By Maggie Davis on ©April 21st, 2019 @ 9:46pm
They did it in convincing fashion not once, but twice. Even better? The Wildcats picked up two dominating victories at home on senior day over the No. 14 Auburn Tigers: the final scores were 7-0 then 7-3. Seniors Katie Reed, Abbey Cheek, Jenny Schaper, Kelsee Henson and Sarah Rainwater were honored before the start of game one.
Thanks to Saturday’s rain storms in Lexington, the Cats and the Tigers played a doubleheader Sunday afternoon. Although daunting, the back-to-back action clearly did not affect Kentucky. They won by a combined score of 14-3.
The win over Auburn completed the senior Cats’ conference sweep – during their time in the blue-and-white, they’ve now beaten every team in the SEC at least once. Auburn was the last team left on their list. Before Sunday night, Kentucky’s last win in the series dates back to March 4, 2012.
Check out the highlights here, courtesy of our friends from KY Wildcats TV.
Kentucky is now 28-18 on the season and 11-9 in the SEC. They’ll look to make it a home sweep over Auburn Monday at 7:00 p.m.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Former Kentucky guard Maci Morris will have an opportunity to make her professional basketball dreams come true.
Today, Morris accepted a training camp invite from the WNBA’s Washington Mystics with her eyes on a roster spot.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) April 18, 2019
Training camp will take place in early May in Washington, D.C.
As a senior, Morris averaged 15.1 points per game with a team-hight 75 3-pointers and 45.2 percent overall from deep. She finished her career ranked sixth all-time in scoring with 1,692 points, while her 252 career 3-pointers made ranks second all-time. Morris’ career mark of 41.1% from three ranks No. 1 in Kentucky school history.
Back on April 11, ESPN reported on its main ticker that the Seattle Storm had selected Morris with the 36th and final pick of the WNBA Draft.
Instead, it was actually South Dakota State’s Macy Miller who had been chosen.
My apologies, ESPN had it wrong, Seattle picked Macy Miller of South Dakota St at #36, not UK's Maci Morris pic.twitter.com/IYJgkmtUxe
— Kent Taylor (@KentTaylorWAVE) April 11, 2019
It won’t be with Seattle as she thought for a split-second on draft night, but she’ll still have her shot in the WNBA next season.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 11th, 2019 @ 10:41am
As we know all too well here at KSR, typos happen, but man, ESPN really messed up last night.
During the WNBA Draft, ESPN reported on its ticker that the Seattle Storm selected Kentucky’s Maci Morris with the 36th pick — the final pick of the draft — when in fact, the Storm actually drafted South Dakota State’s Macy Miller.
My apologies, ESPN had it wrong, Seattle picked Macy Miller of South Dakota St at #36, not UK's Maci Morris pic.twitter.com/IYJgkmtUxe
— Kent Taylor (@KentTaylorWAVE) April 11, 2019
Ouch. Someone at ESPN owes both Maci Morris and Macy Miller an apology. Even Steve Harvey is cringing.
Thankfully, it sounds like Morris has been invited to the Washington Mystics training camp, but still, what a mess.
By Maggie Davis on ©April 05th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Just days after being named the WBCA National Freshman of the Year, Kentucky’s star rookie has picked up yet another impressive award. Rhyne Howard has been dubbed the United States Basketball Writers Association National Freshman of the Year. She was presented with the award inside Amalie Arena prior to the start of Friday’s Final Four.
With Friday’s award, Howard is the nation’s unanimous freshman of the year. In addition to the WBCA and the USBWA, Howard was also named the espnW National Freshman of the Year back in March.
She’s the first player in Kentucky women’s basketball history to win a national freshman of the year honor and is just the sixth SEC player to earn the honor from the USBWA.
Howard ended the season leading UK with 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She scored in double figures in 26 games, including ten 20-points or more outings and five double-doubles.
It’s only the beginning for Rhyne Howard.
In other UK Hoops news, both Howard and senior Maci Morris have been named All-American Honorable Mentions by the WBCA.
It’s the first All-American honor for Morris during her UK career, while Howard becomes the second freshman in program history to earn the recognition. Howard and Morris are now the 22nd and 23rd All-American honored players for head coach Matthew Mitchell during his time at Kentucky.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 05th, 2019 @ 11:30am
In the morning post, Jack recapped Maci Morris’ run in the State Farm College 3-Point Contest last night in Minneapolis. Now, we’ve got some video to share of her performance.
In the first round, Maci hit 17 threes to move on to the semifinals; from there, she hit 15 threes to finish in third place. Not too shabby. Central Michigan’s Presley Hudson, who knocked off Morris in the semifinals, went on to win the title after finishing with 23 points in the finals.
Check out Maci making her state proud below:
The Kentucky women’s basketball team fell in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, losing to the host and three-seeded, N.C. State Wolfpack. It capped off what will go down as one of head coach Matthew Mitchell’s most impressive years at the helm. The season as a whole was unexpected and inspiring, as the ladies finished fourth – despite being predicted to finish seventh – in the SEC with an 11-5 record and an overall record of 25-8.
