UK-Tennessee rivalry pens new chapter

UK-Tennessee rivalry pens new chapter at Memorial

By Kevin Erpenbeck

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One of the biggest rivalries UK Hoops has in the SEC is with perennial powerhouse No. 6 Tennessee. The Lady Vols have been a thorn in the Cats’ side in the past, holding the all-time record of 50-10.

As of late, No. 10 UK has brought some balance to the rivalry. The Cats won their last two home games against Tennessee and even managed to defeat the Lady Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena. It was UK’s first win at Tennessee in 25 years.

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell understands the intensity of the rivalry, but said his approach to this year’s matchup has been different.

“I see our players approaching the game with a lot of passion and enthusiasm because they’re trying to get better,” Mitchell said. “There may be some years that I might approach the game differently; might put more emphasis on Tennessee. But we’re really trying to work on what we need to do to be successful.”

One aspect Mitchell talked about improving was UK’s interior play. The coach was disappointed with the offensive effort in the paint in the Cats’ loss to No. 1 South Carolina on Jan. 11. Mitchell has attributed most of the mistakes under the basket to inexperience as UK has two forward/centers that are freshman (Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice) and another who is playing her first full season of collegiate basketball (Kyvin Goodin-Rodgers).

That’s why Mitchell isn’t worried about the rest of the team being mentally prepared to face Tennessee.

“The veterans, (senior guard) Bria Goss, knows what it’s going to be like. (Senior guard) Jennifer O’Neill knows what it’s going to be like,” Mitchell said. “It’s an important game, it’s an important rivalry. I just haven’t had a lot of time to work that angle because we’ve got so many things this team needs to do and improve on.”

The post game for UK has improved since the South Carolina game. The Cats recorded 20 points in the paint in their 86-69 win against Missouri on Sunday; holding the Tigers to just eight points under the basket.

But no matter how much UK has gotten better on the inside, it cannot make up for the lack of size against a team like Tennessee, Mitchell said. That’s why the team has focused on aspects other than the opponent’s name in preparation for the game.

“They are very big, very athletic, very explosive,” Mitchell said of the Lady Vols. “They’re a big team and we’re not. If we don’t win on the boards, that turnover margin better be pretty good to even that out. So there are so many things we need to do well mentally and emotionally so we can be a good team.”