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Mitchell looking forward to UK Hoops' first-ever test vs. Texas A&M

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Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats will face Texas A&M for the first time on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats will face Texas A&M for the first time on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell can't help but look up to the way Gary Blair has built his program since he arrived at Texas A&M in 2003.

After he took over at a time when Texas A&M hadn't finished with a winning record in seven years, the Aggies are now perennially one of the nation's top teams, a fact that was cemented by the school's first-ever national championship in 2011.

Mitchell can relate to that journey.

"He's done an unbelievable job there," Mitchell said. "I don't think a lot of people expected it, so that is very inspirational to everyone who's in a program that's maybe not one of the traditional powers."

Not only that, Mitchell looked to College Station, Texas when he and his coaching staff were in the early stages of installing the defense that has come to be known by the moniker "40 minutes of dread."

"When we were looking to go to pressure defense, I called out there to Vic Schaefer - who's the coach at Mississippi State now - (who) was running the defense at Texas A&M," Mitchell said. "We watched how they played and we were inspired by that four years ago."

With all that inspiration, you would assume Mitchell to be highly motivated as the Wildcats and Aggies get set to match up for the first time at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. Mitchell is indeed excited about the showdown between sixth-ranked Kentucky (14-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) and No. 20 Texas A&M (12-4, 2-0 SEC), but not for that reason.

"I'll tell you what makes this game special is that they are such a great team, and we feel like we have a good team, and just the challenge of being able to play in this type of game where the winner's going to come out in a really good spot," Mitchell said.

The conference race - which includes newcomers A&M and Missouri for the first time - is young, but the two teams taking the floor in Memorial Coliseum on Thursday are likely to figure into it prominently. Through one week, UK and Texas A&M are two of just four schools with unblemished records and the winner, as Mitchell knows, will have an early leg up. But he doesn't expect it to come easy for either side.

The Aggies have been sternly tested this season having faced four top-10 teams in nonconference play. They lost all four, but have won four straight, including an impressive 63-51 road win over then-No. 24 on Sunday. Junior Kelsey Bone leads the way for Texas A&M and Mitchell had high praise for the 6-foot-4 center who is second in the SEC in scoring (17.8 points per game) and first in rebounding (10.0 per game).

"She presents a lot of problems for whoever she is playing because she is so talented and so big," Mitchell said. "She has really long arms and a great presence in the paint and very good shooter around the basket. She does a great job of using her body to get positioned on you so she can score. She is a good rebounder and is just piling up tremendous statistics."

Bone is joined in the frontcourt by Kristi Bellock, who is averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The good news for the Cats though is that Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth form a potent post duo themselves.

"I think we have a great chance to win the game because out players are talented too," Mitchell said. "This is a game that's just going to come down to who's able to execute better and who's able to persevere and hang in and maybe get a break here or there."

In other words, Mitchell is expecting the fans who come out to support his team to be treated to some entertaining basketball. And because of how tight of a battle he expects, Mitchell knows their presence could be particularly important.  

"I would just really implore the fans to come out and pack Memorial (Thursday) night," Mitchell said. "It would be a big, big help to us. I think it's going to be a great, great game. I think it will be worth the effort to make it out to Memorial Coliseum for a great game against Texas A&M."

If the crowd does help cheer the Cats on to victory, it would be a school-record 31st consecutive home win. Only No. 1 Baylor currently has a longer home winning streak at 47 games, but Mitchell will reflect on the significance of such things later.

"The biggest thing and most important thing that a win (Thursday) night would be that we have beaten a really good team," Mitchell said. "For this team, that is what (Thursday) night is about."

Bishop out with wrist injury

UK will be without forward/center Azia Bishop against Texas A&M. The sophomore took a hard fall in Kentucky's win on Sunday at Alabama, sustaining a "very small crack" in her wrist. She will miss 10-14 days and is wearing a splint.

"She can shoot through this time," Mitchell said. "She can do some cardio. So we'll just try to focus on her getting better as a shooter and make this time as beneficial as we can."

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