After a disappointing season in 2017-18, when the Wildcats missed the NCAA tourney and finished with Mitchell’s worst record as head coach of Kentucky at 15-17, things weren’t expected to get too much better. Even though this year’s version didn’t make it to the Sweet 16, it might have been his season yet, and the future now looks brighter than anyone could have imagined just 10 months ago.
Losing seniors Maci Morris and Taylor Murray is huge, make no doubt of that. Morris is one of the best players to ever wear a Kentucky uniform, finishing sixth all-time in points (1,692) and second in made threes (252). Her final season as a Cat resulted in her shooting over 45 percent from deep, the sixth highest mark in the entire country. Murray, meanwhile, is one of the two or three best on-ball defenders I have ever seen in the blue and white, man or woman, and was the prime initiator on offense as a senior.
The absence of those two will be impossible to notice, but it’s the players coming back and rolling in that are going fill the potential of next season with flirtatious talks of a fourth Elite 8 appearance for the Cats under Coach Mitchell.
Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Kentucky saw eight players transfer and five commits move on to different schools in the span of two years. Last season was an admitted disaster. Now, there’s reason to believe the best days of UK Hoops could still be ahead of us.
So what will the 2019-20 version of the Wildcats look like? Well, let’s take a peek.
Sophomore season Rhyne Howard
If for some reason you have never heard the name of Rhyne Howard yet, familiarize yourself as soon as possible. She is a superstar in the making. Actually, she is a superstar. Already made.
The progress she showed in her development throughout her freshman season was unprecedented for a Kentucky player but not unexpected. The only time we’ve seen a player improve so much from the beginning to the end of a season is when John Calipari is in charge.
In her first season, Howard averaged a team-high in both points (16.4) and rebounds (6.6) per game and trailed only Murray in total steals. She can get it done on both ends; scoring from all areas of the court with deathly crossover and stepback moves combined with cat-like reflexes on defense ranging from swiping away loose balls to pulling up for charges in a split second.
One of my favorite stats about Howard this past season was how she led the Cats in both Usage Rate (26.9) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (53.3). She’s a player you want to have with the ball in her hands late in a game. Her 191 three-point attempts were a team-high, converting on nearly 39 percent of them.
At 6-foot-2, she can shoot over almost anyone and plays more like an oversized guard than an undersized forward. But don’t underestimate her rebounding abilities. She was especially good at pulling in boards off her own teammates misses – she averaged 2.5 offensive rebounds per game, putting her in the top 10 percent among all players in the country.
The only thing Howard truly needs to improve upon is her decision making. While her assist percentage (16.9) was higher than her turnover percentage (14.1), her assist/turnover ratio was under 1.00 – 0.93 to be exact. She also forced herself out of several games by picking up petty fouls early in the first and second quarters. Silly freshman mistakes, more often than not. But still the overwhelming pick for National Freshman of the Year. She’s an elite prospect.
Without Murray to lead the way, Howard could find herself handling the ball even more often than this season and the turnovers could spike as a result. But that also brings me to my next point, which is – no pun intended – the addition of a point guard who transferred from Texas.
Three transfers now eligible to play
Starting with Chasity Patterson, the prized transfer Matthew Mitchell was able to pull a commitment from back in December. Patterson was the top-ranked point guard in the class of 2017 before committing to Texas. She was listed as the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, but averaged only 7.6 minutes in her lone year as a Longhorn, leading to her wanting to transfer.
She was listed as the fourth-best overall player in her class and named a McDonald’s All-American while also winning the 3-point shooting contest at the event. Patterson is her high school’s all-time leading scorer with over 3,000 career points and she averaged 28.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game as a senior in the Houston area. The stats and awards are all there, but she’ll be coming off a year-long hiatus from organized basketball. She’ll have to sit out until the spring semester but is expected to come in and be an explosive ball-dominant guard who can lead the offense and take over a similar role to Murray on both ends of the court.
Sabrina Haines is an Arizona State transfer listed at 5-foot-10 who is an excellent sharpshooter. She led the Sun Devils in three-point shooting and free-throw percentage her sophomore season while starting 32 games. She isn’t anywhere near the shooter that Morris is, but making over 38 percent of her three-pointers as a second-year player at ASU on 75 attempts is a major boost.
Haines missed the majority of her junior season with an injury, ultimately leading to transfer.
The final transfer is out of N.C. State. Nae Nae Cole, a 6-foot-3 center spent three years with the Wolfpack before deciding to head to Lexington. Her stats don’t stick out, but she’ll immediately come in as the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-3, something the Wildcats desperately lacked this past year. She was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.
Coach Mitchell will add two freshmen to next year’s roster; four-star recruit out of Georgia, Deasia Merrill, and three-star recruit from Lincoln County, KY, Emma King.
