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Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell reacts during the second half of an NCAA first-round college basketball game against Liberty in Louisville, Saturday. Kentucky won the game 83-77. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

UK coach Matthew Mitchell (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

By ASHLEY SCOBY

It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.

But it might be a little about how you start, too.

Kentucky women’s basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell took that mindset into Sunday’s game against Arkansas, after his team dropped a stunner to unranked Alabama last Thursday. Mitchell switched up the starting lineup to include Jelleah Sidney (Sunday’s was her first career start) and Jennifer O’Neill, who started much of last season at point guard.

Relegated to the bench were sophomore point guard Janee Thompson and senior forward DeNesha Stallworth. Stallworth, whose name has appeared on several watch lists for National Player of the Year awards, only played 10 minutes, scoring 3 points and grabbing 3 rebounds.

Although Stallworth had been working herself back into the lineup after returning from knee surgery, Mitchell said her limited minutes had nothing to do with her health.

In fact, some of Mitchell’s post-game comments seemed to be directed right at his preseason All-SEC pick.

“If we can get our post players playing with the kind of fire that Jelleah and Azia (Bishop) play – they didn’t play great offensively but they gave us some energy and effort and they looked like they didn’t want to lose there and really got us going in the second half,” he said. “Our post players didn’t finish today very well.”

Bernisha Pinkett, a reserve guard who had been averaging a little less than 10 minutes per game this year, didn’t check into the game once.

“No more Mr. Nice Guy,” Mitchell said after Kentucky used that starting lineup switch-up to beat Arkansas, 68-58 on Sunday. “No more telling them how everything’s going to be all right.”

Because everything might not be all right this year. This team came in with lofty expectations of earning a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and finally reaching a Final Four after being bounced from the Elite Eight in three of four years.

But the Wildcats have stumbled to a 16-4 record, including a 4-3 mark in conference play, losing to SEC teams Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. Two of those losses came at Memorial Coliseum, where Kentucky has traditionally had an overwhelming winning record.

The lowest point of the season came on Thursday, when the Crimson Tide stormed into Lexington and took Kentucky down, 57-55.

“I’m just telling you we’re not showing up and playing like we played Thursday night,” Mitchell said after his team bounced back from that loss with the 68-58 win against Arkansas.

“That’s an embarrassment, and that’s nothing against Alabama. They deserved to win the game, but we’re just not going to do that. I’m in charge of that, and so my mentality is going to be we are going to play like a Kentucky team.”

Playing “like a Kentucky team” will include much more competitive practices, according to Mitchell, where playing time during games will be dictated by how much fire the players show during practices.

According to Thompson, part of that competitive spirit will be fueled by Mitchell’s changed mindset.

“I do think he was being a little light on us and trying to stay positive,” she said after the Arkansas win. “His mentality is now better because it kind of lights a fire under us at times and it makes us play harder and that showed in the game today.”

Junior Bria Goss thought the Alabama loss could be a “turning point” in the season, especially after getting back on track against Arkansas on Sunday.

How this Kentucky team has started might matter in the long run, but not because of the losses. That 4-3 start in league play can serve as the springboard to the successful season this team anticipated, according to Mitchell and his players.

“We’ve worked hard to build this program to be known for something, and that’s what we are going to do, or if we don’t it’s not going to be comfortable around here,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make sure this thing gets to where it needs to be.”

For complete coverage of the UK women’s basketball team, visit wildcathoops.com or follow on Twitter @WildcatHoops1. 

Final Score: No. 5/6 Kentucky – 133, No. 9/9 Baylor – 130 (4 OT)

Team Records and Series Notes

  • UK improved to 9-0 on the season, giving the Wildcats their first 9-0 start since 2009-10 and second time in the Matthew Mitchell era.
  • The Wildcats’ extended their winning streak to nine games, tying the seventh-longest in school history.
  • UK is 24-23 all-time in overtime games and 5-2 in the Mitchell era. It marked the first OT game of the season.
  • The four overtime game was the first in school history.
  • Kentucky’s all-time record is 695-477 (.593) in 40 seasons of varsity basketball.
  • Mitchell is in his seventh season as the head coach of the Wildcats and owns a record of 153-62 at UK. Overall, Mitchell is 183-91 in nine seasons.
    • He already ranks first on UK’s all-time wins list with 153 and winning percentage (.712).
  • UK and Baylor are tied in the all-time series 1-1 and 5-7 all-time vs. opponents from the Big 12.
  • The Wildcats have won seven consecutive vs. non-conference opponents on the road.
  • The Wildcats have now won 19 straight regular season non-conference games.
  • In close games (games decided by 10 points or less), UK is 58-34 (.630 percent) under Coach Mitchell, including 2-0 this season.
  • The win marks the second straight over a top 10 opponent on the season and the first time in school history UK has defeated top 10 opponents in back-to-back games.
  • The win marks UK’s first over a ninth-ranked opponent.
  • Next up: UK heads to the Windy City to face DePaul on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. ET, with the game being broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

Team/Game Notes

  • UK scored 100-plus points for the fourth time this season and improved to 43-0 all time and 11-0 under Coach Mitchell when scoring 100 or more points.
  • The 133 points marked a school record for points scored in a game.
  • The 263 combined points set a new NCAA record.
  • The Wildcats shot 41.9 percent (39-of-93) from the field, while holding the Lady Bears to 42.9 percent (45-of-105).
  • Kentucky was 49-of-66 (.742 percent) from the free-throw line, which were both school records.
  • UK converted on 31.6 percent (6-of-19) from beyond the arc, while holding BU to 33.3 percent (7-of-21) from 3-point range.
  • All 11 Wildcats in uniform saw action in the game.
  • Five Wildcats finished in double figures.
  • Kentucky forced 28 Baylor turnovers, marking the eighth consecutive game the Wildcats have forced 20-plus turnovers.
  • Of the 28 turnovers, nine of them were steals.
  • The Wildcats were outrebounded by Baylor, 68-56.
  • UK dished out a season-high 31 assists, just three shy of the school record (34 vs. Western Kentucky on Feb. 16, 1981).

Individual Notes

  • Junior Jennifer O’Neill set a school record with a career-high 43 points. She broke Valerie Still’s record of 42 vs. Charleston on Dec. 19, 1982.
    • O’Neill has registered 10-plus points in eight of the nine games this season, all off the bench.
    • O’Neill finished 14-of-31 from the field and 13-of-19 from the free throw line, which were all career highs.
    • Her 31 field goal attempts were a school record.
    • The 13 free throws made tie for fourth all time, while the 19 attempts are a school record.
    • Tied a season high with six assists.
  • Sophomore Janee Thompson scored a career-high 20 points.
    • Thompson was 7-of-16 from the field, which were both career highs.
    • Thompson was a career-high tying 6-of-7 from the free throw line
    • She picked up her sixth double-digit game of the season.
  • Senior DeNesha Stallworth registered 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 8-10 from the free throw line, while also grabbing nine boards.
    • Stallworth’s 10 free throw attempts tied a career high.
    • Her four steals were a team high, while also tying a season high.
  • Senior Kastine Evans recorded her seventh double-digit scoring effort of the season with 14 points.
    • Was a season-best 6-of-7 at the charity stripe.
  • Junior Bria Goss scored 13 points with 11 of them coming from the free-throw line (11-of-12).
    • Set new career highs in free throws made and attempted.
    • Grabbed a season-best six rebounds.
  • Freshman Makayla Epps tied a career-best with nine points, while pulling down a career-high four rebounds.
  • Junior Azia Bishop dished out a career-high three assists.
  • Senior Samarie Walker saw her streak of consecutive games with at least one steal come to an end at 27 games.
    • Walker claimed a team-high 10 rebounds, marking her fifth double-digit rebounding game of the season.

Mitchell: “Well, I have found this: They don’t teach much defense at the McDonald’s game. They’re not working very hard on the defensive end of the floor, so some of the McDonald’s all‑Americans have a bit of an adjustment period when they get to Kentucky from that respect.

“What I love about our entire team is the talent level, and I don’t know where we would land on the most talented team in the country, but we have a very, very talented team, and they are all mobile and agile and athletic. I think that gives us an advantage if we can find a way as coaches to put them in the right positions.

“The thing in the backcourt, what I think makes us have the potential to be very dangerous is that anybody really can get the basketball and get it up the floor. That helps with the tempo issue of really pressing the issue tempo‑wise. You don’t have to wait for one player to come get the ball.  And right now in practice, which this is very early and could change and has changed before in our program, but right now Jennifer O’Neill and Janee Thompson are getting the majority of the reps at the point, and they are both so fast and so explosive and both are shooting the three so well that that’s two point guards that can keep the pace going, but then you can outlet it to virtually anybody, Kastine Evans, Bria Goss, Linnae Harper, Makayla Epps, really just anybody can take that and push the ball down the court.

“It helps you offensively and defensively just to keep the level of intensity up and keep the tempo up, and those are all things that are valuable here at Kentucky.”

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — A’Dia Mathies scored 20 points and No. 10 Kentucky routed Mississippi 90-65 as Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell tied the school record for victories. Kentucky (24-4, 12-3 SEC) dominated Ole Miss (9-19, 2-13) the Lady Rebels on the boards and turned a 57-38 advantage into 21 second-chance points.

Janee Thompson added 11 points for the Wildcats and Bria Gross chipped in 10. Tia Faleru had 14 points to lead the Lady Rebels and Danielle McCray had 12.

Mitchell, a Mississippi native, tied Terry Hall (1980-87) as Kentucky’s winningest women’s basketball coach with 138 victories. Mitchell will get a chance to break the record Sunday against No. 8 Tennessee.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Janee Thompson scored all 13 of her points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left, to lift No. 9 Kentucky to a 48-47 comeback victory over No. 6 Louisville Sunday night.

The freshman guard finished with 13 points and scored the final six for the Wildcats (6-1), who trailed by 14 points in the second half before rallying down the stretch behind tough defense that held Louisville without a field goal for the final 4:54.

After Thompson’s 3-pointer, Louisville (8-1) had one final chance, but Bria Smith’s lay-up was blocked by Azia Bishop just before the buzzer.

Shoni Schimmel finished with 13 points to lead the Cardinals, who led 35-21 with 15:08 left before wilting in the final minutes from Kentucky’s defensive pressure. The Cardinals committed 25 turnovers.

DeNesha Stallworth scored 14 points for Kentucky, which claimed Bluegrass State bragging rights for the second straight year over the Cardinals.

Thompson did not play in the first half but was inserted in the second half to give the Wildcats an offensive boost. Before her game-winning shot she was fouled outside the arc and made all three free throws to bring Kentucky within 47-45 with 59.5 seconds remaining.

The close victory helped Kentucky win its fifth in a row and earn its first win against a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats lost 85-51 at No. 1 Baylor in its second game. It was also the closest margin in six games between the intrastate rivals. The average margin of victory before Sunday was 22 points.

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