Mitchell Hopes Wildcats Can Continue Improvement

If an outsider, someone unfamiliar with the Kentucky women’s basketball program, had attended Friday’s press conference with head coach Matthew Mitchell, and heard his comments about his team, they might have thought the 2015-16 Wildcats were struggling.

During Mitchell’s opening statement, he talked about how his team needed to avoid letdowns in order to be successful and the methods he and his staff would do to prevent those things from happening.

“The times in the game last night when we played harder and hustled more than Missouri, we really had a lot of success,” Mitchell said of his team’s 69-59 win on Thursday. “And then we had some glaring moments in the game when we didn’t hustle and we weren’t sharp and we weren’t outworking them where we looked like a different team.”

“We’ve really got to think through things as a coaching staff on what the consequences are for everybody involved,” he continued. “It goes back to our whole thing of we have to really win together as a team. “

The reality is that Kentucky did beat Missouri to move to 20-6 overall and 9-6 in the SEC. The Wildcats are ranked 14th nationally and have a shot to finish as high as third in the conference race.

So, why does Mitchell continue to try to get more out of his team?

“We believe we can be a Final Four team,” Mitchell said after Thursday’s victory. “We also believe we can win a national championship. I really believe that, so we are just going to work hard and try to make whatever changes we have to make and build on whatever is good.”

The Wildcats finish their regular season on Sunday by visiting Texas A&M (4 p.m. ET, ESPN). If Kentucky can win, and depending on how other teams fare in their final games, Kentucky could finish as high as third in the SEC. But with a loss, they could also finish as low as eighth, so there is plenty to play for on Sunday.

“You can know that Texas A&M is going to be fired up and ready to play, they always are,” Mitchell said of the Aggies. “They play real hard, they really attack the paint, they really attack the offensive glass.  Tough defensive team.  So our team’s really got to be about hustle the next couple of days as we try to prepare for our next game on the schedule, which is an important one.”

Kentucky has won five games in a row and big reason for the success has been the team’s lack of turnovers. Early in the season, it was not uncommon for the Wildcats to turn the ball over more than 20 times in a game. Perhaps their worst effort of the year was a 30-turnover game at Florida in January.

But since that game, Kentucky has not turned the ball over more than 15 times, including a season-low seven turnovers against Missouri on Thursday.

“I think we’re showing some maturity and some growth offensively from the standpoint of being comfortable shooting the ball under three or four seconds on the shot clock,” Mitchell said. “We are taking care of the ball a lot better and getting a little bit tougher, having the courage to look for a good shot and not panic at the end.”

Working hard, hustling and not turning the ball over have added up to a winning formula for the Wildcats, who appear to be peaking at the right time, just before the postseason.

"We can’t be afraid to grow as a program," Mitchell said. "I have a strong belief that everything in the end is going to pay off."