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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."


Battle of the Blue Bloods: UNC promo video

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Matthew Mitchell seemingly has two teams on his hands.

There's the one that makes him say things like this: "This group is just not naturally competitive."

And then the one that makes him say this two sentences later: "But, they clearly are competitive because when they get into the situation that's sort of desperate, they come out swinging and lock in and get going."

The two Kentuckys have combined for an 8-1 record to start the 2014-15 season, including a pair of wins over top-10 reams, but not without causing their coach a serious dose of stress.

The Wildcats, lacking "competitive fire" out of the gates on multiple occasions, have fallen behind by 14 points against No. 8 Baylor, nine points against Oklahoma and USF and 16 at No. 7 Louisville. But each time, they've managed to claw their way back from seemingly dire circumstances to win.

Mitchell, thankful as he is that UK has had the fortitude to pull it off each time, wants the habit to end.

"I just think they understand that there is an immediate threat and so they respond," Mitchell said. "When there is 17 minutes left in the first half, they think, 'Hey, maybe we have time to respond,' and I'm just saying that that's not a sustainable course of action. We can't be the team that we want to be with that kind of attitude."

Since the latest slow start that set up a big comeback - UK's fourth straight win over rival U of L - the Cats have gone to work trying to shift that attitude. To that end, Mitchell has structured practices leading up to a matchup with Middle Tennessee (4-2) at 9 p.m. ET on Friday to be as competitive as possible from the outset.

"You've got to get them to a spot where it's ultra-competitive and see who is ready to roll and who is not and try to make sure that we are practicing with a sense of urgency so that hopefully we can start the game with a great sense of urgency and maintain that," Mitchell said.

To that end, Mitchell is considering tweaking his starting five of Janee Thompson, Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Goss, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and Azia Bishop that he has used in all nine games this season.  

"We won't just stay with it to stay with it because that's how we've started," Mitchell said. "It's very much a situation to where right now every minute is up for grabs in a competitive situation in practice and if you're not doing what you're supposed to do, it's on you because we are being very clear on what needs to be happening in practice."

It would be one thing for Mitchell to hold his team to such a high standard if the Cats hadn't shown they can play that way, but they obviously have. Their No. 8 national ranking and No. 1 RPI proves that. Now it's about evening out the effort.

"We know what we are capable of doing," Mitchell said. "We know we can play some good basketball. We also know that when we are not focused, we can play some bad basketball, so just trying to get that consistent mentality of attacking and being aggressive and being tough and being competitive. That's what we have tried to do in practice."

Middle Tennessee will offer the next test on that front, and it won't be an easy one. The Blue Raiders have played among the nation's most difficult schedules and have won their last two games against Clemson and Xavier by a combined 63 points.

"It's going to be a very tough game," Mitchell said. "It always is with Middle Tennessee. They're a very good team, always tough and always able to score the basketball and well-coached. Coach (Rick) Insell does a great job with Middle Tennessee State and this is another good team. It's a huge challenge for us tomorrow night."

Video: Coach Cal on Poythress injury, North Carolina

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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