Kentucky fifth-year forward Tre Mitchell has missed the Wildcats’ last two games with what is being listed as a back issue. But in reality, he’s been dealing with this injury for a good chunk of the season. It just didn’t get bad enough for him to sit out games until last weekend.
“Tre is a warrior. Tre’s been a warrior for us throughout the season and for a good majority of that time when he was playing, he was playing hurt,” Kentucky associate coach Orlando Antigua said on Monday.
Up until Mitchell was moved to the bench, he’d been playing more minutes than anyone on Kentucky’s roster. Through 21 games played this season, he’s clocking 33.7 minutes per outing. The 6-foot-9 forward has logged at least 34 minutes in 11 games so far, including three with 40 or more. Early on, when Kentucky was missing its trio of seven-footers, his high usage was out of necessity, but that continued even once those three slowly trickled into the lineup.
A nagging, season-long for Mitchell explains some of his recent shortcomings. Against Florida on Jan. 31, he finished with just five points on 2-10 shooting, although he still managed to grab nine rebounds. But in a season-low 24 minutes against Tennessee on Feb. 3, it was clear that something was off. Mitchell failed to score a single point against the Volunteers and grabbed only five boards. His effort levels just weren’t where they had been and it showed on the court. There was a good reason why.
A couple of days later, he was officially ruled out and hasn’t played since. KSR’s Jack Pilgrim reported at the time that Mitchell suffered the injury during practice ahead of the Florida game. Antigua implies something else happened earlier in the season. Whatever occurred in practice prior to Florida eventually caused Mitchell to hit his pain threshold.
Kentucky could certainly use a healthy Tre Mitchell sooner rather than later, too. During Saturday’s loss to Gonzaga, the Wildcats’ frontcourt combo of Aaron Bradshaw, Ugonna Onyenso, and Zvonimir Ivisic combined for 13 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. The Zags dominated UK in the paint and won the battle on the glass.
Mitchell’s absence isn’t the only reason Kentucky has lost four of its last six games (he did play in four of those contests, after all), but the lack of overall continuity with the bigs is becoming a concern. They need Mitchell’s steady presence.
“He was trying to impact the team with his will,” Antigua added. “And you could see his experience, his veteran-ship, and he’s one of our best rebounders out there, aside from being able to steady and calm everybody on the offensive end as well. So yeah, he’s a big piece that’s been missing.”
Kentucky will return to action on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena against Ole Miss. Will another few days of rest be enough for Mitchell to get back on the court?