The Kentucky women’s basketball team is off to a hot start: the Cats are currently ranked No. 18 and own a 13-1 record, with their only loss coming to a highly-ranked Louisville team. They won the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands and since then, they haven’t just been beating their opponents: they’ve been crushing them.
The Cats beat Sacred Heart Saturday 71-43. Before that, UK defeated Western Carolina 99-39. Before that, it was a 72-55 win over Middle Tennessee. Kentucky’s leading contributor, for the most part, has been senior and Kentucky-native Maci Morris. But the wins, especially the ones with huge margins of victory, wouldn’t be possible without freshman Rhyne Howard.
Matthew Mitchell knew Howard would be special when she committed to Kentucky, but she’s more than delivered so far this season. She’s started in every game so far, averaging over 28 minutes per outing. She’s averaging 17.6 points per game and is shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from the three. She grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds against Sacred Heart and has received SEC freshman of the week honors four separate times.
But the non-conference schedule is finally over, and the Wildcats will begin competing in the once-again strong SEC this Thursday against Vanderbilt. What do the Cats need to do to maintain this momentum?
“We have done a good job of building our team and we know what we need to do to be successful. So now, we play to our strengths,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We need to move the basketball, we need to really make defenses work so we can create some open shots. We’ve done a good job shooting the ball, and defensively you have to be fundamentally sound.”
Part of being fundamentally sound means more than just being in shape. Over winter break, the women’s team, much like the men’s, has extra time for conditioning as well as practice. But it’s technique and execution they’ll be focusing on until classes resume in early January.
“There are no more games where you can kind of let your athleticism overwhelm the opponent. Now you really have to lock in,” Mitchell said after the Sacred Heart win. “What we really need now is a committed, mental focus every day that we can come in with, pay attention to our preparation and know what we need to do to be successful.”
After that hot mess of a season a few years ago that led to several transfers away from Kentucky, the program is still filling in some holes. One of which is the point guard position. Taylor Murray has been a staple for the Wildcats for years, but the senior will graduate in May.
That’s where Chasity Patterson comes into play. Although she won’t be able to suit-up for Kentucky until January of 2020, she’ll be on campus, enrolled in classes and be able to practice starting this January.
She’s a huge get for Mitchell and the Cats – coming out of high school, Patterson was the No. 4 overall recruit and the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2017. Patterson was the Preseason Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year last season, but announced her decision to transfer from the University of Texas on Nov. 10.
But she’s not the only transfer: both Sabrina Haines (guard from Arizona State) and Nae Nae Cole (forward from NC State) are currently sitting on UK’s bench. They’ll both be able to play for the Cats starting next season. Haines will have two seasons of eligibility remaining and Cole will have one.
Like I said, UK will begin conference play this Thursday against Vanderbilt. Vandy hasn’t been ranked so far this season, and they’re coming in second from the bottom of current SEC rankings with a 5-8 non-conference record. There are currently five SEC teams ranked in the latest AP poll.
Teams to watch in the SEC:
- Mississippi State – The Bulldogs were slated to win the SEC at the beginning of the season. The No. 8 team is currently 11-1. They’ll play UK just once – the Cats’ second SEC game of the season.
- Tennessee – It’s (unfortunately) looking like it will be another strong year for the Lady Vols. They’re currently ranked No. 10. They’ll play Kentucky once.
- Kentucky – Obviously. They’re currently No. 18 but have improved or maintained their AP ranking each week this season.
- Texas A&M – They’re currently No. 23 and will play UK twice.
- South Carolina – After starting the season at No. 10, the Game Cocks have slipped to No. 25 after four non-conference losses. However, three of these four losses came to top-10 teams, so don’t sleep on USC. They’ll play the Cats twice.
We’ll have plenty of women’s basketball coverage again this season. To keep up with the latest, make sure you’re following us on twitter: