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The noise was fairly constant, but it came to a crescendo in the final minutes.
With more than 2,000 sixth graders in Memorial Coliseum for UK Hoops' annual "Class of 2020 Day," the Wildcats were approaching the 100-point mark against Georgia Southern on Wednesday. The kids, eager to see a third digit on the scoreboard, erupted when Bernisha Pinkett hit a 3-pointer to put UK past the century mark with 1:07 left.
"I think it was pretty awesome," Bernisha Pinkett said. "The kids gave us a lot of energy. They were yelling and screaming, making us want to work even harder so we could score more points to make them yell and go crazy."
UK would score once more to close out a dominating 103-38 victory and move to 3-0 on the season. Pinkett led six Wildcats who scored in double figures with 19 points as UK forced 35 turnovers.
"I thought that was a terrific effort from our team to come out on an important day where we have so many people and special guests on campus, who are getting to experience Kentucky for the very first time," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought our players did a great job of leaving an impression on those kids that were here at the game today."
The Cats have had more than their share of blowout victories in their recent run of success under Mitchell, but rarely have they turned in an effort as consistent as this one. In spite of an early wakeup call for the 11 a.m. ET tipoff, UK was solid for 40 minutes.
"I think we just came out today knowing that we were going to win this game but we couldn't take any steps back or come out lackadaisical because they could catch up or make 3s or do anything," Pinkett said. "So we just wanted to focus and stay strong."
More than anything else, that's why Mitchell was happy following the game.
"As a coach, what you would like to see your team do is really come out and hustle and give maximum effort and hold them to a high standard and I thought our team did that today," Mitchell said. "I am very, very grateful to our players for working so hard and giving such a great effort today."
It also didn't hurt that shots were falling for the Cats.
UK hit 40 of 79 (50.6 percent) from the field, including Pinkett's 7 for 9. The senior buried three of her four attempts from beyond the arc, which was a welcome development for a player who shot under 26 percent from deep last season.
"I haven't been knocking down shots as I did in the past and Coach Mitchell always has faith in me and he recruited me as a shooter," Pinkett said. "So just being able to go out there tonight and actually see my 3s start to fall, I felt really good about it."
But as good as Pinkett was from the outside, it was what UK did inside the arc that gave her space.
With the visitors playing a zone defense and UK's strength now in the interior with DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker -- who combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds in just 42 minutes -- the Cats followed their game plan.
"We are trying to get the ball in the paint every possession and whether it comes out of the paint and creates a shot is something that can happen," Mitchell said, "but we just have such a focus on making sure we either pass the ball into the paint or we got our feet in the paint off of a drive."
By doing that, UK piled up 26 assists as a team -- most during the Mitchell era -- led by Jennifer O'Neill and Makayla Epps, who each had six. The Cats have also now dished 25 or more assists in back-to-back games.
"I thought they did a good job of collapsing the zone inside and then moving the basketball and being patient and passing up an open shot to give their teammate a better shot who might be more open," Mitchell said.
And they did it all in spite of not being able to hear each other at times.
"It was one point in the game where Bria (Goss) and I were trying to communicate but we couldn't hear each other because they were screaming for whatever reason," Walker said. "I don't know what we did, but they were screaming. It was fun playing in front of them and I wish they were here every game because it's really fun."
With so many considerations at play -- from multi-year contracts to venue and opponent availability -- simply coming up with dates on which Kentucky can face the teams it wants to was difficult enough.
But now that Mitchell sees how the schedule has come together -- with a two-game season-opening road swing, including the Wildcats' 2013-14 debut at perennial NCAA Tournament team Marist -- he realizes it all ended up working out well.
"I think there is tremendous benefit by starting the season with a team that we feel like can be very good and can be challenged the opening night," Mitchell said. "We could be here in Memorial Coliseum and playing a team that is not of the quality or caliber of Marist and not be nearly as challenged."
With a matchup against the Red Foxes, who are receiving votes in both major polls, looming on Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., preparation for the No. 7/8 Wildcats has had an added edge.
"Practices have been different and the sense of urgency to get prepared has been different, which are all good things," Mitchell said. "If we don't talk to each other and if we don't play with tremendous defensive fundamentals and if we don't really have a sharp mental focus then it will be trouble."