Merrill is a 6-foot-2 forward listed as the 66th best recruit in ESPN’s rankings, providing even more frontcourt size and depth. What excites coach Mitchell about her the most is that she can stretch the floor and force the defense to respect her jump shot.
“Deasia brings so many different things to our team with her ability to really stretch the floor,” coach Mitchell said. “She can score so many ways, including out on the perimeter, but can also go inside and be physical and finish. She’s going to be a real asset for our team for years to come.”
We saw KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt try to extend their range out to the perimeter, although with mixed results. Wyatt’s confidence in her jumper improved as the season progressed and she became a much more versatile player on offense because of it. Adding another player that can bend the defense and put them in defending positions they aren’t used to is insanely valuable. Kentucky likes to run and shoot; Merrill should fit perfectly into the formula.
As for King, she’s been a Kentucky commit since before her junior season even began. She’s been a fan of the blue and white for even longer and brings another shooter into the fold. She’s 5-foot-11, which is good size for a guard who likes to get off shots quick and around screens.
Coach Mitchell calls her a “terrific shooter” with “incredible range” but it might be a while before she sees real minutes, depending on just how terrific of a shooter she actually is. The backcourt depth next season won’t be much of a problem with four potential ball handlers along with Blair Green’s outside shooting.
Returning players – guards
Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal – the two juniors entering their final season at Kentucky – will be a staple of the Wildcats backcourt. They might actually be the most important aspect of next year’s team, essentially replacing Morris and Murray.
Howard and Patterson will likely receive most of the primary ball-handling duties, but Roper and Paschal have shown that they are more than capable of taking over that duty themselves.
They were usually the first two players off the bench and Roper acted more like a “sixth-starter” towards the end of the season. I’m especially excited to see how much better Roper can get after a full offseason. She isn’t the pest that Murray is on defense, but on offense, she can run with anyone. She was second on the team in assists behind Murray and played with more passion and intensity than any other player.
She’s only 5-foot-6 but plays like you just insulted her entire family. There is a locked aggression inside of her every game that she is just looking for an excuse to break out. She shot nearly 35 percent from three with her now iconic rainbow jumper and is a threat to sneak into the paint for saucy assists. If she spies an opportunity to add some “Roper-flair”, she’s going to do it. Most importantly, she’s going to do it without turning the ball over.
Paschal’s role this past season wasn’t as necessary as Roper’s, but with the loss of Murray and Morris, she’s still going to see plenty of minutes. Her playing time dipped in the middle of last season but spiked again down the stretch when the team needed experienced players who can reliably hold the ball and initiate the offense.
She can be a bit reckless driving to the rim at times, as evidenced by her 30.1 field goal percentage as a junior, and needs to improve upon her timing when attacking the paint, but it’s clear she can get there when she wants. Some of it has to do with her being somewhat undersized at 5-foot-7 and attacking players in the paint well over 6-feet tall. But what’s important to note is that she can get to the rim. It’s going to be about picking and choosing her spots correctly and better adapting to making those last second passes when she realizes that she can’t get a clean look off. With the bevy of shooters that will surround her, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Returning players – forwards
Let’s start with the two starters from last season – Wyatt and McKinney.
Both will enter next season as juniors, which is a big deal in its own right because having these two for another two seasons is massive to solidifying the frontcourt.
Yes, the rebounding issues might still persist, but we saw towards the end of the season just how much Wyatt has improved and they both want to be able to knock down that outside shot.
Between the two, they attempted 87 triples, but made only 20 of them, slightly under 23 percent. You don’t have to be a math wizard to know that is a poor shooting clip. Any improvement from that area would create a situation where Kentucky can almost always have five shooters on the floor at all time. That is how you build a modern-style basketball team.
But what Wyatt does so well is compete with opposing bigs. She’s usually not the tallest at 6-foot-2, but hardly gets outworked. She ranked well above average in securing offensive rebounds and became much more adept at scoring in the post as the season progressed. Being an incredibly hard worker doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet but she’s one of Kentucky’s most important players going forward. Outside of Howard and *maybe* Patterson, she might be the most important player
She’ll be guarding the tallest player on the opposing team and will usually have a height disadvantage. If she can get better at not fouling in those situations (she was one of the worst in the entire country in terms of foul percentage) and stay in the game for longer stints, her impact will be felt all 40 minutes.
McKinney missed some time with an injury near the end of the season and she didn’t look 100 percent once she did return in the NCAA Tournament but make no mistake, she’ll be starting once again in 2019.
She’s the teams best rebounder not named Rhyne Howard and quick on her feet at 6-foot-1. Like Wyatt, she is constantly battling on the boards and pulling down her teammates misses for extra opportunities.
