Defense, Rebounding Key UK's Bounce-Back Win

Matthew Mitchell opted to simplify things after his team’s worst performance of the season.

In the days following a loss at Auburn – Kentucky’s first – he didn’t obsess over the Wildcats’ next opponent. Mitchell didn’t talk about offensive execution or shooting, two things sorely lacking as UK blew a 17-point lead in its Southeastern Conference opener.

“We focused on two things and two things only on Tuesday and Wednesday getting ready for this Thursday game,” Mitchell said. “And that was defensive intensity and rebounding tenacity.”

All season long, Mitchell has praised his team for its ability to responding to coaching. On Thursday, the Cats proved him right once again.

On defense, No. 10/9 UK (12-1, 1-1 SEC) limited Alabama to 30.4-percent shooting and a mere 10 points in the paint in a 73-48 victory. On the glass, the Cats held a 45-30 edge, the plus-15 margin their largest in more than a month.

“I’m really proud of the team for bouncing back from our disappointment of Sunday,” Mitchell said.

A dominant win, you would think, was just what the doctor ordered for a team that saw its unbeaten start end in disappointing fashion. Well, that was nice, but it wasn’t the most important thing.

“I think we just lost our composure in every way in Auburn,” said Janee Thompson, who had 10 points and seven assists. “I don’t think we were worried about the score. I think we were more worried about the way we played and trying to correct some of the mistakes we made in Auburn. I think we did that.”

On offense, the mistakes UK made at Auburn persisted in the first half. The Cats committed 12 turnovers and shot just 33.3 percent from the field, only building a double-digit lead thanks to that defense and rebounding.

“Well I’ll tell you, I thought Sunday really affected our confidence in a major way,” Mitchell said. “You could even see it in practice. We were shaken by that and I thought the first half you really saw us kind of panicked and with no flow.”

The panic went away and the flow returned after some halftime urging by Mitchell. UK scored 44 points after halftime, shot a scorching 55.2 percent and committed only four turnovers.

“I just thought that we lost a lot of confidence from Sunday,” Mitchell said. “And I told them, we couldn’t let one bad performance carry on and I thought we showed some signs of life in the second half.”

UK will look to keep those signs of life going in returning to practice before a Sunday trip to Georgia. And you know what, the Cats might even work on offense this time around.

“Just gonna be a long, long SEC season,” Mitchell said. “We just have to get the mindset we’re going to have to grind every single practice fighting for improvement and happy for them tonight. They worked hard to get this victory.”