LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell knew what his 10th-ranked Wildcats’ game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff would be like on Sunday, so he had to set some goals other than simply winning.
Mitchell wanted his team to focus on turnover margin, and the goal was met: The Wildcats set a school record, forcing 49 turnovers and committing just 10 in a 101-43 victory over the Lady Lions.
Kentucky (10-0) scheduled this game as a breather among a brutal four-game stretch. The team’s last two games were against No. 15 Louisville and No. 6 Duke, and their next game is at No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 18.
“Today we were really focused on our turnover margin,” Mitchell said. “We had a game earlier this season where we forced 36 but we had 26. Turnovers are great, but the main focus is margin. The margin today was really unbelievable. That is the players focusing on both ends. They are fundamentally sound. Today in a game where they could have possibly gotten away with some things, they were particularly disciplined.”
The Wildcats opened the game on an 11-1 run, and the Cats’ scoring stretches never really ended: They only allowed the Lady Lions (0-7) consecutive points four times throughout the game.
Kentucky’s offense was on point, if not inefficient. The Wildcats shot 39.7 percent from the field and were outrebounded 38-31, but the 49 turnovers—which led to 66 points—created a volume of shot opportunities that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Kentucky took 73 field goal attempts to Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s 33.
Five Kentucky players scored in double figures: Bria Goss and Keyla Snowden had 19 each, Samantha Drake added 13, Bernisha Pinkett 11 and Azia Bishop 10.
Kentucky’s leading scorer A’dia Mathies missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury she suffered in practice Friday. Mitchell said team doctors thought it was a sprain but are waiting until Monday to take X-rays.
Mathies’ absence was another factor that forced the Wildcats to take Sunday seriously.
“You have to come out and play hard every single game,” Snowden said. “You can’t look past any team. That’s what we really focused on in practice, coming to play as hard in this game as we did in the Louisville game and the Duke game.”
In an effort to maintain consistent effort throughout all 40 minutes Sunday, Mitchell left his defense’s full-court press until Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s final possession. That was a major factor in forcing 49 turnovers, he said.
As a result, the turnovers were spread out fairly evenly. The Lady Lions had 23 in the first half and 26 in the second, and they never endured a stretch of longer than 3:04 without a mishandle.
“I can imagine it’s pretty tough for the coach and team in general,” Kentucky guard Crystal Riley said. “It gets frustrating, I’m sure. You can’t get the ball down the court. You can’t make any type of passes. I know it’s pretty frustrating, but that’s what we’re about. We want to frustrate them. We want to stress them out as much as we can.”