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Previewing No. 15 UK Hoops Morning Matchup With Charlotte

The game might be at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, but Memorial Colisuem is sure to be loud.

The No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats (7-0) will host the Charlotte 49ers (6-1) tomorrow morning for its annual Winning Tools Education Day with over 1,000 kids set to be in attendance.

UK Athletics and head coach Matthew Mitchell have partnered with several elementary schools across the local area in an event that will bring students onto Kentucky’s campus for a tour before the youngsters embark for an early morning game of basketball. The goal is to teach the students Mitchell’s core values of ‘honesty, hard work, and discipline’ along the way – the same values he teaches to his college student-athletes on a daily basis.

The early tipoff will be the first and only time this season that the Wildcats begin a game before noon, but it will also give you an excuse to turn on some Kentucky basketball in the middle of a workweek.

Kentucky is currently riding an unblemished 7-0 record into the matchup against Charlotte and the Wildcats are showing significant signs of improvement with every passing game. Despite the national rankings dropping UK from No. 13 to No. 14 last week and then from No. 14 to No. 15 this week, this team remains one of the most dominant teams in the country to start the year.

This will be just the second time that Kentucky and Charlotte have gone head-to-head and the first since the Wildcats lost 57-54 back in 1992.

Taking on the 49ers should be just another tuneup for Kentucky, as the No. 2 Lousiville Cardinals come to visit Rupp Arena just 12 days from the day of this post. But don’t expect the ‘Cats to take Charlotte lightly. Kentucky has won it’s last three games by a combined 95 points against inferior competition. They’ve been going for the kill before the first-quarter buzzer can even sound.

Charlotte should be no different. So let’s take a look at what to expect from the 49ers out of Conference USA.

The head coach of Charlotte is Cara Consuegra, who recently earned her 150th career win in the team’s last victory over Tulane during a mid-season tournament in Puerto Rico. After taking over at the helm in 2011-12, she has coached a 150-105 record including a personal best of 26-6 during her second season. Consuegra’s 6-1 start with Charlotte this season is also the team’s best ever.

The 49ers posted an 18-13 record in 2018-19, making it to the WNIT before losing in the first round to VCU. They return all but two rotation players (both due to graduation) to this year’s team.

Charlotte is led by redshirt senior Jade Phillips, who paces the 49ers with 15.4 points per game after leading her squad with 13.4 per game a season ago. The 5-foot-11 do-it-all guard also leads the team in rebounding, pulling down 10.3 boards per outing. Phillips averages a double-double and has also improved her shooting clip from 42 percent last season to a 47.9 mark through seven games this year. She started all 30 games in 2018-19 and also led the team in rebounding with 8.2 per game.

Not only did Phillips finish with a team-high eight double-doubles on the season, but she also won C-USA Player of the Week during the first week of March. In the last five games of the 2018-19 season, she dropped 32, 17, 17, 22, and 13, respectively. Only once this season has she failed to record at least 14 points. The one game she didn’t – a six-point outing against Fordham – Charlotte lost by 25 points.

An early key for the ‘Cats will simply be to keep Phillips from exploding. Expect head coach Matthew Mitchell to try and force the ball out of her hands early with the full-court press. I would imagine Phillips will be seeing plenty of Rhyne Howard and Sabrina Haines. I also hope they try and switch the smaller guard duo of Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal onto Phillips, as well. Show Charlotte as many defensive looks as possible to keep their best player out a rhythm.

(UK Athletics | Eddie Justice)

Phillips has already been named C-USA Player of the Week this season and has also made the NCAA Starting Five thanks to performances of 21 points and 12 rebounds which was followed by 17 points and 14 rebounds. She became the first player in program history to receive the honor twice after taking home the same award last season.

Aside from Phillips, three other 49ers also put up double-digit scoring numbers; Junior guard Mariah Linney (13.4 ppg), redshirt junior guard Christian Hithe (10.3 ppg), and junior guard Octavia Jett-Wilson (10.0 ppg) make up a ridiculously high-powered backcourt.

Charlotte starts four guards and one 6-foot-3 center. They also bring two more players at 6-foot-3 off the bench, however, the majority of the team’s minutes and production come from the guards. Especially in the rotation; the 49ers’ top-5 leaders in minutes are all listed as guards under 6-feet tall.

Which – as you might be able to guess – does not favor them on the glass. While Charlotte is actually quite an impressive offensive rebounding team, their lack of size kills them on the defensive glass. With several quick guards constantly chasing after missed shots, they’ve done a great job at sneaking in for easy put-back looks and second-chance opportunities. Charlotte boasts a 40.7 offensive rebounding rate, according to Her Hoop Stats, the 23rd best mark in the country. But on the other end of the court, they allow an offensive rebounding rate of 34.3 percent and Kentucky has had a knack of sniffing out their own bad looks. Over 36 percent of the ‘Cats missed shots this season have resulted in an offensive rebound, ranking 87th in the nation.

Here’s a fun stat that might mean nothing: Charlotte has only had four of its shots blocked all season long, the lowest number in the entire country. Which seems… impossible. For comparison, Kentucky has had 21 of its shots rejected. If I had to do some guessing, I would say that Charlotte is not known for penetrating the paint and looking for shots at the rim. Either that or they are incredibly good at picking out good and bad shots.

But I should also point out that not many of the 49ers points come from long range. They shoot just 30.5 percent from deep on 118 attempts, both low figures through seven games. The majority of the team’s scoring comes from two-point range.

Kentucky is easily the best team that Charlotte has faced thus far. In reality, the Wildcats will be the best team the 49ers face all season. Their first seven opponents currently have a combined record of 26-26.

The only worry Kentucky should have is waking up at dawn for the 11 a.m. tip. If the ‘Cats continue to do what they’ve done to Austin Peay, Grambling State, and Morehead State, this should be another runaway win.

The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+ and Drew Franklin will be live from the Memorial sidelines providing you with coverage.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR