Last night’s Big Blue Madness was one to remember. But among the dunks, dances and intense video montages was also some basketball. The Kentucky women’s basketball team scrimmaged during the first part of the evening, giving fans their first glimpse into a new season of UK Hoops. Here are three things we learned:
#1 Maci Morris is still a baller
Well, this one almost seems too obvious. The Bell County native stole the show with her walkout/introduction, but the action didn’t stop there: she brought the same energy to the court during the scrimmage. Although the game was short, it’s clear this team revolves around her. At one point, she left the game to check in with Sean Farnham and the SEC Network crew and for some reason, the game just felt like it had lost some of its spark. Morris brings an intangible energy when she’s on the floor, not to mention her impeccable three-point shooting and leadership qualities.
But, it’s not all perfect for the senior Wildcat. According to Matthew Mitchell, she’s had to work hard on her strength conditioning to become more of a “complete” player.
“She wants to be a pro; she wants to play in the WNBA,” Mitchell said during Madness. “We’ve worked hard on her conditioning – she’s worked hard on it – and then her defensive intensity has just taken it up another level. By the time this season is complete, we hope she’s written an awesome final chapter in her Kentucky career and that launches her into what her aspiration is – that’s to be a great pro. I believe she’s going to do that.”
Defense has been a relatively-weak spot for Morris, as well as most of the team excluding point guard Taylor Murray, so it’s promising to hear Mitchell praise her defensive efforts before the season even gets underway.
Morris recorded over 17 points per game last season and shot 47.5 percent from behind-the-arc. She’ll need another huge season to earn the Cats a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but, by the looks of things last night, she should have no problem doing just that.
#2 A tale of two courts
The UK Hoops team has quite a talented backcourt with seniors Morris and Murray plus two highly-touted freshmen guards, Rhyne Howard and Blaire Green, but they’re still looking for some standout players in the front court.
Fans will see a lot of new, relatively-inexperienced players under the basket this season, and it’s very possible some games will be determined by their performances. Last year, Kentucky suffered five losses by single-digit margins, many of them on the road. Improving rebounding and second-change points will be huge for the Cats this season.
Coach Mitchell will look to Dorie Harrison, a sophomore center from Nashville. She played in every game last season, averaging 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Tatyana Wyatt, also a sophomore, is also poised for a break-out year. The forward put up numbers similar to Harrison’s last season (6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds), while hitting 32.6 percent from the three-point line. Both players showed improvements last night during Madness, but will need to keep working to become the major contributors this team needs them to be.
#3 Rhyne Howard could be a star
After spending her summer with the USA’s National Team, Rhyne Howard is ready to make an immediate impact in Lexington. ESPN ranked her as the No. 10 guard in the class after a stellar senior season – 22.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.3 steals and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 54 percent from the field. That versatility is something Kentucky looks for in a recruit and, according to Coach Mitchell, it’s something they’re already getting from Howard:
“She definitely can score the ball, but she doesn’t have to score to set other people up. She really does a good job…. She’s big, great length, great athleticism, so she can make plays on the board, on the defensive end,” Mitchell said. “She’s really a complete player, and we’re looking forward to watching her develop. She’s talented right now and she’s someone we’ll rely on.”
Mitchell continued his praise for Howard but also included fellow-freshman and Kentucky-native Blaire Green.
“I’m really excited about the freshmen. They’re talented and they play super hard, they’ve had great attitudes, they’re in great shape,” Mitchell said during the scrimmage. “They’re just really talented, good basketball players. It’s a steep learning curve for freshmen to come in and perform but we think these two are really ready to go.”
Let’s hope so. The Cats’ first game is quickly approaching – they’ll take on Lincoln Memorial University in an Exhibition Game on Friday, Nov. 2. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum.