UK Hoops playing for seeding

­The last time the UK women’s basketball team played Georgia, the Bulldogs were the proverbial salt in the Cats’ wounds.

The Bulldogs snapped No. 19 UK 25-game home winning streak when the two teams first met this season on Jan. 9. But even worse for the Cats, the loss marked three straight.

However, after the loss, the Cats (19-6, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) soared to seven straight wins and UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said the first game is a distant memory.

“The first game we played seemed so long ago,” Mitchell said. “Both teams have evolved, and both teams are probably different than they were that second conference game of the season.

“I think when we play a team twice, the second matchup is always interesting.”

In the first meeting, UK was coming off two straight defeats. This time, UK has lost two out of three, but its most recent game was the Cats’ sloppiest.

Despite the poor play, the Cats managed to score in the last seconds, swinging momentum back in UK’s favor.

Momentum will help the Cats in a game Mitchell said is critical.

“This is a big game for the conference race right now,” Mitchell said. “We are a game behind Georgia in the loss column, and if we are going to try to gain some ground, we are going to be one of the top teams in the conference, we need this game.”

A win would tie UK with Georgia for second in the SEC. The top four teams in the SEC tournament receive byes, something Mitchell believes is incredibly important if you want to make a run.

“If you look back in the history of the (SEC) tournament, I just think it’s really hard to win it if you don’t get that bye,” Mitchell said. “It’s hard to win. It’s one of the toughest tournaments anywhere to win. So, every advantage you can give yourself is important. It’s crucial that we get that bye and give us every advantage we can to win the tournament.”

A loss would potentially knock UK out of the top four spots depending on other action across the SEC Thursday night.

If the history of UK’s season repeats itself, the Cats should have a tough game. UK’s margin of victory in SEC home games is nearly 10 points per game, but when the Cats travel in conference that margin is drastically cut to just one point.

Despite the low margin of victory in road games, the Cats are still 3-2 in those games, and UK’s chances of winning on the road are much greater when its star senior forward Victoria Dunlap excels.

In her past three games Dunlap has averaged 16 points, but the Cats need Dunlap more on the boards.

UK is one of the smallest teams in the SEC and Dunlap is one of the Cats’ tallest players. In the past three games she has averaged only four rebounds a game.

If Dunlap’s rebounding can match her scoring, UK’s chances of getting a first round bye in the SEC tournament will greatly increase.