Backing up those two will once again be Blair Green and Ogechi Anyagaligbo. Green should see plenty of improvements after her first season playing in college, starting with simply being more comfortable on the floor. Too often did she just look out of place when she wasn’t spotting up for shots – although, she is a hell of a shooter (making over 36 percent on 44 attempts from three). The experience is what matters most for her. She’s going to be a big-time player at Kentucky, but it’s going to be up to her if that comes next season or a couple of years from now.
As for Anyagaligbo, she’ll join Roper and Paschal along with transfers Haines and Cole as the fifth senior on the roster. Anyagaligbo saw her playing time stabilize to roughly 10-15 minutes per game over the last several weeks of the season and she performed well. She has an issue similar to Paschal in that when she sets her mind on shooting, that’s exactly what she’s going to do no matter what happens. At 6-foot-1 she can muscle through most, but still isn’t tall enough to get off tough looks in the paint. If she’s spotting up for 6-to-8 foot jumpers she’ll knock them down nine times out of 10, but it’s getting to those spots that she didn’t too all that often.
The frontcourt is going to go about five (and possibly six) players deep, so playing time could be a bit harder to come by with Green, Anyagailgobo, and the transfer Cole all fighting for backup minutes. A good problem to have for a head coach.
All-in-all, next year’s team should be an improvement on the 2018 version, despite losing two legends in Morris and Murray. The depth improves, there is more size, plenty of experience, efficient shooters at every position, and a young superstar to make it all work. The hype should be unlike anything UK Hoops has seen since before the mass exodus of players a few years ago.
By Maggie Davis on ©April 03rd, 2019 @ 7:00pm
The UK women’s basketball team’s season may be over, but Rhyne Howard is far from done – she’s still raking in the awards. Kentucky’s star rookie has been named the 2019 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division I Freshman of the Year, presented by Adidas. That’s a mouthful, but it’s also a huge deal for Howard and the Kentucky program.
Howard was selected as the SEC Freshman of the Year a few weeks ago (after winning the weekly conference award a record-breaking eight times), which put her in the running for this national award against the top player from every other conference in America. The other qualifying factors?
“Energy, enthusiasm, effort and effectiveness — these are hallmark pillars that each coach hopes their first-year, student-athletes will contribute to the team,” WBCA Executive Director Danielle Donehew said. “Rhyne most certainly contributed to the University of Kentucky’s success, and we recognize and applaud her immediate impact this season.”
Based on Howard’s season, “immediate impact” barely does it justice. She ended the season leading UK with 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game; she scored in double figures in 26 games and recorded five double-doubles. Her name can already been found all over the UK record books – she’s in the program’s top three for multiple freshman records (points per game, total season points, steals, double-figure scoring, 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage). She’s the program’s first freshman to lead the team in scoring and rebounding since UK All-American Valerie Still.
In addition to her WBCA Freshman of the Year award, she’s already claimed several others, including espnW National Player of the Year and the AP’s SEC Newcomer of the Year. She was also named to the WBCA All-Region team, the first-team All-SEC and the SEC All-Freshman Team.
Her freshman season was one of the most impressive rookie seasons in program history. If the one-and-done culture existed in women’s hoops as it does for the men, Howard would most certainly be gone. Luckily for Coach Matthew Mitchell, the UK Hoops’ program and the BBN, Howard has three more years to continue making an impact – and leaving a legacy – in Lexington.
By Nick Roush on ©April 01st, 2019 @ 12:00pm
The best three-point shooter in the history of the Kentucky women’s basketball program will represent the Big Blue Nation in Minneapolis.
Maci Morris will wear a Kentucky jersey one more time as a competitor in the State Farm 3-Point Contest at the Final Four. A 41.1% career three-point shooter, Morris will have to beat out eight others to bring the title back to Lexington.
The event at Minneapolis’ Target Center will air April 4 at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN. If you’re in the area and want tickets to Thursday’s event, click here.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 25th, 2019 @ 9:27pm
The six-seed Kentucky Wildcats have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament after falling in Raleigh, North Carolina to the three-seed N.C. State Wolfpack by a score of 72-57.
Rhyne Howard finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Maci Morris‘ final game at Kentucky closed with 18 points and four made triples. The Wolfpack were led by 26 points from Kiara Leslie.
The game kicked off with a Morris three and back-to-back tie-ups courtesy of some excellent defense from Tatyana Wyatt. Kentucky was commanding the offensive glass, quickly pulling down board after board. It was a near perfect start for the Wildcats, but one that didn’t take long to turn the other way.
N.C. State jumped out to a quick 10-5 lead before Maci Morris drilled a jumper to bring the game within three. Rhyne Howard came out looking to attack, but was forcing things early before finally settling in after the first few possessions.
Kentucky’s offense soon went into a rut and the Wolfpack capitalized, building a 12-7 lead at the first TV timeout. N.C. State made its first four three-point attempts but Howard soon got into her groove.
Despite the team offense struggling, Howard was looking to score at every turn. She had a couple of and-ones within two possessions of each other and was getting to her spots with ease. If she was in a one-on-one situation, she was taking it to the rim or pulling up for an easy jumper.
The first quarter ended with Kentucky trailing 25-17, but the Cats were attacking the offensive glass with consistency and the Wolfpack had missed its next three triples.
KeKe Mckinney opened up the second period with a massive block on N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane to get the momentum swinging back in Kentucky’s direction.
The Cats would scoop up an additional six offensive rebounds in the second after corraling four during the first 10 minutes. They actually finished the half with more offensive rebounds (10) than defensive (8).
With those extra chances, Kentucky did a solid job of making sure they didn’t go to waste. The halfcourt defense finally picked up, as well and the Cats forced six turnovers in the frame compared to only two in the first. Howard and Taylor Murray continued to drive the offense as Morris sat on the bench after picking up her second foul in the first period.
The Wildcats were able to trim the lead down to 25-22 in favor of the Wolfpack, but could never cut it under three before the half.
Howard made a couple more shots before the intermission and after the first 20 minutes, Kentucky found themselves trailing 35-30 despite 15 points from Howard.
The Cats fired up 15 three-point attempts in the first half but converted on only three of them. The team shot below 32 percent overall and were outrebounded by eight.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth battle throughout. Both teams were exchanging threes and Kentucky never let the Wolfpack out of its sight. At one point, the Cats cut the lead all the way down to three at 44-41 after a massive triple from Wyatt.
Every time N.C. State wanted to pull ahead by six or eight, Kentucky would bring it back to four or five. Roper hit the biggest shot of the game up until that point at the third quarter buzzer to keep the Cats down, 53-48, heading into the fourth and final quarter.
But then things started to get away. Kentucky went the first two minutes without scoring and the Wolfpack finally managed to push the lead to double-digits. Wyatt picked up her fourth foul and things felt all but over. Morris made some shots down the stretch to keep things from getting too out of hand, but the ending was never in doubt for the last five minutes.
The Wildcats finished the game forcing 16 N.C. State turnovers but shot only 9-29 from three.
In the end, Kentucky’s season comes to a conclusion in Raleigh, 72-57.
The No. 17 and six-seeded Kentucky Wildcats were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the No. 10 and three-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack by a score of 72-57 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
N.C. State will advance to the Sweet 16 to take on the two-seed Iowa Hawkeyes. We’ll have a full recap up shortly.
It’s not going to be easy, but the UK Hoops squad has a legitimate chance at upsetting the three-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack and earning a Sweet 16 berth in the process. The ACC product started the season off 21-0 and finished with an overall record of 27-5. They aren’t a favorite to win the title by any means and their wins/losses actually match up quite evenly with Kentucky in terms of quality of opponent. This is probably a more evenly matched game than the seeding might indicate.
I argued that Kentucky could have very easily earned a five-seed in the NCAA tournament and they probably would have had they beaten Missouri in the first round of the SEC tournament. And as you might be able to infer, the Wolfpack have lost all five of their games in the last two months. If you’ve read my summary of the N.C. State team, you’d remember that they run with only a six-person rotation. Against a Kentucky team that wants to push the pace on both sides of the ball, it could be a battle of energy and fatigue down the stretch.
So let’s take a deeper dive into what other aspects of this matchup Kentucky needs to excel in if they want to keep their tournament run alive.
Controlling the pace
Let’s touch on this subject a bit more because I expect it to be the most important factor. As recently stated, the Wolfpack run with mainly a six-player rotation that is really cut down to five players who receive the majority of the playing time. Kayla Jones will likely play 10-15 minutes with the rest of the minutes will be dominated by the five starters: Aislinn Konig (G), Kai Crutchfield (G), Kiara Leslie (G), DD Rogers (F), and Elissa Cunane (C).
But those five starters are damn good. Ultimately, they didn’t have enough depth to take down some of the top teams in the country such as Louisville and Notre Dame, but that lineup had no problem taking down Miami (FL) and Florida State – both schools ranked in the top-25 – in back-to-back games earlier this month. But those two teams don’t run like the Cats do.
Wearing down the backcourt of the Wolfpack early will be vital, even if they jump out to an early lead. Kentucky proved in the game against Princeton that they can overcome sizable deficits in the first two quarters. It’s going to be late in the game when the Cats still have their energy and the N.C. State starters are huffing and puffing after 30-plus minutes apiece that can decide the outcome.
I don’t think playing two games in three days will have much of an impact on Kentucky’s stamina, although four Wildcats did top 30 minutes against Princeton. But all five of the Wolfpack’s starters played at least 31 minutes and two of them played 38 and 39, respectively. Kentucky is used to running up and down all game, we’ll see if N.C State has the energy to do the same for 40 minutes.
In some fashion, the Wolfpack might have to play fast even if they don’t want to. That’s what Kentucky’s pressure forces you to do. Forcing turnovers is the identity of Matthew Mitchell’s team. They’re a top-five unit in the country in terms of forcing miscues. The Cats are either going to make N.C. State waste a ton of clock in the backcourt or push the pace to quickly beat the press. Neither strategy will bother Kentucky.
More bench production
This kind of builds off of being able to abuse the depth discrepancy between these two teams. Kentucky can go nine players deep and has for most of the season, but against Princeton, the Cats used primarily six players. Jaida Roper played 30 minutes off the bench and was outstanding on defense. If she can halfway mimic her performance from Saturday, we won’t need to worry about her play.
What did stand out from the rotation was KeKe McKinney coming off the bench despite starting 28 games this year. She played only 11 minutes, the fewest of her season, and went 0-3 from the field with zero rebounds. At 6-foot-1, McKinney has been a necessary component to the frontcourt, working opposite of Tatyana Wyatt – who played excellent basketball against Princeton, by the way. But the Tigers played more of a four-guard lineup with superstar Bella Alarie patrolling the middle. N.C. State has two legit post players who like to sit back and dominate the paint/glass. I wouldn’t be surprised if McKinney finds her way back into the starting lineup of this game.
Amanda Paschal took her starting spot and added six points, three rebounds, and three steals in 19 minutes. Starting Paschal worked against Princeton and they might do it again, hopefully bringing McKinney off the bench for about 20-25 minutes instead of 11. Wyatt will likely guard 6-foot-5 Elissa Cunane and Rhyne Howard can slide down to defend DD Rogers if they choose to go “small” again.
What the bench unit really needs is 10-15 solid minutes from freshman Blair Green and junior Ogechi Anyagaligbo. Green played only two minutes against Princeton while Anyagaligbo saw the court for 10 minutes. Both girls stand at six-feet or taller. Green can be especially dangerous as she stretches the floor while Anyagaligbo battles in the paint. They counter each other well, but Anyagaligbo struggled against the size of Princeton and I fear that same issue might arise against the Wolfpack frontcourt. I also hope head coach Matthew Mitchell gives Green a bit more run than two minutes, but she’s still a freshman and might not be ready for the moment just yet. She didn’t do anything in wrong in those two minutes that raise a cause for concern, but she isn’t a great rebounder and sometimes struggles with her positioning on both sides of the court.
Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more
I hope Kentucky fires up at least 30 triples in this game. Maine put up 37 of them but hit only 11 for 29.7 percent. Kentucky is currently riding a 9-18 shooting day from deep against Princeton. They shot 29 threes against Texas A&M – a season-high – back on Jan. 27th and I’d like to see them get as close as possible to that number again.
The Wolfpack give up more threes than nearly any team in the entire country. In their five losses this season, they’ve allowed the opponent to average 22.6 three-point attempts per game. So I’m setting the minimum number of three-point attempts for the Cats at 23.
Which means Maci Morris and Rhyne Howard are going to have to get open. Whether those shots come in transition or in the half court doesn’t matter. If those two are open, they should never hesitate on threes, regardless of the time on the shot clock. Howard can create her own shot if she really wants to and has the ability to drain the stepback three, a la James Harden. But Morris is going to have to work for cleaner looks, something she has done with regularity all season. With Roper and Murray running the show, that hasn’t been much of an issue and Morris picked the perfect time to finally get her groove back.
The rebounding disadvantage is what it is. Kentucky will likely get outrebounded as they have for the majority of the year. They have to find other ways to make up for it and knocking down shots and forcing turnovers is the two most important factors for the Cats. It’s what they’ve excelled at all season and the main reason they find themselves in this position. This isn’t the time to experiment with new tricks. Kentucky knows who they are and they want to play their brand of basketball. There haven’t been many teams this season that can effectively break the nonstop full court press that Kentucky rolls out. But this is a battle-tested N.C. State team that has constantly gone up against the nation’s elite since February began.
This should be a great game with an even better atmosphere. Only a few more hours now….
By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 25th, 2019 @ 3:30pm
We are only hours away from the biggest game of the season for UK Hoops. The No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats will take on the host of the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA Tournament, the No. 10 N.C. State Wolfpack, in the Round of 32 with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.
The game will be shown regionally on ESPN at 7 p.m. with the entire state of Kentucky able to watch the broadcast. What’s that? Do you happen to live outside of Kentucky? Well, that’s too bad for you and you can blame ESPN. Big shoutout to the Worldwide Leader in Sports for earning the broadcasting rights to the women’s NCAA Tournament, but they’re botching the actual production. The men’s tournament staggers its games, allowing fans to watch as many of the games as possible throughout the day. But since ESPN doesn’t care nearly as much about the women’s side, there will be four games tonight all tipping off at 7 p.m. and then three more at 9 p.m.
How many times in the past week have you watched ESPN and seen any coverage of the coinciding women’s tournament? The answer for me is zero. But that one kid from Duke sure has gotten a lot of air time for all his unpaid services – but that’s a whole different rant I don’t feel like getting into.
