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UK Hoops to get December preview of what lies ahead in March

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UK overcame a 14-point deficit in a 48-47 win over Louisville last Sunday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) UK overcame a 14-point deficit in a 48-47 win over Louisville last Sunday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
December victories can mean a great deal. You need look no further than Kentucky's come-from-behind win at Louisville last Sunday for proof.

But when you have built your program the point where Matthew Mitchell has, pre-New Year's triumphs are but resume builders for March. It's that time of year when a shot like the one Janee Thompson hit or a block like Azia Bishop's against the Cardinals is the difference between the end of a season and playing another day.

That time of year is also exactly why Mitchell is so excited to see what the next three days have in store for his team.

"This is exactly like an NCAA tournament weekend," Mitchell said.

This weekend, UK Hoops will play host to a pair of quality non-conference opponents in DePaul (6-2) and Middle Tennessee State (5-3). Playing on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., the Cats will have limited time between games to prepare, exactly the kind of situation UK will face come March.

"This is a lot about your preparation leading up to the first game because the second game is going to be far more mental preparation than physical and it's a tough weekend but it's a great challenge," Mitchell said. "We wanted it this weekend. We wanted our team to have to be in this kind of setting."

As Mitchell suggested, the way the weekend fell is no accident. He wanted to see how his team would respond in this kind of setting when he drew up the schedule. Now that it has arrived, he is particularly looking forward to see how his players respond to it offensively.

"I think we have too many, right now on offense, that kind of stand and watch," Mitchell said. "This is a great, great weekend for us to show that mentally we can apply ourselves."

In victory, that was true against Louisville. UK managed just 48 points and 32.7-percent shooting along with 23 turnovers. Even on the game-winning shot, Thompson was forced to go one-on-one.

"I called a play initially and it went very similar to most possessions in the game where we did not execute the play," Mitchell said. "Janee was being totally honest when she said she didn't know the plays and didn't know what play to get in. That's a very accurate assessment and that's why we are in the shape we are point guard wise because they don't."

It's a testament to the talent of his team that the Cats were able to defeat a top-10 opponent on the road and move to 6-1 without a point guard with a complete grasp of the offense. Mitchell was elated to have won the game, but he isn't deluding himself into thinking his team is anywhere close to a finished product.

"We made a bunch of outstanding individual plays, but that will eventually catch up to you," Mitchell said. "We have to play much, much better than how we are playing and we are going to have to play very well to win."

There will always be pressure to perform when facing a team that has reached the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, but Friday night's game will dial up the pressure a little more. The Cats will play their annual "Pack the House" game in Rupp Arena and are poised to break the school's all-time attendance record.

"We are really trying to impress upon our players the importance of a sharp, focused and aggressive effort tomorrow night to honor the folks who have put so much into getting out and watching this game," Mitchell said. "We are really looking forward to it."

DePaul, however, will be intent on crashing the party.

Four different Blue Demons are averaging in double figures, led by Brittany Hrynko at 14.4 points per game. DePaul also averages 18.8 assists per game as a team against just 14.9 turnovers.

"They are extremely talented on offense," Mitchell said. "They are well coached; Coach (Doug) Bruno has a great program. They are a perennial top-25 NCAA Tournament team and watching them on film has really gotten our attention that it is going to be a tough, tough game. We are going to need to be really in sync defensively to be able to slow DePaul down."

Fans who came to Rupp last year to watch the "Pack the House" game were treated to an upset win over Duke. Should the No. 7/6 Cats win on Friday it won't be an upset, but Mitchell is expecting a similarly exciting game.

"We want to encourage anyone who doesn't have a ticket to get out there and we would love to make this the most well-attended women's basketball game in the country this year," Mitchell said. "We have a chance to do that."

As of Thursday afternoon, 17,158 tickets had been sold. Last year's NCAA high for a women's basketball game was 18,563. Tickets for each of UK's four December home games can be purchased for $1 at TicketMaster.com by using the code DOLLARDAYS.


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