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Bishop boosts Wildcats in hard-fought defeat of Arkansas

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Azia Bishop had 11 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes against Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Azia Bishop had 11 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes against Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Azia Bishop certainly got her money's worth on Thursday night.

Due to foul trouble and her team's depth in the post, the freshman played limited minutes in Kentucky's 84-73 win over Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum. In fact, she was on the floor for just two minutes in the first half. However, she wasn't about to let that her affect her approach.

When head coach Matthew Mitchell called her number in the second, she responded in a big way.

"Coach just said everyone who gets in the game (needs to) work hard," Bishop said. "That's what I did, no matter if I didn't get in the first half. Every time I go in, I just give my all."

By the time all was said and done, Bishop had tallied 11 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes of playing time with nearly all of her production coming after the break. It wasn't the first time Bishop sparked her team with a stellar second half. When discussing her performance, Bishop's mind immediately drifted to the Wildcats' upset win over Duke last month.

"That's kind of how the Duke game was too," Bishop said. "I didn't really play that much in the first half and in the second half it was kind of the same so I don't know. Maybe it's a second half thing."

Bishop tallied a second-half double-double against the No. 5 Blue Devils, demonstrating the substantial impact the 6-foot-3 center can exert on most any game she plays.

Her impact was once again felt as the Wildcats moved to 2-0 in conference play for the first time in four seasons. More than anything else, it was her aggressiveness that allowed her to do what she did.

"I thought Azia, along with A'dia (Mathies), really sparked us with some offensive rebounds," Mitchell said. "That is a measure of aggressiveness: offensive rebounding. It's very tough to do."

Five of the six rebounds Bishop grabbed in the second half came on the offensive end on the heels of a first half that saw the Wildcats grab just four offensive boards as a team. UK was outrebounded 24-15 in the first half, but Bishop helped completely turn that around in the second. The Wildcats' second-half rebounding margin was 24-12.

Mitchell has worked tirelessly with Bishop in her first collegiate season to coax her to play with the intensity and toughness she showed on Thursday. Bishop has known all along that her assertiveness would have to improve and she credits Mitchell for much of the progress she's already made.

"In high school it was alright, but coming into college it has to get better," Bishop said. "It has to do a lot with Coach because he gets on me a lot about getting stronger and going up strong and being aggressive."

The Razorbacks may have been aware of Bishop's ability to affect a game in the interior, but head coach Tom Collen certainly did not anticipate what happened at the 8:02 mark in the second half.

UK raced out early and held a lead as large as 15 points in the opening stanza. The Razorbacks fought back though and actually led by as many as four early in the second half. UK, though, answered quickly, largely on the shoulders of Bishop and Mathies (21 points). The Wildcats were ahead 64-58 following a layup by Arkansas' Ashley Daniels and it appeared the game would come down to the wire. That's when Bishop lined up a 3-pointer from the right wing that extended UK's lead to nine points.

"I don't know how many 3s she's made this year, but we didn't have in the scouting report that she was a 3-point shooter," Collen said of Bishop's second career made 3. "She drained that and I think that sucked the life out of us just a little bit."

Collen and his Razorbacks may have been taken by surprise by her ability from the outside, but Bishop's teammates weren't.

"She has a great shot," Mathies said. "She practices and if she's out there we'll let her shoot all day if they leave her open."

It was certainly impressive that Bishop was able to fit in a made 3-pointer, 11 points, eight rebounds and a block into her 10 minutes on the floor, but perhaps most amazingly, she managed to foul out. Mitchell said Bishop still has plenty of room to grow in terms of positioning and adjusting to a faster pace of play and he knows the only true way for her to learn is through experience.

As an example, Mitchell found himself balancing between praising and instructing when she picked up her fifth foul with 2:12 remaining. He certainly wanted to commend her for a job well done for her game as a whole, but at the same time, he made sure to take advantage of an opportunity to help her learn.

"Her fifth foul, we talked about when she came off the floor," Mitchell said. "I was so proud of how she played and she gave us so much energy and we probably would not have won the game without it, but that was a teaching moment. We were supposed to switch the screen and she was kind of out of a stance. When she just continues to practice and work hard, she'll figure that out."

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