UK looks to take care of business at Memorial Coliseum


UK Women’s Basketball Head Coach Matthew Mitchell cheers on his team as the play Miami (OH) in Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday, Nov. 1st, 2009. Photo by Scott Hannigan

The UK women’s basketball team (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) is in the midst of what could be one of the most pivotal stretches of their season.

The Cats aced the first test this week with an 88-63 dismantling of Alabama on Sunday. The game against the Crimson Tide kicked-off UK’s three-game homestand, its longest home stretch in SEC play, with contests against Arkansas on Thursday and Auburn on Sunday still to come.

“(This stretch of home games) is really important,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell. “It does not look like road wins are going to be easy to get in this league.”

Road wins have been tough to come by for the Cats this season, who are 0-2 in SEC away games after dropping games to Georgia and South Carolina. Overall, the Cats are 3-3 on the road this season with the last away win coming Dec. 4, at Fifth Third Bank Arena when the Cats beat Cincinnati.

Even more incentive to win at home is evidenced by the fact that arguably the Cats’ worst performances of the season have occurred outside the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum. Mitchell called the loss to South Carolina the most disappointing game to date, but the 57-51 loss to Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 28 was also an uncharacteristic display.

Much like the matchup with Alabama, the next two games are winnable for the Cats, who will be considered the favorite in each. The Razorbacks (8-10, 0-5 SEC) share an identical record with Alabama and the role as SEC cellar-dweller. While the Tigers (11-7, 2-3 SEC) also find themselves in the bottom three of the conference standings.

Failing to take care of business at home may ultimately put the Cats, who hit the road for three of the next four games after this homestand, in a precarious position later in the season when every win is scoured by the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.

Plus, the atmosphere the Cats enjoy at home won’t be able to give them that extra boost on the road.

After the season-high attendance of 7,323 when Louisville came to town, attendance at Cats games dipped. Since then, crowd size has grown steadily with each successive game, and the UK players have become the beneficiaries of partisan crowds who create a noticeable homecourt advantage.

“We always draw big crowds, we look to go out and play hard for our fans,” senior Amani Franklin said.

In fact, UK has won all of its home games by double figures while forcing opponents into 20-plus turnovers at home all but once.

For senior forward Lydia Watkins, the hike in attendance in her time at UK has been noticeable.

“This season we have been more aggressive and attacking, going out and doing what the coaches ask,” Watkins said. “A lot of people are coming out to watch us because we’re a very fun team to watch and every night we try to bring it.”

In any event, the Cats will look to continue their 12-game winning streak at home dating back to last year.

“We have a great homecourt advantage here and our fans are so supportive and so vocal,” Mitchell said. “They get excited and they give us energy. Hopefully this is going to be a tough place for people to come in and win. We need to get every one of these we can. Winning at home is crucial.”