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UK Hoops excited to welcome alumni after week off

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Matthew Mitchell is looking forward to Sunday afternoon.

The Kentucky women's basketball program has invited former players back for its annual Alumni Day. It will be a celebration of UK Hoops' past as players are honored at halftime of the Wildcats game against Georgia and celebration of the present and future that wouldn't be possible if not for all they have done.

"We are so fortunate to be in the position we're in right now," the UK head coach said. "We're so fortunate to be experiencing success right now and a lot of that foundation - well, all of that foundation - was laid by the players who've come before us. I love it that they can come back."

Another special group will also be in attendance.

In celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day and the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the seven coaches who first led UK's women's programs will be recognized. Susie Stammer (field hockey), Betty Rider (golf), Leah Little (gymnastics), Dephine Nemeth (volleyball), Claudia Young (tennis) and Harold Barnett (track and field) will receive  the Susan B. Feamster Pioneer Award, named after Kentucky's first women's athletics director and basketball coach.

Without trailblazers like those seven, thousands of fans wouldn't come to Memorial every UK home game to loudly support their team. Among those fans will be many children, and Mitchell hopes more than anything that some of them will be inspired to try to become the next A'dia Mathies, DeNesha Stallworth or Kastine Evans.

"It's an important day for us just to try to reach out to young kids and particularly young girls who dream about playing at a place like Kentucky and being in an atmosphere like will be in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon," Mitchell said. "It's a fantastic day and we're proud to be a part of it."

Oh yeah, and the Cats (19-2, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) will be playing host to a highly ranked conference foe when the No. 13/14 Lady Bulldogs (18-3, 6-2 SEC) come to town on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

"We have a very exciting game coming up Sunday afternoon," Mitchell said. "It will be a real big challenge for us. Georgia has another very good team as they always have."

Perhaps more than anything else, experience is what jumps off the page when evaluating Georgia. It starts with head coach Andy Landers, who is in his 34th season leading the Lady Bulldogs and is closing in on his 900th career victory. It also extends to his roster, as Georgia has six seniors on its roster including leading scorers Jasmine James and Jasmine Hassell.

"There's not any weaknesses that I see in their team," Mitchell said. "It'll be a talented team that'll be well coached by one of the great coaches of all time in our game and we'll have to play well to win. But it's a good opportunity for our team to get a very, very important victory over a really good team."

It's a victory the Cats will have had to wait a long week to earn.

Kentucky last played on Sunday when the Wildcats rebounded from their first loss in more than two months with a 73-60 win over LSU. During the time off the Cats took advantage of the opportunity to get some rest and focused as much on the mental side of the game as the physical with the second half of the conference schedule on the horizon.

Mitchell has worked with none of his players more closely on that front than Azia Bishop. The sophomore forward/center turned in her best game of the season with 17 points against LSU, doing so after a week of practice she called "rough" and her coach said was a "disaster."

Bishop and Mitchell met on Friday trying to build toward the kind of effort she needs to make in order for those kinds of performances to be the norm, but the results aren't clear quite yet.

"She's been fine this week and we've tried to give a little time off and catch our breath here so it hasn't been a real intense week up to this point," Mitchell said. "So we'll really start finding out more about that (Friday) and (Saturday) and then you all will be able to see on Sunday."

With so many special guests scheduled to be there on Sunday, Mitchell hopes Bishop and her teammates play the way he knows they can.

"I love it that there's a team that - if they choose to show up and play really, really tough - our team will make the alumni proud and really proud of where they played and what their program's doing right now," Mitchell said.

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