Health, consistency leads UK’s SEC rebound

So far this season, the women’s basketball team has been haunted by inconsistencies. Now that the Cats seem to have found a consistent formula for success, they look to put that formula to the test tonight against South Carolina in Columbia.

Before the season began, the Cats (9-9, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) were picked to finish sixth in the 12-team conference at the SEC’s media day. After a league-worst 6-8 performance in non-conference play, the Cats limped into the heart of the season.

However, the Cats are turning things around, having won three of their first four SEC contests.

“We had a very tough non-conference schedule,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We learned an awful lot about what we needed to do to prepare for league play.”

Through the non-conference schedule, Mitchell’s squad was forced to play a number of different lineups due to persistent injury problems. Eight different starting lineups featuring a total of 10 different players have been used.

The most significant injury to plague the Cats this season is that of junior guard Carly Ormerod, who has been sidelined with sesamoiditis in her foot and has not played since Dec. 20, when UK lost to Louisville 80-65.

Due to Ormerod’s absence, freshman guard Amber Smith has been thrown into a prominent role early in her career. Smith has started all eight games since Ormerod’s injury, and has provided the team with a steady backbone at point guard. In those games, Smith has helped lead the Cats to a 5-3 record.

“Playing point guard in the SEC as a freshman is one of the toughest things to do in basketball,” Mitchell said.

Now that Smith has prospered as a young player, Mitchell is looking forward to having Ormerod back on the court so he can utilize both of his star guards.

“Hopefully Carly will be able to play in the next week or so,” Mitchell said. “It’d be a big boost to have her back. It could be very helpful to our basketball team in the long run to have them both there.”

In all, five different Cats have missed a total of 31 games this season due to injury. Those who have missed time include veteran leaders in Ormerod, senior center Sarah Elliott and redshirt junior forward Eleia Roddy. However, the Cats are starting to get healthy as they continue to compete in SEC play.

“The non-conference schedule was definitely a learning experience because we were just learning each other’s strengths,” Elliott said. “Coach Mitchell told us that we are about to go into the SEC play, and whatever we have done before this means nothing. We just need to focus and get going and that’s what we are doing.”

It appears that the Cats have turned over a new leaf from their early-season struggles. After going 2-5 in games decided by 10 points or less before league play started, all three of the Cats’ SEC victories have been decided by seven points or less.

“Had we played a weaker non-conference schedule, maybe we wouldn’t do as well in the SEC,” Mitchell said.

Although the team is starting to learn to play with consistency, there is still a lot left for the Cats to improve upon, Mitchell said.

“We’re glad to be 3-1,” he said, “but with an extremely difficult schedule ahead, we need to continue to get better.”