Bishop’s career day boosts Cats



By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3

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Azia Bishop had been a “disaster.”

At least that’s what her coach, Matthew Mitchell, said after his team’s game against the LSU Tigers. Bishop herself admitted to having a rough couple of practices after Thursday’s loss at South Carolina, which ended the Cats’ 17-game win streak.

But by the final buzzer on Sunday, Bishop had led UK to a 73-60 victory with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 20 minutes of playing time, a new career high.

Bishop, who missed some time after fracturing her wrist, admitted to not being mentally focused the past couple of practices this week and thought she needed to make up for it.

“I’ve had a couple rough practices and coach had got on me a lot and told me to come out, play hard and produce off the bench, so that was where my confidence came from,” Bishop said.

Safe to say, mission accomplished.

Bishop was huge on a day when UK’s usual standout forward DeNesha Stallworth struggled to get going. Stallworth didn’t log a point in the first half and finished with four points and five rebounds on 2-of-5 shooting in, what for her, was a lowly 20 minutes of action.

Any other game with that type of performance from Stallworth, UK loses. Mitchell depends on his frontcourt too much to have a flat performance like that, especially when UK struggles to shoot from outside like it did against the Tigers (5-of-19 for 26 percent from behind the arc).

Even with Samarie Walker’s hard-fought double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds), UK needed someone else to attack the weak parts of LSU’s zone.

Bishop was happy to step into that role.

“It was great to come and produce for our team knowing that I had a couple rough weeks,” she said.

Mitchell was equally ecstatic to have the sophomore’s production.

“Really happy that she played that way; that is how we need her to play,” he said. “You could see today why I might be frustrated when she doesn’t practice well and isn’t engaged.”

Bishop, who wears a splint on her injured wrist, has the habit of losing focus, Mitchell said.

“She just gets out of sorts and the injury with the splint I think she worried about, ‘Can I catch?’ instead of just catching the ball and playing,” he said. “Those kinds of things she gets distracted. Today was unexpected from her. I did not expect that kind of performance, but I am happy that we got it. … I thought that she played with the kind of grit and tenacity that we need all of our players to play with.”

If the Cats can get even half of Bishop’s output against LSU on a game-by-game basis, Mitchell will be wearing a permanent smile.

Stallworth should be back to her old self next game, Walker will continue to scrap and battle for rebounds, making Bishop the proverbial cherry on top.

Now the trick is getting her to play well with increased expectations.

“It just puts her in a tough spot now because we all see what she can do and she just has to come back and try to become a dependable player for us,” Mitchell said. “If she does, it will transform our basketball team.”

A new and improved UK? That’ll be a disaster for the rest of the SEC.