UK Hoops got off to a rough shooting day on Sunday and they needed an explosive third-quarter scoring exhibition to pull away in the second half.
In case you missed it, here’s the full game recap from the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats win on the road over Middle Tennessee State University. You can also check out the highlights below.
Team win, no doubt. ? pic.twitter.com/cU9zm75j72
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 11, 2019
Following the ‘Cats second game of the season, they’re still going through plenty of early growing pains but showcased just how much potential they have in the third quarter. Here are five takeaways from what we learned in the win over MTSU.
KeKe McKinney’s defense was near perfect
Junior forward KeKe McKinney recorded four blocks, six rebounds, and one steal in 34 minutes for the Wildcats. While she only added two points on 1-5 shooting, it was the defensive end of the floor where she made her impact – and it was significant.
Outside of Rhyne Howard, it would be hard to argue that there is a better all-around defensive player than McKinney. On a team littered with great on-ball defenders such as Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal, that is no small feat.
Against MTSU, McKinney was a brick wall all afternoon, especially as the game entered the second-half and Kentucky began to pull away. Her discipline in defending the post is unmatched and she did an excellent job of keeping her arms up straight and did so without fouling. As I mentioned in the recap, MTSU attempted only four total shots inside the paint with only two of them going in. We can relate that to McKinney’s constant presence down low.
There were a couple of instances in the second half – with the game all but decided – where she backed off to prevent picking up an easy foul, but other than that, this was McKinney’s coming out party as one of the team’s top defenders. Through two games now, she has seven blocks and 13 rebounds.
She looks like a different, far-more active player early on in the season than she did at any point last year. A breakout season from her would be massive. Kentucky needs a lockdown defender in the paint and McKinney looks to be up to the task.
I don’t know what head coach Matthew Mitchell told his team during the halftime break, but next time let’s hope he starts the game with that same pep talk.
Kentucky was absolutely dreadful in the first half. They connected on just 25 percent of its shots and an even worse 22.5 percent from three. They also turned the ball over nine times. If MTSU hadn’t been playing just as poorly, the ‘Cats could have been combating a game of catchup in the second half.
Fortunately, they turned up the intensity by five notches after halftime. They cut down on the turnovers, enforced the full-court press after hardly doing so early on, and finally began to move the ball around the court. The third quarter was the first time all game that the Wildcats were able to dictate the pace and play at the speed they desired.
“We are working hard to be that kind of team that turns people over,” coach Mitchell said in the postgame interview. “We tried to encourage our team at halftime to just have confidence. I was so proud of that stretch because we needed it.”
Kentucky made half of its 36 shot attempts in the second half and 41.2 percent of its three-point shots. An ultra-aggressive strategy of pushing the tempo forced MSTU into a bevy of turnovers that UK was able to convert into points. Kentucky notched 23 points in just under six-and-a-half minutes during the third quarter after it took them an entire 20-minute half just to hit 22.
Something I’m sure coach Mitchell will love to see when he checks the box score is how spread-out the scoring was amongst his rotation.
Outside of freshman Emma King – who played only one minute – every Wildcat scored a bucket. Of the eight players who played consistent minutes on Sunday, only McKinney failed to knock down at least two field goals. Three Wildcats finished in double-figures and Howard wasn’t even one of them.
With Howard battling foul trouble throughout portions of the night, the scoring had to come from somewhere else and several Wildcats picked up the slack. Going back to the halftime adjustments, Roper and Paschal appeared to make it a point that they would attack the basket and look for easy points. Just as she did in the season-opener against Mount St. Mary’s, it was Roper’s drives that helped kick start the offense.
Senior Sabrina Haines added 12 points with all four of her makes coming from long range. If she had an inch of space, she was pulling it. She even banked in a three that she immediately chased after the second it left her hand, thinking it was going to be a terrible miss. Sometimes it’s just your night.
Breakout games from Amanda Paschal and Ogechi Anyagaligbo
Paschal was the Wildcats best player against MTSU, posting a big stat line of 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals (plus five turnovers) on 5-8 shooting. She also shot 5-6 from the free-throw line.
Along with Roper, her and Paschal form a dangerously quick and agile backcourt that can sneak up on you when they want to attack the basket. Paschal broke out a few different euro step moves that she never quite perfected last season. On Sunday, she was bobbing and weaving around defenders completely untouched for easy layups.
Senior Ogechi Anyagaligbo also had one of her best games in a Kentucky uniform, contributing 10 points and seven rebounds (four of them coming on the offensive glass) on 5-7 shooting in 22 minutes. Her play off the bench was massive for the team, especially during that third-quarter run. Eight of her 10 points came in the second half.
Anyagaligbo was unleashing hook shot after hook shot in the paint and battling for loose ball rebounds throughout the game. When Anyagaligbo got the ball only a few feet away from the basket, she was automatic. At times last year, she struggled to knock down the easy shots. In her senior year, that doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore.
Another off night for Rhyne Howard
Howard went 2-10 from the field against MTSU for just nine points. This comes on the heels of her 4-16 shooting performance in the season-opener against Mount St. Mary’s.
Her shots haven’t been falling, but she’s such a versatile player that she’s been able to make up for it in other areas. In the season-opener, she added 11 rebounds, five assists, and five steals. Against MTSU, she once again turned to defense, swatting three shots.
Foul trouble (and a weird technical foul) limited her playing time and it was nice to see for the second straight game that her teammates can help pick up the slack when her shooting stroke is off. However, Kentucky only goes as far as Howard leads them.
Shooting 2-10 from the field early in the season against a lesser opponent isn’t that big of a deal, but if the ‘Cats want to compete with Louisville and the top-heavy SEC, Howard has to get rolling. I wouldn’t count on her to have many more of these types of games.
The start of this game didn’t look pretty, but Kentucky gave everyone a glimpse of what makes them a top-15 team in the country during the red-hot second-half.
The ‘Cats will take on Stetson this Wednesday in Memorial Coliseum on the SEC Network+ at 7 p.m.