The UK Hoops team beat down the Virginia Cavaliers 63-51 in Rupp Arena on Thursday night to move to 3-0 on the season. Here’s what we learned in Kentucky’s first big win of the young season.
When the offense struggles, the defense steps up
It was a poor shooting night for the Wildcats. They shot 4-15 in the first quarter and 10-37 in the first half, yet still limited Virginia to only 20 first-half points. In the absence of the offense, the defense stepped up.
Kentucky constantly brought traps and double-teams in full court and half court settings, especially whenever Virginia’s Felicia Aiyeotan touched the ball. At 6-foot-9, she was the tallest player in all of women’s basketball last season. Against Kentucky, she was impossible to stop once she was in position underneath the basket. But Kentucky hardly gave her any room for comfort despite her towering over every Wildcat by several inches. Aiyeotan had eight points and was limited to five shot attempts.
It wasn’t just in the post, either. Kentucky’s half-court trapping gave Virginia problems all night long. The Cavaliers could never establish any kind of rhythm and played to the pace that Kentucky wanted them too.
32 Virginia turnovers were turned into 32 Kentucky points. On a night where Kentucky only hit 20 points in a quarter once and shot 33 percent from the field for the entire game, it’s nice to know that the defense can make up for any offensive shortcomings. It wasn’t like these were tough, contested misses either for the Wildcats. The shots simply weren’t falling. That should rarely be the case going forward with how many shooters this team can deploy and it’s even more encouraging to see them pick up the slack on defense when missing so many shots can take a mental toll on a player and team.
“It was very encouraging. I thought it showed a lot of growth from a lot of players.” head coach Matthew Mitchell said regarding his team’s defense and playing through missed shots. “We have a lot of returners on the team, who I think, a year ago would have been very deflated. Offensive struggles really deflated us from playing hard on defense last year and it was a problem that plagued us all year long. We have worked hard to correct that and so really proud that the highlights of the game were some defensive tenacity through a difficult offensive night.”
As Mitchell stated, last season there was a trend of players of getting discouraged if shots weren’t falling and it clearly affected other aspects of their game. So far this season, that hasn’t been the case.
“Just knowing the difference on how we would’ve responded last year compared to this year gives me hope for this team,” said senior guard Maci Morris. “I was really proud how we fought through the adversity and continued to play hard on defense.”
Virginia’s first-year head coach and Basketball Hall of Famer – Tina Thompson – disagreed with how intense Kentucky was on defense.
“We played Mississippi State in our first game, who pressures, I believe the best in the country,” said Thompson when comparing Kentucky’s defense to the undeniably stout defense of Mississippi State. “Yes, we faced it, and we turned the ball over a lot less, so I’m not exactly sure that I have the answer to your question. I do know that some of the times we turned the ball over, it was because we just made very bad decisions.”
I’m not sure if she was watching the same game or not, but Kentucky forced 32 turnovers. Virginia didn’t just make 32 poor decisions. The Cavaliers simply could not handle the all-out pressure that Kentucky brought. More than the majority of the time Virginia turned the ball over, it was because they were stripped, trapped, or double-teamed. It was an impressive defensive onslaught and the Cavaliers couldn’t do anything about it.
There is the workings of an elite SEC defense on this Kentucky team.
Second chance points were huge
Kentucky lost the overall rebounding war 41-33, but convincingly won the battle on the offensive glass 15-8, which lead to eight second-chance points.
They scraped underneath the basket and in the paint. The active hands of Kentucky were always looking to pry the ball loose. Most of the turnovers that Kentucky forced were because of them constantly reaching in and poking the ball away and it was no different whenever there was a 50-50 ball.
“I thought it was great at halftime that we could point to the effort. So, we had a lot of offensive boards, we created a lot of turnovers and we didn’t do that standing around, we had to work to get that done,” said coach Mitchell. “They were really flying to the boards tonight.”
Six offensive rebounds from KeKe McKinney and three more from both Tatyana Wyatt and Ogechi Anyagaligbo were instrumental in maintaining a constant attack on Virginia’s defense.
Taylor Murray records her 1,000 point
Senior guard Taylor Murray had 12 points and three assists in the win, but not one point was bigger than a free throw that came with the game coming to a close. She is now the 34th Kentucky player to break the 1,000 point plateau.
“It feels really good and I just want to thank my teammates for pushing me every day and I wouldn’t have made my 1,000 point without them,” said Murray.
There it is!
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 16, 2018
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