Less than two days after smashing DePaul in Rupp Arena, the UK Hoops team is back at it again today in Memorial Coliseum as they face off against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. MTSU is a team UK has played four years in a row now, and one that the Cats always struggle with. The Blue Raiders defeated Kentucky last season at the end of the non-conference schedule 70-58, and the home team today looks to exact some revenge. It should be a very good game as Middle Tennessee is 6-3, but with two of their losses coming in overtime (including one to Tennessee). Lexington native Ebony Rowe is the team’s undisputed leader, as she comes in averaging a double-double. Mitchell will have his hands full, and the Cats are going for their 27th straight home win. Leggo…
#7 Kentucky Wildcats vs Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Postgame: MTSU Coach Insell starts off his press conference by applauding Kentucky and their program, saying “if they play like they did against DePaul on Friday, UK is a Final Four team”. He said Stallworth is the best UK post player to have ever been at the program, and she adds another dimension to the Wildcats. Coach Mitchell gives his opening statement saying it was a “great victory” and it has been a “really good 7 day stretch for the team”. Cats forced 33 turnovers and only had 13 themselves….hard to lose when you have a +20 turnover margin. Cats don’t play in Lexington again until December 28, as they get over a week off from games and then head to California.
FINAL KENTUCKY 68 MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 46 Cats came to play today, and cap off a very good weekend with a huge victory over a very good, NCAA Tournament team. MTSU could not accomplish anything on offense today, and it was all because of Kentucky’s stifling defense. DeNesha Stallworth put on a passing clinic today, and also finished with a team high 16 points. Revenge is sweet, and off to the post-game presser we go. Cats are now 8-1 on the season, and MTSU falls to 6-4.
2nd Half 3:45: While the Cats haven’t shot well today, their suffocating defense has been the key to success, just as Mitchell had hoped. The Cats have been the team to play with more physicality, tenacity, and composure, and that’s why they enjoy a double-digit lead. Once again, it has been a very balanced performance from the Kentucky team, with every player seeing action on the court today. This weekend has been the definition of UK making good teams look bad, a quality they pride themselves on. Cats closing it out 62-40.
2nd Half 7:52: After Janee Thompson fell to the ground, Coach Mitchell was livid, calling a timeout just to yell at the officials for not calling a foul. The Blue Raiders took advantage scoring their first 3 pointer of the game, and refuse to go away. Interesting stat: A’dia Mathies has 4 points in today’s game with 3 fouls. Stallworth seems to have replaced her as the steady, consistent go-to player so far this season. I have decided that MTSU fans are really annoying, arguing every call the ref makes when their team continues to be down double digits. Middle Tennessee is forced to call a timeout due to UK pressure, and Mitchell is pumped. Cats lead 55-39.
2nd Half 10:51: Middle Tennessee is trying to gain a little bit of momentum, with Ebony Rowe providing 14 points and a great effort to today’s game. Cats have gotten a little sloppy on offense with two straight turnovers, and UK is hit a lull with about 14 minutes to play. DeNesha Stallworth now has 5 assists today, as she has been the “it” girl for the Wildcats, providing steady play when UK looks shaky. After the Blue Raiders cut it to a ten point lead, Kentucky responded with a layups from Bishop, Evans, and Thompson and look to be back on track. Mitchell has got to pleased with how his team has responded so well to adversity this season. Kentucky still leading 47-33.
2nd Half 15:33: Unlike the pregame warm ups, MTSU came out very early to take some shots before the 2nd half started, obviously realizing they miiight want to score a little more. Coach Insell took his star players Ebony Rowe, Shanice Cason, Laken Leonard, and Icelyn Elie aside before the start of the half, obviously willing them to carry the team on their back to get the Blue Raiders back into the game. Stallworth puts her versatility on display as she nails a pretty jumper and then steps out and nails a 3 on the next play, giving her 10 points. Coach Insell looks extremely frustrated, as nothing seems to be working for his team today. At this point in the game when MTSU played Tennessee on the road, the Blue Raiders were leading by 12, so the Cats have to be extremely pleased with their play so far. UK winning 41-27.
