UK Hoops exceeds preseason predictions


UK head coach Matthew Mitchel and the women’s basketball team have exceeded preseason expectations. Photo by Zach Brake

During the preseason, the UK women’s basketball team was picked to finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference. However, halfway through the SEC schedule, the No. 18 Cats (18-3, 6-2 SEC) head into Thursday’s game against Mississippi (14-7, 5-3 SEC) sitting in second place in the SEC behind only fifth-ranked Tennessee.

“I thought our team had the capability of being good,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said when asked about his team outperforming preseason prognostications. “I think there were probably a lot of unknowns for our team so I really didn’t get upset about being picked 11th.”

The 18 wins this season surpass the win totals tallied in each of Mitchell’s first two seasons and is the highest total since 2005-06 when the Cats won 20. UK also had only five SEC wins last year.

The 2005-06 season also marked the last time the Cats made the NCAA tournament, a yet-to-be completed goal for UK, which has made back-to-back NIT appearances under Mitchell.

Yet experts, analysts and basketball mavens simply did not predict that the Cats—barring a late-season collapse—would be strapping on their shoes for a shot in the Big Dance.

“Nobody thought we would come out and play the way we did,” junior forward Victoria Dunlap said. “We just got to make sure to stay focused every day in practice, and not let up or get settled down in the place we are now.”

Mitchell reminds his team they’re “just a bad 40 minutes away from not feeling so great about (them)selves.”

But these Cats show no signs of slowing down. UK is on a five-game SEC win streak, a school record. The last two wins in this streak came on the road, where UK had suffered most of its setbacks this season.

When, or if, the Cats’ overachieving ways come to an end remains to be seen, but they have positioned themselves nicely for the stretch run.

In UK’s eight remaining SEC games, five are against opponents in the top half of the table, including away games at Vanderbilt and Tennessee, plus a rematch at home with South Carolina, the last team to beat UK.

With so many teams with similar records at the top, the SEC’s final standings are from a certainty.

“Tennessee lost the one game, and they look pretty good so I just think we need to continue to win to keep pace,” Mitchell said. “It definitely looks like on a given night games could go either way, so it should be exciting going down the second half of the (SEC) season.”