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Familiar foe awaits as UK Hoops tries to sustain progress

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It's impossible to pinpoint the exact genesis of UK Hoops' January slump, but the problems that led to the were on display for the first against Florida.

After the 83-73 defeat, Matthew Mitchell bemoaned the fact that the Gators simply played with more passion than his Wildcats.

"I am just so disappointed that happened and that we were outplayed from an energy standpoint and from a focus standpoint," Mitchell said on Jan. 5. "It looked like it meant a lot more to them than it did to us."

It was a tune Mitchell found himself singing far too often as UK lost four times in seven games.

"We just looked like a team that I thought was entitled to win, felt like they were entitled to win the game," Mitchell said, reflecting on the game more than a month later.

Mitchell went on to say the Cats played like a team that expected to win by virtue of the incredible success they have had on their home floor of Memorial Coliseum. The belief was reinforced as UK took a nine-point lead at the 12-minute mark of the second half after trailing by double digits.

"We were able to get it flipped and go up and I thought that hurt us probably even more," Mitchell said. "They were like, 'Well, this is what we thought. We're going to win the game.' We lost a lot of composure when it got close down at the end, so that would be the best way to describe it. I just thought we sort of felt like we were going to win the game no matter what."

Now facing a rematch with Florida (16-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference), it's hard to imagine No. 15/13 UK (17-5, 5-3 SEC) will feel the same way.

"They really took it to us here in Lexington and beat us pretty badly on our home court, so we definitely have to focus in on a very good opponent and try to get prepared this afternoon and tomorrow for what we know will be a tough game," Mitchell said. "It's always a tough game with Florida."

Though they certainly won't assume victory, the Cats have reason to be confident this time around. They are coming off an impressive home victory over top-15 LSU and have tried to build on that during a bye week before a trip to Gainesville, Fla. The focus has been entirely on building team closeness.

"Our whole key is we have to have a team mentality," Mitchell said. "We can't have a collection of individuals playing individually well. We really have to come together as a team. Our whole deal is playing for each other and great energy on the court, great energy on the bench."

Mitchell says UK is "making progress," but he isn't about to pronounce his team as being over the proverbial hump.

"We didn't start playing that way overnight and I think it's been some great stuff that we've been able to do as a team to try to see if we can get the situation to where we can become our best," Mitchell said.

Just as UK's struggles didn't start all at once against Florida, the Cats can't prove they are over against the Gators. That will take time.

"I think you're going to have to let it play out here over the last seven games of the conference season," Mitchell said. "The team needs to play well and win some games and get into the NCAA Tournament and take advantage of the SEC Tournament and see what happens."

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