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Timing of bye week ideal for UK Hoops

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Sometimes bye weeks come at inopportune moments, short-circuiting a win streak when a team is playing its best.

Other bye weeks are welcome, offering a chance for players rest their weary legs during a long season.

Count the week UK Hoops had off following a win over Missouri on Sunday among the latter.

"We were so blessed," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "The good Lord blessed us with this bye week and we really needed it on a couple of fronts."

No. 10/12 Kentucky (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) survived that game against Missouri and ended a two-game losing skid without leader Kastine Evans and with Bernisha Pinkett playing just two minutes. Bria Goss and Janee Thompson stepped up, as the two guards combined for 36 points in an 80-69 victory, but the Wildcats were always going to need Evans and Pinkett at full strength in their bid for the SEC title.

With a little downtime, the two senior guards are getting there.

"Kastine was full go (Friday) morning, reported no issues, no pain," Mitchell said. "So she was off all week from practice activities. Stayed with low non-impact cardio and tried to stay up with that. So the time off for her and Bernisha was very, very good and they looked good."

DeNesha Stallworth is another player recuperating from injury, but she took a very different approach to UK's week without a Thursday game.

The senior forward has played three games since her return following arthroscopic knee surgery, but has shown signs of some of the rust to be expected following a month-long layoff. This week, she's taken full advantage of the opportunity to knock off some of that rust.

"DeNesha needed a week where she could just turn loose and practice and you weren't worried about playing Thursday and you could really go at it," Mitchell said.

And for UK as a team, the time off was productive as well. With some effects still lingering from that short-lived losing streak, a week of "high-level, high-intensity practice" was much-needed.

"We got it on both ends, got what we needed out of the open date and so I think we're starting to round back into full strength and we'll need to be as sharp as we can be to win Sunday, I can tell you that," Mitchell said.

UK will face a road test at Auburn (11-6, 2-2 SEC) on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET (SEC TV) that has Mitchell's undivided attention. The Tigers are facing 20.7 turnovers per game and are likely to throw multiple defensive looks at the Cats.

"Long, athletic, aggressive defenders and make it really tough on you to score," Mitchell said. "They've done a great job defensively."

Senior guard/forward Tyrese Tanner is leading the way for Auburn, scoring 16.4 points per game, but it doesn't end there for the Tigers. Ten players are averaging more than 15.1 minutes per game, meaning Auburn won't be fazed by UK's depth.

"Just their overall team is a really tough, explosive team," Mitchell said. "So going on the road in this league is always tough. It will be tough Sunday afternoon and we'll have to prepare well to win."

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