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PREVIEW: It’s Ugly Sweater Day as No. 15 UK Hoops Hosts Samford

Are you making the trip to Memorial Colisuem today? If so, make sure to break out that ugly Christmas sweater your ex-mother-in-law got you as a serious gift 12 years ago!

The holiday spirit will be FLOWING as No. 15 UK Hoops (8-0) will host Samford (3-7) at 2 p.m. as the Wildcats look to continue its unbeaten streak. Fans are being encouraged to dress in their favorite Christmas sweaters, but don’t worry about the Santa hat, UK will be providing those for free at the entrance.

Coming off its most dominant win of the season – an 86-39 trashing of Charlotte on Wednesday morning – Kentucky is about to enter game five of a seven-game home streak. However, today’s game will be the last inside Memorial, as the final two home outings will move downtown to Rupp Arena for matchups against Winthrop and a highly-anticipated meeting Louisville.

But before we look ahead to the game against the Cardinals, let’s preview Kentucky’s opponent on a beautiful Sunday in Lexington: the Samford Bulldogs.

Samford enters the game with a 3-7 record on the season, coming off a 76-69 loss to UAB earlier in the week. The Bulldogs have endured a tough schedule through the early stages of the year, losing to No. 8 Florida State just one day after falling to the Florida Gators. Their three victories this season have come against Montevallo in the season-opener and recent wins over North Alabama and Alabama State.

The Bulldogs are led by first-year head coach Carley Kuhns, who inherited a Samford team who finished the 2018-19 season with a 10-20 record. Kuhns replaces a Samford legend, Mike Morris, who was a the helm for 17 seasons before retiring in March. Kuhns posted a 66-29 record in her three seasons as the head coach for Valdosta State University, including two NCAA Tournament appearances and one Sweet 16 berth in 2018. All three of her VSU teams won 20 games or more.

Eight seniors, five juniors, and two freshmen make up the roster for Samford, with senior Sarah Meyers (13.7 ppg) and junior Natalie Armstrong (13.4 ppg) leading the team in scoring. Those two also lead the team in rebounding with 6.5 and 6.2 rebounds per game, respectively.

Armstrong was recently named the SoCon student-athlete of the week thanks to her three-game performance last week. The 6-foot-2 center posted averages of 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds as the Bulldogs went 2-1 in those outings. Her peak showing was a 24-point, 14-rebound exhibition in a win over North Alabama.

Samford is shooting 39.6 percent from the field on the season and just 30.1 percent from deep through 10 games. Their opponents have consistently outplayed them in those categories, as the Bulldogs are allowing a 40.4 field goal percentage and a 34.3 percent clip from long range. They’re also being outscored by its opponents by an average of 3.4 points per game.

Facing a Kentucky team that is averaging upwards of 80 points per game over its last four, Samford is going to have a tough time slowing down a potent Wildcat offense. The Bulldogs are one of the least effective rebounding teams in the entire country, especially on the defensive glass. Samford also has a knack of over-fouling, averaging 20 fouls per game, according to Her Hoop Stats, one of the worst marks in the nation. A weak paint presence has resulted in just 21 total blocks through 10 games. For reference, KeKe McKinney has 17 blocks all by herself.

This quick snapshot of Samford’s scoring defense is not ideal but should be an encouraging sign for the ‘Cats.

(Her Hoop Stats)

That’s a lot of red.

Samford does have a couple of quality outside shooters that could pose problems, but none more dangerous than senior Charity Brown. The 5-foot-8 guard has connected on 15 of her 37 looks from three (40.5 percent) and she also leads the team in overall assists by a sizable margin. Her 54 dimes (to just 24 turnovers) are more than double the amount of assists recorded by the second-highest player on the roster (22).

Expect another scoring outburst from the Wildcats in this matchup. Kentucky is leaps and bounds above Samford across the board and will hopefully ride the momentum of the last few games into an easy victory in Memorial on Sunday.

The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+ and tickets are still available if you want to show off that Avengers-themed Christmas sweater you’ve been dying to wear.

See you there.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA. Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan