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Notebook: UK Hoops focused on Bradley even with tough December looming

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Bria Goss is averaging 11.7 points on 50-percent shooting this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Bria Goss is averaging 11.7 points on 50-percent shooting this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Starting on Sunday, the Kentucky women's basketball team will begin a stretch during which it will face four ranked foes in five games.

A matchup with No. 4/3 and archrival Louisville will tip it off, while games against No. 9 Baylor, No. 25 DePaul and No. 2 Duke follow.

But as intimidating as the December schedule may be, Matthew Mitchell isn't thinking about it. Not yet. The Wildcats have another tough opponent to think about first.

"There's not one thought in our mind but Bradley Braves," Mitchell said. "They are a very dangerous team, very tough team and (have) more than enough talent to make plays to win the game."

Bradley may enter Tuesday's game -- which tips at noon ET in Memorial Coliseum -- at 2-3, but Mitchell has been impressed by the Braves in scouting them. They boast a win over Illinois and a starting lineup featuring five players who are averaging at least 9.4 points per game.

"Their starting five is very, very impressive," Mitchell said. "We need to do everything we can to make our depth a positive factor in the game for us and this'll be a tough challenge for us tomorrow at noon."

Kelsey Budd, in Mitchell's mind, is the standout. The senior point guard has made 51 consecutive starts and is averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds.

"As you watch our personnel tape on her, she's able to make all the plays, get to the basket, push it in transition, get to the basket," Mitchell said. "She's able to hit the mid-range jumper, she has deep range from 3, so she can really push the ball."

Like the Central Michigan team UK defeated last Sunday, Bradley won't be afraid to run with the Wildcats. For that reason and a few others, the Braves have UK's undivided attention.

"Those are really good teams (UK will face in December), but the main focus right now is Bradley and taking it one game at a time," Bria Goss said. "Right now, we have a tough team in front of us and we're going to look at them as the top team in the nation."

Goss benefiting from more Mitchell attention

Mitchell has never been afraid of self-critique.

On Tuesday alone, he admitted to not using statistics well enough in evaluating his team and even questioned the way he handled Goss last season.

The junior guard was an immediate impact player, so Mitchell didn't feel the urgency to lead her that he did with other Cats who had a tougher time.

"She showed up and she just really had a great work ethic and did everything that you ask her to do, very little problems," Mitchell said. "Sometimes I don't do great with those players because, SEC Freshman of the Year, great success, I don't know that I did a great job of helping her until it was sort of too late last year and being more aware."

By no means did Goss have a bad season as a sophomore (she averaged 8.8 points while consistently taking on the toughest defensive assignments), but she shot just 38.5 percent from the field. But through six games this season, Goss is shooting 50 percent and scoring 11.7 points a game.

Mitchell attributes that improvement to Goss's work ethic, above all else, but also says a little added attention from her coaches has helped as well. That started with an offseason meeting during which Mitchell asked her to outline her goals and has continued throughout the season.

"It's just constantly trying to make sure that we stay connected and checked in with her and she's doing a terrific job and I'm so happy," Mitchell said. "When someone works hard like that and they see rewards from that hard work, it makes me very happy for Bria."

Goss never felt neglected but she does acknowledge the change over the offseason has helped.

"Over the summer we worked hard and I was in the office more, just building relationships," Goss said. "There will be times when Coach will take me out to eat and just talk. That carries over to the court and I think our bond has become stronger."

Mitchell talks 2014 signing class

On Tuesday, UK officially announced its four fall signees for the class of 2014.

Jaycee Coe, Ivana Jakubcova, Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice will join the team next fall and comprise a class that currently ranks among the top 20 nationally according to every major outlet.

"Not only do you have to have a high level of talent, you have to have the desire to be in this atmosphere and in the environment every day where we are really trying to push young women to be their best," Mitchell said. "We are so thrilled with the four players that we signed."

This was an important class for Mitchell because he will lose four seniors to graduation following the season, including starting post duo Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth. In Jennings and Rice, Mitchell sees shades of Walker and Stallworth.

"What I really loved about the high-school players, Alyssa Rice and Alexis Jennings, is they have very good size, big post players, strong, but have the athleticism and the speed for us to continue to play an up-tempo style," Mitchell said. "Those are not the easiest players to find. It really is a small group of players each and every year."

Coe, a shooting guard, fills a need as well.

"Losing Kastine, losing Bernisha, two players who have throughout their careers made significant contributions," Mitchell said, "but both of them have been able to make shots from the perimeter and help us there and Jaycee Coe is one of the elite-level shooters in this class and what a high-character young woman she is."

Jakubcova -- a 6-foot-6 junior-college center -- doesn't have a facsimile on UK's current roster, but is still a welcome addition.

"She has great size and is really, really tall but still mobile," Mitchell said. "She is not a plodding, slow post. She has some great length and can be disruptive around the basket just with her size. The thing we liked most about her is her skillset. She can really run and catch and has great hands. You know, 15- to 17-foot range that is just knockdown deadly and we feel like she can make the 3 enough to keep people honest."

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