By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes
In early November 2012, SEC coaches took a vote. The question at hand: Who would win the SEC in the season to come?
Winning with 167 voting points, UK Hoops was selected to repeat as champions, after making a 13-win run in the conference last season.
Almost three months later, and the Cats are tied for third in the league with Georgia and South Carolina, the only two conference teams to beat UK this season. With a 7-2 SEC record and the lingering disappointment of their first home loss in almost three years, the Cats have seven games left in the regular season to bounce back.
Of the seven, only two are at home. But that doesn’t bother head coach Matthew Mitchell.
“Where we play right now is not nearly as important as how we’re practicing,” Mitchell said. “I just feel really bad about the loss (at home to Georgia) on Sunday because I think it was a direct result of how we practiced and I just have a lot to do with that.”
His team’s preparation for the Lady Bulldogs included some seemingly earned days off in the middle of a grueling conference schedule.
“I was trying to kind of hit the reset button and let them refresh at the midpoint and it just wasn’t the way we should’ve gone about it,” Mitchell said.
“There’s no other thing you can do but try to learn from the experience, but I think with this team there needs to be edginess. They seem to be too willing to get into a comfort zone where we’re not playing what Kentucky’s been known for, and that’s being really aggressive and tough.”
Since the Georgia loss, Mitchell has adapted the practice schedule to take the players out of that comfort zone. A more rigorous two-a-day setup is now in place, something usually uncharacteristic midseason.
“(Two-a-days) hadn’t been common, but that was not a common performance from us (against Georgia),” said Mitchell.
Mitchell and the Cats will have a chance to see the fruits of their labor when they travel to Fayetteville, Ark. this week to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (15-7, 3-6 SEC). The Razorbacks tout three players averaging double digits this season: senior Sarah Watkins with 13 points per game and senior Quistelle Williams and junior Keira Peak with 10.5 points per game apiece.
“We have a tough game ahead of us Thursday night in Fayetteville,” said Mitchell. “It’s always a challenge to go against Arkansas. They’re very well-coached. They have always been tough to prepare for and this season’s no different. (It will) be an important game for us to try to bounce back, get back on the winning track and we’ll certainly have to play well to do that.”
The Cats have beaten the Razorbacks 10 out of the last 11 times the teams have faced off. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday.