Mitchell Pushing Cats to Improve Defensively

During his tenure as the head coach of the Kentucky women’s basketball program, Matthew Mitchell has emphasized playing tough defense to each of his teams. Employing a style of basketball that has been called “40 Minutes of Dread”, Mitchell’s Wildcats wear down their opposition with a smothering, in-your-face defense.

That style was on full display Sunday when Kentucky forced Jackson State into 37 turnovers and allowed the Lady Tigers to shoot just 15.6 percent from the floor in a 92-24 blowout win at Memorial Coliseum. That type of effort has not been uncommon during Mitchell’s nine seasons in Lexington.

With the win over Jackson State, Kentucky is now 6-0 on the season and ranked 11th in the country by the Associated Press. On Wednesday night, the Wildcats visit intrastate rival Northern Kentucky at the BB&T Center in Highland Heights, Ky.

Despite seeing his team dismantle Jackson State, the Kentucky head coach is not pleased with how his defense has played so far this season. The Wildcats are currently 19th in the country in scoring defense, but Mitchell sees plenty of room for improvement.

“We’re not doing much well on defense right now, from my standpoint,” Mitchell said. “We need to be better on the ball. We’re getting beat off the dribble too much, we’re not pressuring the ball enough.”

“What they have done, they have hustled when they have needed to,” Mitchell said of his team. “We’re just not playing together as consistently through 40 minutes as I would like.” 

Sunday’s game proved Mitchell’s point. The Wildcats allowed Jackson State to score 10 points in the first period, then a combined 14 points in the final three periods. Kentucky turned up the heat after a slow start and went on to an easy victory.

The Wildcats will need to be at their best defensively against a Northern Kentucky team that is 5-1 on the season and averaging 75.8 points per game. 

“They are functioning at a high level offensively,” Mitchell said of the Norse. “They are not a one-person show, they can put five players on the floor who can score. Virtually everyone on the team can make threes.”

“They do a great job of executing their offense,” Mitchell said of NKU. “They’re scoring at a high level, they’re going on the road and beating people. They are very, very impressive.”

That type of team should pose a challenge for a Kentucky team that has not approached its peak on defense at this point in the season. Mitchell knows that he must help his team reach that defensive peak.

“That’s my job, to make sure that our team plays hard on defense and our players need to know that’s going to be important for us to be a good defensive team.”

“If we can play defense every night and rebound every night, this team will have a chance, and we’ve got to do those things.”