Vandy’s gymnasium poses unique challenge for UK

The women’s basketball team has ventured as far east as Washington, D.C., as far north as Ann Arbor, Mich., and as far west as Honolulu this season.

But the Cats (12-11, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) have not encountered an environment quite like they will tonight when they play No. 25 Vanderbilt (18-6, 7-2 SEC) in the Commodores’ infamous Memorial Gymnasium.

“It’s a unique setup at Memorial Gym, and you don’t ever coach this way except in that gym,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I’ve been on coaching staffs in this conference that have won at that gym, but it’s a tough place to play. And Vanderbilt always has good crowds.”

Vandy’s arena poses an unusual challenge. Instead of the traditional setup where each team’s bench is located along the sideline, benches are situated behind each basket. The odd arrangement may make it difficult for Mitchell to communicate with his players.

Mitchell watched Tuesday’s game between UK’s men’s team and Vandy and made some observations on how Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings handled the game on his home court.

“Kevin Stallings looked like he was able to communicate with his players, because they’re just used to that,” Mitchell said. “I saw him whistling a lot. I practiced a little bit but I’m no good, so I’ll scream really loud. I’ll just be belting it out, but it may not matter. It’s more about getting in our offense and knocking down shots. The communication between me and the players matters, but I don’t think it’ll be the reason we win or lose.”

Getting into a rhythm on offense has not come easily for UK this season. Through 23 games, the Cats are shooting a meager 37.9 percent from the field — last in the conference.

Mitchell hopes his team can overcome its shooting woes early and open up the floor against Vandy’s stingy defense.

“Their defense is going to give you outside looks, but they don’t let you get it inside easily,” Mitchell said. “The way they match up against you depends on how you shoot from the outside. If you knock some shots down early on, the inside opens up a bit.”

A plague of injuries has depleted UK’s depth chart, especially at the point guard position. With no true point guard available to play tonight, Mitchell will turn to two veteran guards, seniors Samantha Mahoney and Chante Bowman, to fill the void created by injuries to junior Carly Ormerod and freshman Amber Smith.

The Cats had a week to prepare for the Commodores after last Thursday’s victory against Ole Miss and are hungry to continue their SEC success, Mitchell said.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, but our team is trying really hard in practice,” Mitchell said. “Whether or not it will translate to a victory, I’m not sure, but I’m really pleased with how they’ve prepared in practice.”