UK Working for Early-Season Wins with End Goal in Mind

Matthew Mitchell had gotten used to one way of doing things.

Now, with a team still very much discovering its identity, he’s changing on the fly.

“We had to figure out how we were going to play where in the past we have known in June and July how we are going to play and the practices are (efficient) because you have a veteran team and you are rolling through boom, boom, boom,” Mitchell said. “You don’t spend a whole lot of time installing things.”

Contrast that with the 2016-17 Kentucky Wildcats, a team with a roster featuring six active players who didn’t play last season.

“It has sort of been a slow bit of a slog for us to figure out what is the best way for this team to win,” Mitchell said.

Slog or not, the Cats are winning so far. UK swept a pair of games in last weekend’s Kentucky Classic, including an upset of No. 14 Miami, in spite of being very much a work in progress.

“We just have to be patient with it and we just have to understand that we are building to be our best when it counts,” Mitchell said. “That’s why this past weekend was so huge, just to get that win versus Miami. We just got so fortunate with some bounces and some breaks and we made shots. That’s going to be a valuable win later in the season. We need to try to get as many of those as we can as we’re trying to come together as a team.”

The next such opportunity for UK (2-0) will come in the Cats’ Winning Tools Education Day game on Thursday. Kentucky will host New Hampshire (1-1) and hundreds of children for the annual game, which will tip at 11 a.m. in Memorial Coliseum.

“It is an exciting day as we welcome in from all over Fayette County for our 11 a.m. tip that we do for our school kids,” Mitchell said. “So it will be a fun atmosphere in the Coliseum tomorrow and would love for everyone to come out and enjoy the game. We are going to try to play really hard tomorrow and see if we can earn the victory.”

Besides winning, the other priority for UK will be to continue its ongoing development. That’s a process that has to be balanced with the Cats’ busy academic schedules, meaning the time Mitchell expects a big jump won’t come until December.

“Once we get into the holidays, the break and then coming back after Christmas, where we’re playing some SEC games but we’re not going to class until 10 or 12 days into January, that will be really valuable time for us to continue to sharpen,” Mitchell said. “I think this team needs to see constant improvement all the way to the end of the season.”

The end of the season. That’s what Mitchell always has in mind.

“I do think it’s going to take us some time to round into a finished product and final form,” Mitchell said. “I think the upside for the team is just so immense that it’ll take us awhile to get there. We just have to be patient with it and we just have to understand that we are building to be our best when it counts.”