The National Player of the Year frontrunner was out, but you wouldn’t have known it after watching Chasity Patterson.
The No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (1-0) skated its way to a 86-60 victory over the Murray State Racers (0-1) to open up the 2020-21 season inside of Memorial Coliseum. Patterson exploded for 30 points on 8-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds, three assists, eight steals, and just one turnover. Junior forward Blair Green added 13 points–tying her career-high–and four rebounds while freshman guard Treasure Hunt recorded 12 points in her Kentucky debut.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 25, 2020
Junior guard Rhyne Howard was suspended prior to tipoff, along with senior forward Tatyana Wyatt, for reasons interim head coach Kyra Elzy said violated the team rules or did not uphold the standards of the program. Elzy said in the postgame press conference that the two made a “bad mistake” and that all details regarding the situation would be kept in house.
Missing out on Howard’s opening game in what most expect to be a special season for the program was a bit of a blow to the overall feel of the game, but plenty of her teammates stepped up in her absence to help Kentucky cruise to a 1-0 record.
Without Howard and Wyatt, it opened up the opportunity for even more players to make their way onto the floor. All 11 available players saw the floor with eight of them registering double-figure minutes played and nine of them putting up points. Had sophomore forward Dre’Una Edwards not found her way into foul trouble in the early moments of the afternoon, she likely would have played at least 15-20 minutes, as well.
Even though Murray State was clearly overmatched, there was plenty to learn from the blowout Kentucky win.
Interim head coach Kyra Elzy earned her first career coaching victory, Patterson proved she can be a go-to scorer, and the fresh faces all brought something different to the table.
It took Elzy a while to introduce the highly-touted recruiting class that features five-star prospect Treasure Hunt to go along with four-stars Nyah Leveretter and Erin Toller. But once they make it onto the floor, Elzy let them run loose.
Hunt’s 12 points came on a 5-10 shooting clip and she showed no fear when it came to getting off her shot. Leveretter has to be the bounciest player on the roster, leaping up and over every single player no matter what color jersey was around her. She finished with three points, five rebounds, and two blocks in 17 minutes. Toller was the first freshman to find minutes and immediately made them worthwhile, scoring five quick points before closing the game with six points and three steals, playing impressive pressure defense.
All three of them did an excellent job of contributing, and while there are clearly areas of growth that will be necessary, they showed far more good than bad. In a season-opener from a batch of first-year players, that all we can ask for.
Another trio of players–these a group of transfers–also made their impact felt early and often. Edwards received the start, although she quickly picked up two fouls and was sent to the bench. Even in six total minutes played, the former Utah transfer showed plenty of potential skill as a passer and a low-post presence. Edwards has been with the team since last season but had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. As for the other two transfers, Robyn Benton and Olivia Owens, who did not have to sit out and were immediately eligible, we quickly learned how valuable they’ll be down the road.
Benton posted seven points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals while Owens added seven points and nine rebounds before fouling out after 18 minutes. Owens, in particular, caught my eye as the 6-foot-4 center down low. Coach Elzy wasted no time getting her involved on the block and Owens has deceptively quick feet for a post player. Benton looked exactly like a veteran who’s already spent two seasons playing SEC basketball and it showed in the boxscore.
Green looked like a much more confident version of herself, something Coach Elzy has said multiple times in the past. She shot 5-10 from the field for 13 points while adding four rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.
The only two players who did not manage to add some points in the box score were sophomore guard Emma King and junior guard Kameron Roach. King was 0-6 from the field in 16 minutes while Roach added one rebound and one assist in eight minutes.
Overall, Kentucky shot 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc. The shooting percentages took a steady dip after the first-half as the end-result was all but decided. However, the ‘Cats did manage to hold Murray State to under 37 percent shooting while also forcing an impressive 32 turnovers.
The next matchup for the ‘Cats will tipoff on Sunday against Belmont in what should be the final game before Howard returns to the court. That game will start at 4 p.m. on the SEC Network inside of Memorial Coliseum.