A massive win in Athens, Georgia to finish off a spectacular regular season has the Kentucky Wildcats (24-6) as a top-4 seed in the upcoming SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
After falling at home to the nationally-ranked Texas A&M Aggies this past Thursday, the Wildcats had to win against the Georgia Bulldogs to receive the double-bye and play its first game of the Tournament on Friday instead of Thursday.
The Bulldogs came into the game with a record of 18-10 and a win over the Cats could have pushed Kentucky into the fifth or sixth seed with only a single-bye, but a season-high 17 points from sophomore forward Tatyana Wyatt prevented the Wildcats from having to play that pesky extra game.
Kentucky was down five heading into the fourth quarter against Georgia – and hadn’t topped more than 12 points in the previous three periods – but did what they’ve been able to do since conference play began; close the game when it matters the most. A 24-point fourth quarter proved to be more than enough for the Cats to take down the Dogs.
Heading into the SEC Tournament, Kentucky is riding a stretch where they’ve won seven of their previous eight games while playing some of its best basketball of the season. It hasn’t always been pretty over the last several weeks – sometimes the team will look unstoppable one quarter only to shoot under 20 percent from the field in the next – but you can’t argue against these girl’s will to win.
Aside from the loss on the road against Ole Miss – where Maci Morris was sidelined with a minor injury and Taylor Murray shot 0-8 from the field – Kentucky has beaten the teams they were supposed to beat and even some they weren’t. Four of the team’s five conference losses have come at the hands of Mississippi State (a top-5 team in the country), Texas A&M (twice), and South Carolina (season series split at 1-1). Those teams also happen to be the top-3 seeds in the SEC Tournament.
But there are some significant concerns as the postseason kicks off in less than a week.
Kentucky hasn’t broken the 60-point threshold over the last three games and hasn’t shot above 38 percent from the field in any of them. Granted, the Cats are 2-1 in those games, but the lone loss to Texas A&M – where Kentucky scored only seven points in the first frame and 11 in the fourth – highlights the offensive struggles that need to be identified and tackled as soon as possible.
The defense has played well-above average, keeping the Cats in games they often should have no business being in. A lot of that can be credited to Murray being able to flip a defensive intensity switch where she just decides she wants the ball more than anyone else on the court. It’s quite frightening, actually, to watch her shadow ball handlers like a hawk hovering over its prey. And even though Kentucky has scored to struggle as of late, they’re still undefeated (17-0 and 8-0 in SEC play) when they shoot a higher percentage from the field than its opponent. Holding opposing teams to only 56 points per game over the last six games is a huge reason why.
But against the Mississippi States and South Carolinas of the SEC world, Kentucky cannot afford to shoot as poorly as they did today against Georgia. Yes, the team shot 6-13 from three, but were 15-43 from everywhere else. The Cats still score at a rate above 72 points per game, but haven’t eclipsed that number since they dropped 78 points in a win against Auburn back on Feb. 7.
Rhyne Howard is good enough on her own to keep Kentucky in games, but even the stellar freshman has gone through spells this season where she can’t find a rhythm. Her constant foul trouble doesn’t help that, either. And I wouldn’t expect Morris to continue to shoot under 27 percent from the field as she has over her last five games combined. She’s way too good and experienced to let a bad stretch keep her from being aggressive. If she can return to being the 20-point scorer she was against Mississippi State, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas A&M earlier in the year, these low-scoring games won’t be as consistent.
Even without Morris scoring 15-plus per game, the bench has been able to help pick up some of the slack. Which isn’t something that we want to rely on constantly, but it should give us comfort knowing that Morris can have a bad game and players such as Jaida Roper, Amanda Paschal, and freshman Blair Green can come on and pour in a couple of buckets.
Kentucky’s first game of the SEC Tournament will be on Friday in Greenville, South Carolina. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and should tip off about 30 minutes after the first game of the day – which is expected to begin at noon. I’ll be down there covering the team for KSR (my first time doing so), so expect plenty of updates that will hopefully extend over the course of the entire weekend.
Kentucky will play the winner of Missouri-Florida/Ole Miss, who play on Thursday.