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By ASHLEY SCOBY
UK women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell has a slogan for this year’s team: “40 minutes.”
That phrase has been the team’s motivation for the whole season so far, as well as its marketing campaign. And after Kentucky’s 65-62 win against Texas A&M Thursday, it’s clear that “40 minutes” will be the game plan that continues to wear down the Cats’ SEC competition.
The Aggies led for the entire first half Thursday, and a portion of the second, until Jennifer O’Neill drove for a layup with just over sixteen and a half minutes remaining. O’Neill & Company then grinded out the very physical A&M team until the Aggies looked visibly fatigued.
“We just felt like eventually we could wear the team out,” said senior A’dia Mathies, who finished with a team-leading 23 points. “We feel like over the course of a game, after 40 minutes of how hard we played, they eventually start slowing down and start missing shots they were making. I think that’s what happened and we just kept pushing and never let up.”
Mitchell also credited the Cats’ strength coach for the win that will create a wave of momentum as the Cats dig deeper into SEC play.
“Well, I told our strength coach tonight when I saw her coming down the stairs before the game tonight; I said ‘Steph (Tracey-Simmons), you are going to be the reason we win this one tonight,’ because I knew we were not going to have maybe as deep of a bench as we normally do,”Mitchell said. “I mean, this was a high, high-level game and so I knew our conditioning was going to be a factor and I was just very happy to tell her I was right when I saw her in the hallway after the game. We are in tremendous shape.”
That conditioning will play a huge part in the latter part of Kentucky’s SEC schedule. Playing a team like Texas A&M, ranked 20th in the AP poll at the time of the Thursday night game, was a huge benefit to Kentucky.
The Aggies, led by Kelsey Bone (who finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds) were a huge physical presence that managed to limit Kentucky’s post game. Cats forward Samarie Walker only got off three shot attempts and finished with three points. DeNesha Stallworth had 12 points, but was 5-11 from the field.
Having that offensive post presence limited helped Kentucky to figure out who will lead the team offensively when Stallworth or Walker is facing a player of the same caliber as Bone. Mathies, with her quiet leadership, had 23 points including 4-7 from the three-point line. Jennifer O’Neill, whose offensive aggression has increased in each game she has played lately, had 15 points, including 12 in the first half when her team was struggling so much.
This Cats team will continue to succeed in SEC play as long as they keep doing all the little things right, as they’ve been doing lately. Whether it’s 5-7 Janee Thompson grabbing a steal away from the Aggies’ 6-4 Bone, or Walker grabbing 11 rebounds in the face of her offensive struggles, Kentucky’s potential is unlimited as they continue into SEC competition.
And they will certainly need to keep up that clip of production if they are to win the SEC, which is now expected as the Cats are ranked top-10 in the country.
““I believe the SEC is the greatest conference,” Mathies said. “Every time you go out there to play, you can take a loss. There is no team that you can think ‘oh, we’re going to beat them.’ No, definitely not. Everybody has to prepare every night and stay focused every day. I think it just goes to show how great of a league this is.”
UK Hoops will next play at Missouri Sunday, with their next home coming January 17 against Mississippi State.