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UK Hoops happy to be learning from wins

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Keyla Snowden led UK with 11 points in a 57-52 win over Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Keyla Snowden led UK with 11 points in a 57-52 win over Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
By this point in the season, Matthew Mitchell normally has a conference loss from which he can teach.

In fact, every coach in the 38-year history of Kentucky women's basketball has had at least one Southeastern Conference loss to teach from seven games into conference.

Off to the first 7-0 SEC start in school history, Mitchell doesn't have a defeat to look back on to motivate his team and help correct mistakes.

"For us being in this situation for the first time, I'm learning as we go and I'm trying to figure it out," Mitchell said. "We've never been this deep in an SEC season without a loss to go back and point to. I'm searching for the right way to handle everything."

He's more than happy to have to make that adjustment.

In past years, UK would have come out on the losing end against a physical Florida team that "outplayed" the Wildcats in Mitchell's words. Instead, No. 6 Kentucky (18-2, 7-0 SEC) was able to overcome a lackluster performance and hold on for a 57-52 victory in front of 7,888 fans, the eighth-largest crowd in Memorial Coliseum history.

"To win that game today is an outstanding thing for our team," Mitchell said. "Anytime you can win and still have plenty to work on in practice (is good). I think the players understand we were fortunate to win and Florida really outplayed us today."

UK shot just 18-of-60 (30.0 percent) from the field on Sunday and was led in scoring by a player (Keyla Snowden) who made just one of her nine field goal attempts. Snowden scored nine of her 11 points on free throws as UK scored its final nine points at the line, including Snowden and Bria Goss hitting 7-of-8 in the final 30 seconds to overcome a valiant Gator comeback.

The Cats lead by as many as 15 points with 13:27 remaining after outscoring the visitors 17-2 to open the second half. Going back to the final 5:42 of the first half, UK went on a 25-4 run to turn a six-point deficit into that 15-point lead. Outside of that extended spurt though, Florida outscored UK 48-32

"For a couple of minutes, we resembled what our team can look like," Mitchell said. "That was the only time today that happened."

In general, Mitchell wasn't pleased with most of his players' effort, but that wasn't extended to his team as a whole.

"I thought that Brittany Henderson hustled today," Mitchell said. "I thought that Kastine Evans hustled today. I thought Samarie Walker really fought defensively today. We had enough people that stepped up and really, really played hard."

Henderson had eight points, three rebounds and three steals in 18 minutes while Evans was one of only two Wildcats in double figures with 10 points. Walker had nine points and seven rebounds, but it was her effort on the defensive end that really gave her coach reason for excitement.

"You're starting to see her become a Kentucky-level defender when you see her deny passes, get in the passing lane and deflect passes," Mitchell said. "That is what was missing. I'm totally encouraged with her progression on the defensive end."

Walker had career highs with three steals and three blocks and credited work in practice for her defensive development.

"My teammates stay on me, coaches stay on me and I've just been working really hard on my defense focusing on that more than anything," Walker said.

UK needed every ounce of her production on the offensive and defensive end today as junior guard A'dia Mathies was held to single-digit scoring output for the third consecutive game.

"I think A'dia went back to a place we've seen her go back to many times," Mitchell said. "Florida made it real difficult on her and I don't know if she felt she didn't get some calls around the bucket. She just didn't give a great effort today offensively and we'll have to address that."

After scoring a career-high 34 points in a win over Tennessee on Jan. 12, Mathies has scored just 17 points over her last three outings. However, UK has won all three of those games over quality opponents, including a pair of road wins over ranked SEC teams. The fact that UK can win games with limited production from "the best player in the SEC" according to Florida head coach Amanda Butler is proof of just how talented this team is.

"We have a very balanced team," Mathies said. "I don't need to put up big numbers every night for us to win. We can win in a variety of ways."

Mathies knows she has to return to her scoring form for UK to reach its potential, but she's much happier about her team continuing its unbeaten league start than she is disappointed in her own performance.

"Every game is important," Mathies said. "Every game is one you need to win. It's a tough league and so any win you can get, no matter if it's by one point or 20 points or 40 points, a win is a win. We're just glad to keep it rolling."

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