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UK Hoops already looking to turn the page on underwhelming win

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UK all-time leading scorer Valerie Still was honored with Susan B. Feamster Trailblazer Award at halftime of UK's 82-68 win over Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
UK all-time leading scorer Valerie Still was honored with Susan B. Feamster Trailblazer Award at halftime of UK's 82-68 win over Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Sunday, the sixth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats defeated Alabama 82-68.

Afterwards, all Matthew Mitchell and his players were talking about was putting the game behind them and playing better in the future.

Wait, what?

The Wildcats picked up a double-digit win over a Southeastern Conference opponent team, yet they could hardly come up with anything good to say about how they played?

"It was a day where we weren't our sharpest and we weren't really locked in and focused," Mitchell said.

On the strength of a 32-4 run in the first half, UK (20-2, 9-0 SEC) built a 25-point lead against the visiting Crimson Tide (10-12, 0-8 SEC). The Wildcats, though, relented in their intensity, allowing Alabama cut the deficit at halftime to 17 points.

"I thought the first half was sort of like the whole game," Mitchell said. "We had some good moments and got out to a big lead, then we let them go 9-2 to end the half and didn't look real interested. It's almost like we thought if we got a certain number of points ahead, that Alabama was going to go away. That certainly never happened today."

In the second half, Alabama would score 39 points, tying for the second most points any opponent has scored against UK in 18 halves of SEC basketball.

"We just did a poor job on defense," junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "We let them go where they wanted to go and wasn't denying like we're capable of. That's really on us. We've got to do a better job."

Fortunately, the Cats managed to score more points on Sunday than they had since an 88-point outburst three weeks ago against Mississippi State. Three different UK players reached double figures, led by Keyla Snowden and her 14 points.

Throughout UK's unprecedented start to SEC play, the first-place Wildcats have won in nearly every way imaginable. They've prevailed in half-court slugfests, full-court sprints and, now, games where they simply didn't play up to their lofty defensive standards. The way they've persevered and maintained an unblemished record speaks to the progress the program has made, particularly on this day.

"It's a long, long season," Mitchell said. "Sixteen games in this league is long. You're not going to paint a masterpiece every Sunday afternoon and every Thursday night. To be able to earn a victory is significant and we're glad to have it."

Even though she's only a freshman, Bria Goss has learned quickly that winning pretty isn't always an option, though she doesn't want any repeats of Sunday's game.

"It's just a learning experience," Goss said. "As much as we don't want to have these games, you're going to have these kinds of games. Hopefully this will be the last one."

Goss and her teammates helped welcome dozens of former Wildcats as a part of Alumni Day. Headlining the festivities were members of the 1981-82 team, the only one in school history to win an SEC championship.

Veterans like Mathies and Snowden are well aware of the history of the program. The parallels between what Valerie Still and that team 30 years ago accomplished and what this year's team has set out to do are not lost on them.

"It's in our minds," Snowden said. "That's one of our goals. That's what we're going to push toward each game. We're going to take it one game at a time and we hope we can accomplish that."

Mitchell is certainly thinking along the same lines, but he also knows any duplicates of the effort against Alabama will very quickly derail those goals.

"I think if they continue to do that, they'll get beat," Mitchell said. "I think it is real clear that if they don't stick really close to the fundamentals of defense that they definitely possess and they've worked hard to earn, (the team will lose)."

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