In arguably the most consistent, full-game effort we’ve seen all season, the 8th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (9-1) dominated the visiting and feisty Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders 78-62. Senior Jennifer O’Neill led UK offensively with 22 points (18 in the second half), while Makayla Epps and freshman Alexis Rice contributed 12 and 11 apiece.
“Really happy that our players came out with great energy, we practiced hard this week. We’re still a work in progress and we have some things we need to get better at, but we had some good hustle and beat a good MTSU team tonight,” said Coach Mitchell.
Coach Mitchell switched up the starting lineup for the first time this season in an effort to jump-start his team and avoid early deficits that have plagued Kentucky in many games so far. Freshman Alyssa Rice picked up her first starting nod, replacing senior Azia Bishop, and in terms of results: it seemed to work. The Cats came out more energized and physical, and while they were sloppy at times (finished with a season-high 28 turnovers), their effort, talent and height got the best of MTSU in the long-run. our hustle and our depth was a big factor in the game, and we needed to make it that way.”
It was a homecoming of sorts for former UK assistant of five years Shalon Pillow, in her first season at MTSU after Mitchell opted to not renew her contract this offseason. She was welcomed back graciously to Lexington, visiting with old friends before and after the game, as well as a long embrace with Coach Mitchell. Hayley and I even got a hello wave.
Tonight was Coach Mitchell’s 100th win in Memorial Coliseum, and in eight seasons at the helm in Kentucky he has compiled a 100-16 record at home. “There was a time when I never knew if we would ever win 100 games total here at Kentucky. I’m grateful, really grateful. Blessed to be coaching at Kentucky and I hope we can win 100 more here,” said Mitchell.
MTSU was no slouch, and once the game got to around a 20-point margin, the Blue Raiders didn’t just go away. Coach Rick Insell has instilled a competitive atmosphere in Murfreesboro, and MTSu will most likely make yet another appearance in the NCAA Tournament this March. They have won 20+ games the past nine seasons, and while Coach Insell wasn’t pleased with the loss he was happy with the way his team fought the entire 40 minutes despite the deficit.
Kentucky has a quick turnaround, returning to Memorial Sunday evening to take on the Belmont Bruins at 6. See you there!