Over the past four seasons, UK has won its season openers by an average of 36 points and three of the four games were played in the comforts of home. Duplicating that feat against a Brian Giorgis-coached Marist team that was down single digits late in the second half against UK last season won't be easy.
The change, though certainly a challenge, is welcome.
"We're fortunate to play such a great team at the beginning of the season," junior guard Bria Goss said. "Marist is very fundamentally sound. It will be a very good test to see where we are at early in season."
UK's first test came in its lone exhibition against Eckerd College last Sunday. The Cats won comfortably, 83-35, but the visitors did Kentucky a favor by effectively using backdoor cuts against Mitchell's signature high-pressure defense.
"Eckerd gave us a real gift from that standpoint," Mitchell said. "That's what our focus has been, trying to really focus on our defensive fundamentals. Marist is such a good motion offense team and you don't know exactly what they're going to do."
After Marist, UK will stay in the Empire State ahead of a game at Wagner on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The Cats will also take advantage of a free Saturday in one of the world's greatest cities.
"We get to spend a little time in New York City on Saturday and that'll be good for our players from that region," Mitchell said.
UK's Jelleah Sidney and Jennifer O'Neill are both from the Big Apple, while Bernisha Pinkett (Washington, D.C.) and Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) are from the Northeast as well and will have family in town to watch them.
The sightseeing and visits with family will be nice, but this weekend is a business trip for UK Hoops, one that Mitchell hopes will pay dividends both immediately and in the future.
"It's a great, great thing to go to Marist and have to prepare for all that, so I think it will do nothing but benefit our team down the road," Mitchell said. "I'm excited about the opportunity and we'll have to play well to win."
Would a single player emerge in a featured role? Would UK's post players step up and fill the void? Could the Wildcats break through to the Final Four without Mathies, the second-leading scorer in school history?
After UK's lone exhibition -- an 83-35 win over Eckerd College -- the answers remain unclear. But in the end, these Cats believe the biggest challenge facing them this season could eventually turn into their greatest strength, provided they approach it the right way.
"I think that difference between the past teams and this year's team is honestly we don't have a star player on the team this year, whereas the past few years we had A'dia," Samarie Walker said, viewing a perceived negative as a positive.
Throughout her career, Mathies served as a safety blanket for Matthew Mitchell's teams. When plays broke down, Mathies stepped up. When UK needed a basket in a crucial moment, the ball went to Mathies.
This season, the Cats plan to share those burdens equally. They think they will be all the better for it.
"I think any given day or night, anybody can have a good game, a great game." said Walker, who had 12 points and six rebounds.
Against Eckerd, 12 Wildcats saw the floor. They all played at least nine minutes and registered at least two rebounds as UK charged to a 55-35 edge on the glass.
"That was one of the main focuses of the game was rebounding, especially offensive rebounding," Walker said. "And I think this team is definitely tough. This is one of the most competitive teams I've ever been on and I think that's definitely something we focus on in practice and it's something we want to focus on for the whole season."
UK's competitiveness was on display from the opening tip, as the Cats held Eckerd without a point until the 9:18 mark of the first half. Kentucky would go on to force 41 turnovers on the afternoon, hardly a surprise to any of the 2,314 fans in Memorial Coliseum accustomed to such dominant defensive displays.
"I thought they worked extremely hard and played really hard," Mitchell said. "It was not the prettiest game that we have ever played here or probably end up playing this season, but I thought they gave great effort."
The game was far from a work of art because of UK's struggles in the half-court. In spite of repeated good looks at the basket, the Cats shot just 30 for 81 (37.0 percent) from the field and 4 of 27 from 3-point range.
"It was a tough shooting day and everybody can see that it was not out best shooting day," Mitchell said. "We have shot the ball really well in the preseason so it is not something that I am too terribly concerned about and really we have practiced in Memorial yesterday and this morning and that is my fault."
Mitchell and the Cats believe the shooting will come around, which is why they were more encouraged than anything else following the exhibition win. UK has balance, competitiveness and, in spite of the absence of a star, a world of potential as it prepares to start the season on the road at Marist on Nov. 8.
"When our whole team contributes, we're a situation, we're a problem," said DeNesha Stallworth, UK's leading scorer with 17 points. "It's tough to beat us."