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Balance, competitiveness to define UK Hoops in 2013-14

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Twelve different Wildcats scored in UK's 83-35 exhibition win over Eckerd College on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Twelve different Wildcats scored in UK's 83-35 exhibition win over Eckerd College on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Entering the 2013-14 season, the biggest question about this Kentucky team was how it would replace the production of A'dia Mathies.

Would a single player emerge in a featured role? Would UK's post players step up and fill the void? Could the Wildcats break through to the Final Four without Mathies, the second-leading scorer in school history?

After UK's lone exhibition -- an 83-35 win over Eckerd College -- the answers remain unclear. But in the end, these Cats believe the biggest challenge facing them this season could eventually turn into their greatest strength, provided they approach it the right way.

"I think that difference between the past teams and this year's team is honestly we don't have a star player on the team this year, whereas the past few years we had A'dia," Samarie Walker said, viewing a perceived negative as a positive.

Throughout her career, Mathies served as a safety blanket for Matthew Mitchell's teams. When plays broke down, Mathies stepped up. When UK needed a basket in a crucial moment, the ball went to Mathies.

This season, the Cats plan to share those burdens equally. They think they will be all the better for it.

"I think any given day or night, anybody can have a good game, a great game." said Walker, who had 12 points and six rebounds.

Against Eckerd, 12 Wildcats saw the floor. They all played at least nine minutes and registered at least two rebounds as UK charged to a 55-35 edge on the glass.

"That was one of the main focuses of the game was rebounding, especially offensive rebounding," Walker said. "And I think this team is definitely tough. This is one of the most competitive teams I've ever been on and I think that's definitely something we focus on in practice and it's something we want to focus on for the whole season."

UK's competitiveness was on display from the opening tip, as the Cats held Eckerd without a point until the 9:18 mark of the first half. Kentucky would go on to force 41 turnovers on the afternoon, hardly a surprise to any of the 2,314 fans in Memorial Coliseum accustomed to such dominant defensive displays.

"I thought they worked extremely hard and played really hard," Mitchell said. "It was not the prettiest game that we have ever played here or probably end up playing this season, but I thought they gave great effort."

The game was far from a work of art because of UK's struggles in the half-court. In spite of repeated good looks at the basket, the Cats shot just 30 for 81 (37.0 percent) from the field and 4 of 27 from 3-point range.

"It was a tough shooting day and everybody can see that it was not out best shooting day," Mitchell said. "We have shot the ball really well in the preseason so it is not something that I am too terribly concerned about and really we have practiced in Memorial yesterday and this morning and that is my fault."

Mitchell and the Cats believe the shooting will come around, which is why they were more encouraged than anything else following the exhibition win. UK has balance, competitiveness and, in spite of the absence of a star, a world of potential as it prepares to start the season on the road at Marist on Nov. 8.

"When our whole team contributes, we're a situation, we're a problem," said DeNesha Stallworth, UK's leading scorer with 17 points. "It's tough to beat us."

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