Mitchell, Wildcats Using Chemistry to Move Forward

Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell has talked about the end of the 2015-16 season, and the offseason that followed, long enough. Yes, there were departures from the program, both in coaching staff and players. Yes, there were tough times. But now, Mitchell wants to put all of that behind himself and his team as a new season begins.

“We’ve learned some lessons and we’re moving forward,” said the Kentucky head coach, who is beginning his 10th season in Lexington. “It’s definitely time for us to move forward with this team.”

Mitchell and the Wildcats are not focused on what happened last season. Both the coaching staff and the players are focused on how this team can become the best version of itself.

“It’s time now for us to get focused on players who have shown a tremendous dedication to our program,” Mitchell said. “The challenge that faces us now is how do we put this team together. No two teams are the same.”

Six players return from last season’s roster and those players will form the core of the 2016-17 squad. And their dedication to the program is not lost on Mitchell.

“I love those kids,” Mitchell said. “There were a lot of tough times, a lot of days when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. So I love those kids, and I love the six that came through (new).”

Among the returnees is senior Makayla Epps, who was voted Preseason First-Team All-SEC at Thursday’s SEC Media Day in Nashville. Epps knows that the team is well past any issues that could be lingering from last year.

“I think we’re pretty past that,” she said of last season. “We lost a couple of people towards the end of the season last year, but they’re not with us now. The people that are with us now, we’ve been practicing really hard. We have a very good group of girls. All 12 of us are on the same page. Kentucky’s not down and out, and it’s not as bad as it once seemed.”

Epps led the team in scoring last season at 17.1 points per game. She also recorded just the second triple-double in school history, when she scored 21 points, dished out 12 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds against Morehead State last season.

Fellow senior Evelyn Akhator is also back, after averaging 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season. 

The other returning starter is sophomore guard Maci Morris, who averaged 8.5 points per game last season. Mitchell is expecting big things from Morris in 2017.

“She’s really improved in all areas,” Mitchell said. “That’s going to be one where people are going to go ‘wow’. She’s put on some muscle, she’s improved her agility. She’s in phenomenal shape. She’s rounding into a very complete player.”

Morris has enjoyed the offseason and thinks that the dedication of the team will pay off in the long run.

“We’ve been working really hard, and we you have people that work hard and lift each other up, that makes the chemistry much stronger,” Morris said. “We have a really good time together.”

Mitchell also likes how the team has come together.

“The chemistry is so good because all of them are giving to each other,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, our core six were really strong people and really wanted to be here and really love Kentucky. They withstood a lot. Then the quality of the other six, who walked in the door, is really amazing. It’s a really fun group to be around. They appreciate each other and care for each other.”

It’s that chemistry and togetherness that led this team through the offseason. And that same chemistry has Mitchell, and the team, excited about 2016-17.