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A physical presence.
The fifth-ranked Kentucky Lady Wildcats are developing it this season and the Mississippi State Bulldogs know that's what it is going to take to be successful in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell is happy that his team has been able to follow up last season's SEC regular season championship and continue to win games.
It has come in a little bit different way so far this season for the Lady Wildcats, who bring records of 16-1 overall and 4-0 into tonight's 6 p.m. meeting with the Bulldogs in Lexington.
"While we may be not as full court as we've been in the past, I've really been pleased," said Mitchell, a native of Louisville. "Our post players have given us an added dimension of being able to block shots. They have been able to challenge shots at the rim."
Kentucky's front line players of Samarie Walker, Denesha Stallworth and Brittany Henderson have been those rebounders and shot blockers for Mitchell.
Walker and Stallworth ranked in the league's top five in rebounding. Stallworth is also among the SEC's best in blocked shots.
"It's something a little bit different for us defensively, but what it comes down to is being able to get some wins and especially this time of the year in SEC play," Mitchell said.
Mississippi State (8-8 overall) has struggled to get wins so far in the SEC by losing all three attempts so far.
Coach Vic Schaefer knows there's only one formula for his Bulldogs to experience success in the very tough conference.
"At the end of the day for us as a staff, you can talk about game plans, execution and all of that, but if we don't play hard and play with a passion and add a little bit of physical toughness to it, the rest of it isn't going to work," Schaefer said. "The the bottom line for us is playing hard, playing with passion, representing Mississippi State and having a little bit of a physical presence.
"This league has a lot of physical presence. We've got to get a little bit and grow on that. If we do that, then you have a chance to go on the other side of the board, execute and do some of the things we are drawing up."
Schaefer has noticed the physical, tough and aggressive defense that the Lady Wildcats play. He knows MSU must match that to be able to compete in Memorial Coliseum.
"Kentucky plays like we aspire to play," Schaefer said. "We have to compete in what is going to be a tough environment. Kentucky likes to cause turnovers, but we have to eliminate those that lead to layups."
Sophomore center Matha Alwal has given the Bulldogs some physical play this season and ranks among the league leaders with 9.8 rebounds per game and 2.4 blocked shots per outing.
In SEC games, Alwal averages 13 points and 10.3 boards per game.
"Martha is playing with some confidence," Schaefer said. "She feels comfortable at the free-throw line, and she has become a good help defender in that she will block and alter shots.
"She shut down LSU's best player (Theresa) Plaisance, who was the leading scorer in the conference. I was pleased with how well she played against her, and I was pleased with our kids battling through some foul trouble."
Alwal, who leads the league with 10 double-digit rebounding games, starts on the front line for MSU with Carnecia Williams, while Kendra Grant, Candace Foster and Jerica James are the guards.
Grant paces the Bulldogs with 12.8 points per game.
The Bulldogs challenge a group of Lady Wildcats, who sport last year's SEC Player of the Year in A'dia Mathies.
Mathies averages 14.5 points per game and Mitchell disputes the claim that she is having an off year.
"I think her numbers are similar to what she's had," Mitchell said. "Through the non-conference games where we've won by large margins, she's just a very smart player and she may not have had some big scoring games in some of those contests because she was trying to figure out how this team is going to work together.
"She is still, in my mind, the best player in the league, the most valuable player in the league, and the most versatile player in the league. She doesn't have to score to impact the game and she is a first-team All-defensive player. She is a terrific ball handler, passer and great defender. I don't think she has struggled, but played terrific."View more articles in: