The Wildcats jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and already had Vanderbilt wondering what hit them. As they tried to regroup with a timeout at the 16:47 mark in the first half, Mitchell threw a wrench in any plans the Commodores tried to conjure up in the huddle.
Waiting at the table and entering the game was a completely new collection of five players waiting as the Commodores came back to the court. Sticking with essentially the same lineup that Vandy started the game with, UK had five sets of fresh legs looking to continue to apply the same pressure.
Just over two minutes later and only one point allowed, the starters were back in. All five of them.
Though Kentucky mixed and matched here and there, the plan going in to the game was to make fatigue on the opposing end a serious factor by unleashing its unmatched depth.
"I thought the start was very good for us," said Mitchell. "We wanted to have a fast start. We wanted to use the energy of the second five coming in fresh, almost like they were starting the game. We talked about that before the game. That was the plan,"
Mitchell talked to the media after practice Thursday afternoon and spoke to the importance of their depth, specifically in the post. While DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker have been starting all season long and received the bulk of the minutes Friday night, Mitchell gave Azia Bishop and Samantha Drake extensive playing time on the evening. The longer they were on the court, the more they produced. The more they produced, the longer the starters could rest.
Bishop and Drake finished with nine points apiece with Drake tying her season-high output. For the duo, it may have been they're most impressive performance of the year.
"Gosh, I just thought they played beautifully," said Mitchell. "I thought it was probably their best game, too, as a tandem. Many times they came in and spelled Samarie and DeNesha. I thought we got tremendous production from them."
While Drake and Bishop were out the floor, Stallworth was taking a breather after posting 12 of her 14 points in the first half. Her explosive half combined with A'dia Mathies' 11 points and five steals helped UK get off to that ever-important fast start.
While UK continued to build the lead, which once reached to 22 points, the Cats stayed fresh and rotated as often as they could. Ten players accumulated at least 12 minutes of action Friday night in the quarterfinal matchup, while no one player recorded more than 26 minutes of playing time.
That formula could spell success for Kentucky looking forward to Saturday night's game against Georgia. However, in a tournament format, Mitchell knows anything can happen.
"In theory it should be great," Mitchell said. "I have been to a lot of these tournaments and I don't think you can make any guarantees. If our players will recognize that we're stronger when all of us come together and really give great effort, I think that it can be a great factor."
The greatest trait Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" brings to the table is relentless defense. Not only was UK able to beat Vanderbilt up and down the floor with fresh legs, the Cats could trap, stay in front of their opponents, get deflections and had a bit more spring in their step to block shots.
Kentucky's greatest friend statistically was the turnover.
The Wildcats used 14 steals to help force 23 Vanderbilt turnovers and as a result scored 24 points off of takeaways. Kentucky also broke the single-season blocks record as the Cats swatted eight shots on the night to give them 154 for the year.
Meanwhile, UK played a relatively clean game, and despite 14 turnovers themselves, saw some of their best point-guard play of the season as UK finished with 15 assists.
"I thought our two point guards really did an outstanding job tonight, Jennifer (O'Neill) and Janee (Thompson), one of the best games we've had them as a tandem," said Mitchell. "I thought they were pretty relentless with pushing the basketball. That was something we wrote on the board before the game, we wanted to be relentless in this game."
And so they were. From beginning to end, the Wildcats were noticeably fresher, faster, and stronger throughout the evening and Vanderbilt could never get in reach. They had cut the deficit to 11 at 41-30, but Kentucky was just too much to handle on this night.
Mathies proved to be a handful, as she has so many times over her illustrious four years as a Wildcat. Though UK's depth may have been the difference Friday night, it was Mathies who got UK going early and hit big shots at key points all evening that kept the momentum rolling.
The Co-SEC Player of the Year finished the night with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. She was extremely efficient while also dedicating herself to the other aspect of the game. She finished with five steals - all in the first half - and had two blocks and two assists in her 26 minutes of play.
Looking to go out as an SEC champion on Sunday, she was pleased with her team's start that began with a 76-65 win over Vanderbilt to continue its mission to win the tournament crown.
"We just played 40 minutes with fresh legs," said Mathies. "I think that played a huge factor tonight. When we can have two people running down the court instead of one person, it's going to take a toll on 'em for the last minutes. I think we (were) getting great post ups, making good plays, especially defensively we (were) getting big stops. I'm proud of our effort."