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Strange as it may seem, Mitchell glad to have faced Baylor

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Matthew Mitchell and the Wildcats will take the floor for the first time on Saturday since losing at Baylor. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell and the Wildcats will take the floor for the first time on Saturday since losing at Baylor. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On Tuesday night, the Kentucky women's basketball took to the primetime stage looking to make a statement. Playing against Baylor, the Wildcats were looking to declare themselves contenders for the 2012-13 title.

Instead, it was the 2011-12 national champions who made the statement. The Cats were overwhelmed in an 85-51 defeat, their first of the season, turning in a performance UK fans who tuned into the game would rather forget.

But three days removed from the loss with his team preparing for its first game since, Matthew Mitchell is expressing an opinion you might not expect about the lopsided loss in Waco, Texas.

"I was really happy that we played the game," Mitchell said. "I'm sure that sounds a little silly or crazy right now, but I'm real happy that we had the experience of playing them."

The Cats could have been playing a much lesser opponent in the comforts of Memorial Coliseum. They could have played a mediocre game and come away with a double-digit win to move to 2-0 on the season. They could have avoided the pain and - in Mitchell's words - "embarrassment" that came from the loss by not playing the game at all.

Mitchell is glad they didn't.

Now that they've had a chance to put aside all the negative emotions that come from being outplayed from tip to buzzer, Mitchell and his team have realized their goals for the season haven't changed at all.

"You don't want to go on national television and look like that," Mitchell said. "But you have to move on from that quickly and think about the team and where we are and what we can become."

What the Cats want to become is a team that can compete with Baylor and teams like Baylor in late-round NCAA Tournament games. The game against the Lady Bears may have shone a spotlight on the fact that UK isn't there yet, but the Cats also now have a much better idea what they have to do to get to that point come March.

"If we can ever become the team we think we can and we were ever to come across them again, I think it'll be much more valuable to have that experience and know that we have a lot of things to improve upon," Mitchell said. "Even if you don't play them again, there's excellent teams remaining on our schedule and you have to be able to function against the best teams in the country if you're trying to be among those."

Keeping in mind the goal of becoming that team they want to be, the Cats have gotten back in the practice gym. With the sting of the Baylor loss still so fresh, you might expect Mitchell to be more fiery with his team, but he's taken a different approach.

"We were going to work with the facts," Mitchell said. "We weren't going to get emotional about it. We were going to react appropriately. We weren't going to overreact, we weren't going to underreact. We were just going to see where the facts led us and I think we're in a good spot moving forward."

Mitchell reported he was "very encouraged" by UK's first practice following the loss on Wednesday.

The first chance for the Cats to display their growth comes on Saturday. UK (1-1) will take on High Point (1-1) at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday looking to extend its 21-game home winning streak, but the Panthers will have other ideas.

High point center Cheyenne Parker stands at 6-foot-4 and is averaging 18.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 4.0 assists through two games, while point guard Erin Reynolds has posted averaged of 16.0 points and 6.5 assists. Mitchell has been impressed by both in watching tape, saying both are among the best players at their positions in the Big South Conference, but the Panthers have solid players around them.

"They're surrounded by a bunch of hard-nosed, tough player that can make 3s," Mitchell said. "Anytime you're playing a team with a good point guard, good post player and then people that can shoot the basketball, they are dangerous."

But as is normally the case with Mitchell and the Cats, their focus will be on themselves more than anything else.

"We have to be ready to go out and give a great effort and I'm looking forward to getting back in Memorial Coliseum and playing a tough game (Saturday)," Mitchell said.

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