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Video: UK football's biggest moments in 2014

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Video: Matthew Mitchell Show -- Episode 3

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Azia Bishop had a double-double in UK's 71-55 win over Belmont on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Azia Bishop had a double-double in UK's 71-55 win over Belmont on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A minute and 56 seconds into Kentucky's game against Belmont, Matthew Mitchell turned to his bench and sent five new players into the game.

For a brief moment, Belmont's Cameron Newbauer thought he might have been coaching in Rupp Arena instead of Memorial Coliseum.

"I thought you guys were starting to be like the men. Blue and White or something," Newbauer said, referencing John Calipari's platoon system. "I looked at the bench and I said, 'Have he and Cal been hanging out?' "

Mitchell and Calipari do speak often, but that wasn't the reason for UK's line-change substitution so early in Sunday's game. Mitchell was simply unwilling to accept what he was seeing from his team.

"That was not my plan at the start of the game," Mitchell said. "I just was very disappointed with how our first unit came out and played."

And so in came the second unit in a game tied at the time, 3-3. The effort the second wave of Wildcats gave wasn't perfect, but it was enough to propel No. 8 UK (10-1) to a 71-55 win over Belmont (2-7). In fact, it was one player - Azia Bishop - who largely responsible for the improved energy.

Bishop, coming off the bench for the second game in a row after making eight starts to begin the season, did it all for UK. She had season highs in points (15), rebounds (12), blocks (four) and steals (three).

"Before the game, (assistant) Coach (Adeniyi) Amadou told me I just needed to come in and work ahead and attack the board and just give it my all," Bishop said. "I think doing that, it produced what I had today."

Returning to the reserve role she filled in her first three seasons in Lexington may have had something to do with it too.

"If you think about, she's done it for three years, come off the bench," Mitchell said. "We just need production from her and I loved her fight today. I thought she had some really great moments of fight. And really there for the first portion of the game, at the time she was the only one."

"Starting, it really doesn't affect me like that, but just coming off the bench is more comfortable for me just because I get to see the flow of the game and know what I have to come in and do," Bishop said. "And I think that's given me the extra push and the extra oomph to go out there and play harder."

Bishop's numbers, in Mitchell's mind, were great, but it's her effort that matters most. That effort shows up in three areas.

The first, says Mitchell, is on the offensive glass. On Sunday, Bishop tied for the team high with five offensive rebounds.

The next is on defense, where Mitchell says Bishop must be focused and in a stance for her and her team to be at their best. She was against Belmont, and those seven combined blocks and steals prove it.

Last, Mitchell wants Bishop running the floor. Her speed has the ability to change the game by creating transition opportunities and, just as importantly, affecting the opponent. Bishop sprinted constantly against the Bruins, helping the Cats turn a three-point lead with less than 15 minutes left into a 16-point win.

"I thought Belmont did a great job, but you saw it started to wear them down," Mitchell said.

Whether Bishop continues to come off the bench or returns to the starting lineup, she's going to need to duplicate that going forward. Over the next month, UK will face bruising frontcourts against the likes of No. 13 Duke and top-ranked South Carolina.

The Cats won't be outmuscling those teams, but they can outrun them with Bishop pacing them.

"We can't just go toe to toe," Mitchell said. "We've gotta get the thing going up and down and that one for Azia, just running the floor and making people run back and making people expend energy to get back and guard us, it's very important."

Video: Coach Cal's post-UNC press conference

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Video: Cauley-Stein, Ulis, Booker on UNC win

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Video: Battle of the Blue Bloods Intro

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Alexis Jennings had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in UK's win over Middle Tennessee on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Alexis Jennings had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in UK's win over Middle Tennessee on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
The ball came to Alexis Jennings outside the arc.

The 6-foot-2 freshman had already scored four straight points for Kentucky by then and she didn't hesitate when she received the pass from Makayla Epps.

Watching Jennings set up to take the shot, Jennifer O'Neill, concerned over how Matthew Mitchell might react if it didn't go in, wasn't so sure.

"I'm glad she hit it because if she didn't he wouldn't have been too happy," O'Neill said, laughing.

Jennings, however, would calmly sink the shot. And as it turns out, Mitchell couldn't have been happier with the development.

"I was so happy that 3 went in because I'm hoping that gives her some confidence," Mitchell said.

Jennings would follow the 3 with two more made free throws, meaning she closed the first half on a personal 9-1 run. Thanks to her, UK turned a tenuous seven-point lead on visiting Middle Tennessee into a comfortable 41-26 margin heading into the halftime locker room on the way to a 78-62 win. The No. 8 Wildcats won their fifth straight game to move to 9-1 on the season.

"I'm proud of our players and we just need to stay humble and hungry and keep getting better," said Mitchell, who won his 100th career game in Memorial Coliseum on Friday night. "This was a great win for us tonight."

No player showed more improvement than Jennings. Coming in, the Madison, Ala., native had scored just 14 points after a 10-point performance in her college debut. But against the Blue Raiders, she scored a career-high 11.

"It's been real rough for me right now about being in the post and finishing all my moves," Jennings said, "but tonight I just focused and I just played really hard and everything that we did in practice just came together and I was able to contribute today."

She contributed in more ways than just scoring too.

Jennings checked in at the 12:20 mark of the first half, at which point UK led just 16-14. She would play all but two minutes to close the half, grabbing six rebounds and three on the offensive end.

"I was so pleased because it was a very close game and I thought her energy on the offensive glass really kind of started a big spurt for us that we were able to get distance in between us and Middle Tennessee State," Mitchell said. "Very good half for Alexis. We just need to keep plugging and working and she has to keep a great attitude and keep getting better. But she can help us."

Jennings came to Kentucky a highly touted post prospect and has shown glimpses of her potential, but never quite so much as Friday night.

"Well, that's what I think she can be," Mitchell said. "I think she can be that kind of player. She's practicing OK; we just need to keep working with her. But she showed you tonight some things that she can do."

Jennings chalked up her big night to improved self-belief she brought to the game. After it paid off - and she buried the second 3-pointer or her college career - that only figures to grow.

"I just played," Jennings said. "I had confidence tonight and I think that's what carried over into my play today."


Recent Comments

  • joel alberto luna colon: I agree with you, UK has not only the talent, but some experience. They could go undefeated if they want read more
  • Berdj Rassam: This was expected to be an easy win for UK. read more
  • dannyone: if the cat,s play like that in every game as they should they could go all the way.so what I,m read more
  • Dale Sine: Coach Cal at it again. He is the best coach in America and the only coach that could handle coaching read more
  • Mike J.: Cal is the best coach out there. He returned Memphis to national prominence and stayed 9 years, a helluva lot read more
  • Berdj Rassam: Booker will be a key part of whether or not this team will be successful this season. read more
  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more