So if you’d like to know why you live in Michigan and instead of watching the Wildcats you have to see the nine-seed, Michigan State, take on the one-seed, Notre Dame, you can direct that hate mail to the Bristol, CT headquarters. I’ll provide the stamps.
If you’d like to familiarize yourself with the UK Hoops team and/or N.C. State ahead of tonight’s game, you can check out my takeaways from the Princeton win, the pre-game press conference notes, and some insight about the Wolfpack and their squad at the links provided. I’ll have some of my keys to the game posted later before tipoff.
We are less than a day away from the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats matchup with the No. 10 N.C. State Wolfpack on Monday night in the Round of 32. N.C. State is hosting the first two rounds and if their game against Maine was any indication, they should have a rowdy crowd behind them with a chance at playing in the Sweet 16.
For a little background, the Wolfpack play in the ACC and have only faced Kentucky five times total, but haven’t seen each other since 1995, when N.C. State beat the Cats 66-62 on Dec. 30.
So this is a team that we know nothing about, but I’m going to try and change that a bit. Let’s take a closer look at the three-seed, starting with their resume.
*Attached to each statistic is the team’s national rank out of 351 teams*
Overall record: 27-5 (12-4 in ACC): three-seed
Points per game: 71.3 (67th)
Opponents points per game: 60.4 (71st)
Scoring margin per 100 possessions: +16.3 (31st)
Simple RPI: 65.3 percent (7th)
Strength of schedule according to MasseyRating: 52.45 (25th)
Key wins: Syracuse +4 (25-8), Miami (FL) +2 (25-8), Belmont +15 (26-7),
Key losses: North Carolina -13 (18-15)
- N.C. State currently only uses six rotational players. A slew of injuries to key players throughout the season has destroyed the team’s depth but without much consequence to the win-loss column. Two key players, Grace Hunter – who averaged 14.6 points per game before her injury – and Erika Cassell, both tore an ACL within the span of six weeks. Cassell averaged 6.6 points and 17.4 minutes per game before the injury. Armani Hawkins played 13 games before tearing her ACL against Pittsburgh, which took away another 4.2 points and nearly 10 minutes per game. Before the season even began, graduate guard Kaila Ealey was ruled out for the year with an injury.
- But that didn’t stop them from starting the season off 21-0 and ranked seventh in the nation. However, those injuries would eventually affect them against the powerhouses of the ACC conference. The Wolfpack lost back-to-back games against North Carolina and Florida State and then fell against Notre Dame and Louisville twice. In the games against Notre Dame and Louisville, N.C. State was outscored by a combined 63 points.
- But back to the roster make-up. Against Maine in the first round of the NCAA tournament, head coach Wes Moore stuck to mostly a five-player rotation with all five starters playing at least 30 minutes.
- The backcourt consists of Aislinn Konig, Kiara Leslie, and Kai Crutchfield. Starting with Konig, who is the team’s best long-distance shooter. She takes 6.9 three-pointers per game and hits them at a clip of 40.1 percent. The 5-foot-9 junior is one of only five players in school history to make at least 200 three-pointers. She’s also a sneaky passer, leading the team in assists with 3.9 per game. Over 70 percent of her shot attempts come from beyond the arc. Basically, Kentucky should have someone on her at all times.
- Next is Kiara Leslie, arguably the team’s most important player. She led her team with 20 points on 8-15 shooting while also grabbing six boards against Maine. She leads the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game and can score from practically anywhere. At six-feet tall, she is tall enough to fight for boards but quick enough to take her defender off the dribble. She can be a bit prone to turnovers but is an excellent rebounder and solid distributor.
- Finally, we have Kai Crutchfield. The 5-foot-8 guard averages 6.1 points per game and is the least efficient scorer of her three backcourt teammates. She shot 5-10 from the field and 3-5 from deep for 14 points against Maine, but it was only the eighth time this season she topped double-digits in scoring.
- As for the frontcourt, DD Rogers and Elissa Cunane hold it down in the paint. Rogers is the team’s top rebounder with 7.8 boards per game and also converts on over 58 percent of her two-point shots. Cunane stands at 6-foot-5 and will undoubtedly give Kentucky a handful of problems in the paint and on the glass. She averages only a shade under six rebounds per game but makes for up it with 13.7 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting from inside the perimeter. Rogers is one of the better defensive rebounders in the entire country while Cunane is an incredibly efficient scorer, averaging 1.26 points per scoring attempt (39th in the nation out of over 3,000 players) by being adept at getting to the free throw line.
- The sixth-woman on this team is Kayla Jones, who averages 4.8 points per game in almost 18 minutes per game. She put up only two points in 20 minutes against Maine. At 6-foot-1, her main job is going to be crashing the glass. She pulled down six rebounds int he first round and posts an impressive defensive rebounding percentage for how much time she plays.
