Mitchell’s message remains the same as wins pile up


UK women’s basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell looks on as his team plays Ole Miss at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell is becoming repetitive.

“As we go forward and we continue to work through our schedule, I’m basically saying the same things to (my team),” Mitchell said.

The “same things” Mitchell preaches to his team have become engrained in their minds since the beginning of the season. Over the course of the season, and especially during the No. 17 Cats’ (20-3, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) current seven-game SEC winning streak, Mitchell and players always reveal the key to UK’s success.

“Defense. That’s how we win games is defense,” said junior forward Victoria Dunlap when asked what message is best remembered from Mitchell’s speeches to his team. “Defensive fundamentals are going to help everything with defense, defense, defense.”

The defensive message seems to be on playback in Dunlap’s mind. Yet Dunlap, UK’s team leader in steals and blocks for the second consecutive season, is now joined by her teammates in regularly giving stellar defensive performances.

Last week, freshman guard A’dia Mathies nullified Ole Miss’ Bianca Thomas, the SEC’s leading scorer.

Over the course of the season, UK’s calling card has been defense and the Cats lead the SEC in steals and turnover margin. UK manages to create much of its offense through opponents’ turnovers. As a result, UK sits atop the SEC in scoring offense. Last season, the Cats finished 11th in scoring offense.

But does Mitchell’s message ever get stale for the players?

“No,” Dunlap said. “Even though it’s the same thing, he says it in different ways.

“It’s a good thing that he keeps telling us (the same things) because if he didn’t, we could be in a different spot where we would settle for where we were before SEC (play) started, and settle for beating the teams that we were,” she said. “Just the fact that he continues to keep saying it to us gets our mentality right.”

Mitchell joked he does try to tweak the message for his players’ sake, but at this point they know what is expected from them.

Before Mitchell could simply repeat the message, he had to teach his team the message.

In the first month of the season, Mitchell once again favored repetition as a means to instill a certain defensive mindset in his team. For 21 straight days, his team went through rigorous defensive drills to form the habits necessary to execute nonstop, 40-minute, man-to-man defense.

“They’ve done a good job of embracing hard work, and that’s what has them in a position to be pretty special,” Mitchell said. “The thing where we are right now is we just still have so many games left to play … we have to make certain that we stay true to who we are, stay true to our identity and stay humble and hungry.”

This message will probably be what Mitchell tells his team before upcoming games against ranked opponents, the first of which against No. 19 Georgia on Thursday night.

As long as the end result is strong play on the court and a ‘W’ in the win column, the same message for these Cats will sound sweeter each time.

“I’m really, really proud of them because the message could possibly get a little boring and they don’t seem bored out there at all,” Mitchell said. “They seem pretty energized.”