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UK Hoops looking to capitalize on unique opportunity vs. Baylor

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DeNesha Stallworth and her UK team will face Baylor at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday in AT&T Stadium. (Chet White, UK Athletics) DeNesha Stallworth and her UK team will face Baylor at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday in AT&T Stadium. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's men's and women's basketball teams share a practice facility every day. This week, they'll share a plane, a hotel and even a stadium.

The two teams will play in a doubleheader against Baylor on Friday night in AT&T Stadium -- the home of the Dallas Cowboys -- turning an idea hatched by John Calipari two years ago into reality.

"He just called me one day a couple years back and had the idea and it went from there," Matthew Mitchell said.

Knowing Coach Cal could have put the event together with only the men's teams, Mitchell said it took him "about 15 seconds" to agree to participate.

"In college basketball what our men's program has done over more than a century is created a brand that is recognizable as any sports brand in the world," Mitchell said. "I just have thought you are silly if you don't try to do everything you can to be a part of that. Cal is just so supportive and so creative and thinks about things like this."

That attitude has come natural to Calipari ever since his arrival in Lexington in 2009. Whether it's tweeting support for the women's soccer team in the NCAA Tournament, offering advice to Mark Stoops about working at UK or putting together this unique doubleheader, Coach Cal is willing to do most anything to help his university.

To say thanks for that support, each UK Hoops player penned a hand-written note to Calipari on Tuesday. He appreciated it, but it wasn't necessary.

"This is not just about the basketball program; it's about this athletic department," Calipari said. "It's about a lot of athletes from all the different sports and anywhere we can come together and help each other is good."

Now, the women will go about the business of taking advantage of the opportunity Calipari helped create for them.

The Wildcats will take on Baylor at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday in a matchup of unbeaten and top-10 teams. Even though the capacity of AT&T Stadium will be limited by the court configuration, it figures to be the biggest crowd most of the Cats will have ever played in front of.

"It's going to be a lot of people there, but we just know we have to play Kentucky basketball to get the job done," said DeNesha Stallworth.

Getting the job done against the Bears won't be easy. Baylor is averaging 96.5 points per game and has won its seven games by an average of 45.5 points.

"They are a top-10 team and they have won two national championships and have been consistently good for over a decade now," Mitchell said. "They are one of the really fine women's basketball programs in the country."

For four years, a matchup with Baylor meant a matchup with Brittney Griner. The 6-foot-8 center, however, went on to the WNBA this offseason.

"Life continues after Brittney Griner and they are alive and well, I can promise you that," Mitchell said.

Her departure leaves the task of leading the Bears in the capable hands of point guard Odyssey Sims. As UK prepared for a game at Baylor last season, Mitchell went out of his way to praise Sims, even as questions about Griner flooded in. It's now easy to see why.

"Odyssey Sims is probably the best singular talent that I've seen in the country this year," Mitchell said. "She is really, really amazing. There are some other really talented players, but she is putting up monstrous numbers right now and they found a way to increase their scoring average."

Sims is averaging a staggering 27.3 points, shooting better than 50 percent from the field, nearly 80 percent from the line and almost 40 percent from 3-point range. The senior had 18 points and six assists against UK last season, when Baylor was dominant in an 85-51 victory in both teams' second game of the 2012-13 season.

Stallworth admits retribution will be on her mind "a little bit" come Friday, but not overwhelmingly so.

"We're both two totally different teams from last year, so it's just going to be a new battle and a new challenge and we're definitely looking forward to it," Stallworth said.

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