- N.C. State is a team that does not foul. They rank 4th in the country when it comes to opponents points off of free throws (only 12.2 percent of their opponent’s points come from the charity stripe). Kentucky isn’t a team that relies on free throws to win them games, though. The Wildcats are one of the top teams in the country when they do get to the line (74.6 percent), but only 18.2 percent of their overall points come from free throws.
- You know how I keep harping on how poor of a rebounding team the Wildcats are? Well, this next stat won’t ease those worries. N.C. State is one of the top-five teams in the country in terms of rebounding opponents misses. In fact, they rank 4th nationally in defensive rebounds per game at 31.0. Kentucky averages 34.0 total rebounds per game. Rogers and Jones both rank in the top 90th percentile in defensive rebounding rate while Cunane and Leslie both post above average defensive rebounding numbers. They have the size to dominate Kentucky on that end and it will be a true test to just how committed the Cats are to sneaking in and winning 50/50 balls off of their own misses. Kentucky is solid at crashing their own glass, but this Wolfpack team is a whole different type of beast in that area.
- They give up a lot of threes. N.C. State let Maine shoot 37 of them (although they made only 11). Out of 351 Divison I teams, they rank 343rd in opponents three-pointers attempted with 766. They’ve allowed 247 of those to go in, which ranks only slightly worse at 344th. If you’ve watched even one Kentucky game this year, you’d know they love to shoot it from deep. With Maci Morris and Rhyne Howard patrolling the perimeter, it’s hard not to hoist up as many triples as possible. The Wildcats have shot 36.7 percent from three on the season, 22nd best in the nation. Against Princeton, they converted on nine of their 18 three-point attempts. Expect the Cats to try and have a field day from deep.
- Lastly, N.C. State is not going to turn Kentucky over. The Wolfpack force only 11.4 turnovers per game, one of the lowest marks among all teams and average only 4.8 steals per game. Just for perspective, Taylor Murray records 3.3 steals per game just by herself. There isn’t one player for N.C. State that posts a steal percentage of higher than 2.0 percent. Kentucky has seven of them.
I’ll be back tomorrow with some keys to the game and how Kentucky can pull off the upset, but I feel pretty good about where the Cats are at right now. They showed perseverance through a couple of tough stretches early against Princeton and looked energized towards the end of that game. The Wolfpack can only go six deep. Kentucky has nine full rotational players. It should be a high-pressure game from start to finish.
Ahead of their NCAA Tournament game against the No. 10 NC State Wolfpack, No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats head coach Matthew Mitchell along with freshman Rhyne Howard and junior Jaida Roper spoke to the media about tomorrow’s Round of 32 matchup.
Kentucky knocked out the 11-seed, Princeton Tigers, in the first round to advance against NC State, who is hosting the first two rounds and should have a considerable crowd advantage. Here are some of the highlights from today’s press conference.
Coach Mitchell said that setting the pace early will be important, but that doesn’t particularly mean they have to play fast.
“We have to try to be the best version of Kentucky that we can possibly be. So that means we would like for it to be up-tempo,” Mitchell said. “We’ve won games at different paces this year. And I’m proud of the team for that. We’ve been able to operate in some low-scoring games and, and um, find a way to win. And we’ve been able to be in some high scoring games and find a way to win sort of like yesterday was. So we obviously would like to have an up-tempo game, but your opponent dictates a lot of that as well.”
As for keys to the game? Mithcell brought up rebounding, something the Wildcats have struggled with throughout the season.
“I think we have to rebound the ball. I’d like to try to rebound the ball better tomorrow,” Mitchell said. “I thought Princeton really got after us there in the first half. We did a little bit better job in the, in the second half, but I think that North Carolina State has tremendous capabilities to rebound the basketball great athletes, physical players, tough-minded players. And so I think rebounding is going to be something that we need to be locked in and do the very best we can at that tomorrow.”
The Wolfpack will have the size advantage over Kentucky, something the Cats have been used to for most of the season.
Mitchell was even asked about an incident with NC State’s head coach, Wes Moore, from 20 years ago where Moore apparently paid him $100 to do some yard work.
“Well, I can’t confirm the hundred dollars. I don’t remember the hundred dollars. That’s not the way I remember it, but I did lay a yard full of sod of at Moore’s house.”
Freshman Rhyne Howard was asked about her experience playing in her first NCAA Tournament game.
“Oh, it was a great experience,” Howard said. “Learning experience. Definitely. It just got me ready for what I will be going through. My teammates helped me. They’d been where I’ve been. I just look up to them.”
With NC State hosting the event and an excellent showing from their fans in the first round, Jaida Roper understands the environment could get intense but she isn’t stressed about it.
“Playing at your home is always more exciting,” Roper said. “You know, you have the fans on your side, but I feel like we’ve been playing really well on the road this year and we’re ready for the challenge.”
Kentucky will face NC State on Monday at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.