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Mitchell, Cats looking to reverse recent trend against rival Louisville

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A'dia Mathies scored 20 points on just seven shots in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville last season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies scored 20 points on just seven shots in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville last season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Any mention of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry invokes memories of heated, closely contested games, regardless of the sport.
At least in sports other than women's basketball.

Over the last five seasons, the annual Bluegrass battle has been decided by an average of 22.2 points. The home team has won the game each of the past four years and just once by fewer than 20 points.

"I don't really have an explanation for that; it's been surprising to me," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.

What makes the recent stretch of lopsidedness so perplexing is the strength of the two programs. Since the 2008-09 season, UK and U of L have each missed out on March Madness just once. They have combined for 15 wins in the NCAA Tournament and four trips to the Sweet 16 or beyond.

Women's basketball has never been stronger in the Commonwealth, yet its two best teams keep beating up on each other. And the strangest thing is they do it while trading wins. The Wildcats and Cardinals each have a pair of blowout wins over their archrivals over the last four years with the average score of the in-state showdown sitting at 71.5-68.5 in favor of Kentucky.

"There really is no explanation for that," Mitchell said. "I certainly hope it's not that way this year if we are on the losing end."

If recent history holds true, the Cats will be. It's been the team playing on its home floor that has come away with the victory each of the last four games. Louisville may well defend its home floor come Sunday at 6 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center, but Mitchell envisions the blowout trend will end.

"I would suspect that this is going to be a real tough game, a real competitive game and we will certainly be trying to prepare today and tomorrow for Louisville to play their best and I'm sure they are doing the same thing," Mitchell said.

In fact, that's the strength of Jeff Walz's U of L teams that sticks out above all others.

"They really do a great job of identifying what your weaknesses are and they put a lot of pressure on you in those areas," Mitchell said. "They really do a fantastic job of preparing for games."

To combat that, Mitchell will be looking for his team to focus on the things they do well.

"What we will really have to get over there and do is be tremendously focused and try to stick to what we want to do and try to stay as close to our identity as what we do well and can't get rattled," Mitchell said. "I thought we really got rattled over there two years ago."

The game to which Mitchell is referring is UK's 78-52 loss in Louisville in Dec. 2010. UK shot just 28.2 percent and committed 22 turnovers. Six current Wildcats saw the floor in that game, including leading scorer and Louisville native A'dia Mathies.

"That loss we don't want to suffer ever again and we don't really want to lose any games," Mathies said. "We look at that game as motivation but we also look at we don't want to lose any more games. It being a rivalry game, stakes are going to be high so we just want to go out and play the best we can."

Mathies is among the most decorated players in school history, but she hasn't won a game in her hometown since she was a senior at Iroquois High School.

"I'm very excited to play," Mathies said. "It's just another game we are trying to go out there and win and being able to play in front of my home crowd its very excited to go back home and know all the people there supporting me that couldn't make it here."

Mathies, like her coach, is more concerned with turning in a better performance than the Cats' road game of two weeks ago than two years ago. UK has won four straight at home since losing 85-51 at Baylor and Mitchell is happy with his team's progression over that time.

"I think we will be better a month from now than we are but we have an opportunity to show where we have progressed over the last few weeks, they have worked real hard," Mitchell said. "That's what I like about this. I like the opportunity we have."

Mitchell views it as nothing other than an opportunity because he knows the game, in spite of the fact it's the first top-10 matchup between the two rivals and will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU, is not a be-all, end-all.

"This does not determine where we will end up in the season but it is a great measuring stick for how far we have come since that game," Mitchell said. "Clearly we needed to improve from that night and we have. I just really want the players to put everything they can into this preparation. I know Louisville will be well-prepared, I want Kentucky to be well-prepared and go out and give a great effort and I think that gives us a chance to win if we do those things."

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