HALFTIME KENTUCKY 32 MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 16 The Cats have to be very pleased with how they ended the half against a very good MTSU team. While the score may be double digits now, don’t expect an easy second half. Coach Mitchell didn’t even feel comfortable with an 18 point halftime lead on Friday night, and Coach Insell will be sure to make some adjustments to get his team playing a little better. One of the biggest things the Blue Raiders need to work on: traveling…those girls are walking for daaaays leading to 18 turnovers. Bria Goss leads all scorers with 8 points and Walker had a team high in rebounding with 7. MTSU looks extremely perplexed, with quizzical faces on just about every player.
1st Half 3:52: Substitutions are a common theme for Coach Mitchell, as freshman Janee Thompson and senior Brittany Henderson provided some quality minutes for the Cats giving O’Neill and Stallworth a rest. Ebony Rowe for MTSU has been their only offense, as she has 7 for her team, but the Cats have done a good job of containing her because she can be a very explosive player. The Blue Raiders look extremely frustrated on offense, not successfully executing any plays for easy baskets. O’Neill drains the first 3 pointer of the game, and the tandem of Stallworth and Walker are playing off of each other perfectly. Cats beginning to assert their dominance and lead 23-11.
1st Half 7:39: Referee Lisa Mattingly is getting feisty, having to calm down a MTSU fan in the crowd, and this game is getting pretty hot and fiery as well. Fouls on both teams have ignited the benches and disrupted the flow of play. Both teams want this win badly, and it shows. The dominant offensive performance from the last game against DePaul has not translated into today, as both teams are a combined 0-12 from beyond the arc, but give the Cats credit for continuing to maintain composure. Cats have forced 12 turnovers already, and are winning 16-9.
1st Half 10:36: The progression of sophomore Azia Bishop is something that Coach Mitchell is very passionate about, as he realizes the vast amount of potential she has as a player. Getting her started early has been a key for her having good games in the past, and hitting a free throw line jumper to start the game is a good sign for her today. MTSU’s bench is LOUD with their assistant coaches all up into the game. Defensive rebounding has been a struggle for the Cats early on today (men’s team anyone?), as the Blue Raiders have gotten most of their points from offensive boards. Stallworth and Walker in the post together has proven deadly, as they both have a mega block to start. Goss is still on fire and goes for her 8th point at the free throw line after the timeout. This game is very gritty and tough, but Cats are staying strong and lead 13-9.
1st Half 15:50: Cats have been hitting their dougie today…literally, as the pregame warm ups included the most amount of dancing I’ve ever seen from this team (not counting Big Blue Madness). The crowd, teams, and Mitchell himself have made it very clear they understand the importance of this game, as the energy has been on point early on. The press has been very active, and the Cats have already forced 4 turnovers, making the Blue Raiders look very confused on offense. Bria Goss is playing like a woman possessed, and Cats lead 7-4.
BzzzZZZzZzZzzzZ: MTSU must be feeling confident cause for the majority of the warm-up period…..they didn’t warm up. They sat on the bench watching UK go through their drills; interesting strategy. Predicting the leading scorer of each game for UK is a tough task, as four different players have held that top spot through eight games. Look for the UK post players to be challenged again today->cue a big game for DeNesha Stallworth. Middle Tennessee State has brought a decent contingent of fans themselves sitting behind their bench, and they’re definitely making their presence known. The starting lineups have been announced, and Cats win the tip. Weeeeee’re off!
10 Minutes till Tip: You can feel the electricity in the atmosphere here at Memorial, as the Cats know this will be a tough game for them. They have no excuse not to respect their opponent today after getting shell-shocked last season in Murfreesboro. Another interesting story line for today’s game: MTSU’s head coach Rick Insell is the father of UK Hoops’ assistant coach Matt Insell. A little family rivalry never hurt anyone, eh? Coach Mitchell said they key to beating the Blue Raiders today is successful implementation of the press, and forcing many turnovers (aka typical Kentucky basketball). This is a tournament-like scenario for the Cats, playing two games in three days against high quality competition. Intro videos starting up….