildcats will be on the road for the third time in four games for a matchup with the Florida Gators (10-3) in Gainesville, Fla., at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day. The game will be televised live on CSS.

Gator head coach Amanda Butler relies on a balanced scoring attack that features five players scoring at least eight points per game. Forward Jennifer George leads the way with 13.8 points to go with her 9.9 rebounding average. George is shooting an astounding 59.2 percent from the field.

"Florida is a very good team, a very well-coached team, a very athletic team," Mitchell said. "To start the conference season on the road is a real challenge but we're excited about the game and excited about the chance to go down to Florida to compete."

If Mitchell had his way, the Cats would not be going back on the road so quickly, but he still embraces and appreciates the challenge that faces them all.

"I like the challenge that the team has in front of them," Mitchell said. "I don't like going on the road ever. I wish we played them all in Memorial. We have had a lot of success in there. I love the challenge and I just love SEC time. I love it."

Mitchell has had fun during non-conference play, but for him, there's nothing that compares to taking the floor for an SEC game.

"Well we are entering my favorite time of the basketball season and that's Southeastern Conference play," Mitchell said. "I just think it is a real honor to compete in this conference. It is clearly, historically, the strongest women's basketball conference in the country. I think it's going to be a very challenging year and I am excited about the team that we have to compete in the conference."

Clearly, Mitchell's optimism about his team has not been dampened by this week's setback. The quality of UK's opponents will only improve as conference play wears on, but he expects his team do the same.

"It will be a tremendous challenge and I just still think we are a little bit away from playing our best basketball," Mitchell said. "We have a lot of young players out there making some mistakes that in two weeks or four weeks are going to be better. Hopefully we can get off to a good start in the conference. I really think this team has a chance to be good by the end of the year."

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