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Offensive focus shifts to point guard, ball security for UK Hoops

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Senior guard A'dia Mathies may see an expanded role at the point guard position. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Senior guard A'dia Mathies may see an expanded role at the point guard position. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It's been four days since Matthew Mitchell's Kentucky women's basketball team took the court in a game, but they certainly have been looking to make strides in the gym during practice. The Wildcats are in the midst of a six-day layoff in between games before they take on Morehead State Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

The No. 8 Wildcats are hoping to use this break to refine the most important position on the floor: point guard.

"We are trying to make some progress at our point guard position," said Mitchell. "That is something that needs some work, so we have been looking at some different people in practice. I'd like to see us run a little more efficiently on offense."

Turnovers have been a concern for Kentucky. Then-No. 1 Baylor handled Kentucky and forced the Cats into 22 turnovers and Kentucky is averaging 21.7 turnovers per game.

Kentucky's fast-paced offense will ultimately lead to a higher number of turnovers. The Cats fly up and down the floor as much as they can and try to score quickly.

Mitchell, however, is still looking to bring that number down significantly. And he's looking specifically at the point guard position to help stabilize the offense.

Junior Maegan Conwright has started at the point guard position for UK this season, but Mitchell is looking at all his options options. And he has a few.

Redshirt sophomore Jennifer O'Neill provides some depth at the position, but she's inexperienced in the offense and hasn't played big minutes yet this season. Freshman Janee Thompson is likely the future at the position, but she's in a similar boat as O'Neill as far as minutes and comfort in Mitchell's up-tempo scheme.

The most obvious choice to help Conwright with the ball-handling duties is likely Kentucky's best scoring option. Senior guard A'dia Mathies is averaging 15.0 points per game so far this season, but there's a chance that her role on the team may be transforming in the not so distant future.

"I think it's too soon for that, but it's a possibility," said Mitchell of Mathies seeing more time at point guard.

And if things don't improve in terms of taking care of the basketball, Mitchell's patience may wear thin if his current crop of players can't give him what he's looking for.

"Trying to get some young players in the mix there with Janee Thompson being a freshman," said Mitchell. "Jen O'Neill coming off a redshirt year, Maegan (Conwright) has not played the position full time, she's played in spurts here. Just trying to have some patience but at some point you can't have an infinite supply of patience, so A'dia is always a real good option for us."

Part of Mitchell's concern has to do with a greater focus this season on UK's offensive attack. In seasons past, Mitchell has harped on UK's defense almost exclusively early in the season. The Cats did that last season, and it worked out pretty well as they came away with the SEC championship.

However, Kentucky isn't just trying to win conference championships anymore. The Cats have their sights set on a much larger trophy and finally breaking through to the Final Four after multiple trips to the Elite Eight. Mitchell thinks it's been their lack of offense late in the season that has kept them from reaching those goals. With several players still in the fold from those teams of the past, Mitchell feels his veterans can pick up the slack on defense while he puts his energy into improving the offensive side of the ball.

"We have a veteran team in a lot of areas that I think is familiar with what we like to do defensively," said Mitchell. "We've just noticed it when we won the SEC championship last year, and that was a great accomplishment for us, we've been in some big games late in the season where our offense has been not what we wanted."

With that in mind, the offense-first philosophy this season has definitely taken some getting used to. That may be why they haven't quite seen the returns on their offensive product that they hope to have later in the season. It's just going to take some time.

"This preseason I would say that we definitely have tried to emphasize our offense," said Mitchell. "Like I said, it's a work in progress and one of these games pretty soon you are going to see us reap some of the benefits of all of the hard work."

While UK's emphasis has been on offense more so than in the past, the focus hasn't been on a particular offense that Mitchell is trying to install. Rather, they are looking to help their players become better play makers within the flow of their up-and-down offense.

"We have placed a greater emphasis on trying to help the players make more plays instead of teaching them how to run a certain play," said Mitchell.

 After the team spends Thanksgiving with an early-morning practice followed by a team meal, the team will have a chance to get some rest in the afternoon before they hit the floor for this first time since last Saturday. There, Mitchell will get to see just how far his team has come in those six days of work.

"It's been a real good week for us preparation-wise," said Mitchell. "We needed to take some steps forward and I think that we have. The game against Morehead State will be very interesting to see how much progress we have made."

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