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UK Hoops adapting to continue winning ways

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Coming off a career-high 22-point outing, Bria Goss and UK Hoops will take on Florida at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Coming off a career-high 22-point outing, Bria Goss and UK Hoops will take on Florida at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It wasn't a decision Matthew Mitchell wanted to make.

With his team down 36-32 at halftime to No. 15/14 Georgia, Mitchell called off Kentucky's trademark full-court press that has befuddled opponents throughout his five years as head coach.

"I didn't want to do it because I think it's the easy way out for them," Mitchell said. "I think it is turning your back on what your responsibility is and I don't want to do that, but we had to take the press off."

UK's "40 Minutes of Dread" defense had forced turnovers to the tune of 30.4 per game to that point, but the Lady Bulldogs had committed just four miscues in 20 minutes of Thursday's game in Athens, Ga.

"It was a really poor performance, not to take anything away from Georgia," Mitchell said. "We should have been able to bring more heat. It happens sometimes over the course of a long season when you're a pressing team is that night where maybe one person is not ready to go."

Mitchell's willingness to change would pay dividends, as No. 6 UK (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) rallied to a 69-64 win, the Wildcats third straight over a ranked SEC opponents and second straight on the road. With the victory, UK maintained sole possession of first place in the conference entering Sunday's matchup with Florida (13-6, 3-3 SEC) at 2 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.

So much of the success UK has had this season in winning five games against ranked opponents has come due to that potent press, but Mitchell had the ability to overcome his own stubbornness and put his team in position to win.  

"We didn't have the rhythm and we couldn't make anything happen so we went to half-court defense and really trying to crash the offensive boards," Mitchell said. "It was a different way to win the game, but I think that's what good teams do. If the game plan's not going, can you adjust?"

In previous years, UK would have fallen short with the press out of sync and leading scorer A'dia Mathies limited to just seven points, but a more talented roster with a will to win allowed the Cats to overcome on Thursday night.

"We've shown a great ability to score and that's been our issue in years past," Mitchell said. "We've been tough defensively, but if A'dia was off we didn't have a Bria Goss who could step up and go get 22 (points) like she did last night. I just continue to take away from these games my belief in the players."

The last game in which Mitchell scrapped the press was against the same Florida team that will visit Lexington, Ky., this weekend. That trip to Gainesville, Fla., on New Year's Day came on the heels of a loss to Middle Tennessee State that made Mitchell unwilling to unleash his troops.

"We had looked very bad in the press at Middle Tennessee State and we hadn't really had the time to get it corrected to the level where I felt comfortable, so we really didn't press Florida last time full court," Mitchell said. "I didn't know whether we could sort of grind it out and do it, but we did exactly that."

In that first matchup of 2011-12, UK came away with a hard-fought 59-56 victory that still stands out for Mitchell even in a season with big win after big win.

"That showed us we can win at a different style and of course it was our first SEC game so you really didn't know what you had anyway as it related to being prepared for the conference," Mitchell said. "I was really, really proud of that win because we were sort of down going into Gainesville, and for them to fight as hard as they did, that was a particularly good win for us."

The Cats may have won this week against Georgia and earlier against Florida in the half-court, but don't expect Mitchell to shelve the press again on Sunday. For the second consecutive game, tickets in Memorial are sold out in advance of game day and UK figures to be energized in the press by a boisterous crowd.

"Anytime you come back here is an exciting thing for our players," Mitchell said. "We have great fans and I'm just real appreciative of the people who buy the tickets and come out here and watch our games, because our kids really draw from the energy of the crowd. They're looking forward to it, they love playing in Memorial (Coliseum)."

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