The No. 13 Kentucky women’s basketball team sure gave the Big Blue Nation a scare on Monday night.
Whether it was nearly blowing a 16-point halftime lead or a dislocated pinky to Rhyne Howard, the Wildcats’ first game back in eight days was as stressful as they come. (By the way, Howard said following the game that her pinky was sore, but she doesn’t expect to miss any time going forward)
Kentucky was able to fend off the Auburn Tigers in Memorial Coliseum, securing a 68-61 victory to move the ‘Cats to 16-3 on the season. If you missed the full game recap, you can catch up by clicking the link here.
With the win now in the past, its time we reflect on what we saw and learned from the sixth SEC game of the season for UK.
Blair Green, slowly putting it all together
With every passing game, it seems like Blair Green adds one element to her skillset that she didn’t put on display in the previous outing.
Ever since Green saw a slight dip in her minutes that lasted four games – from the Louisville loss to the Tennessee win – resulting in her playing fewer than 13 minutes per outing, the Kentucky native is now working into her role.
She’s averaging nearly 27 minutes per game over her last five appearances and taking more shot attempts than she ever has. While her stats are clouded by the 1-11 shooting mark against the Florida Gators, Green is playing to her role.
Over the last couple of weeks, her defense has taken serious strides and her confidence has grown with it. She used to defend one-on-one situations with little discipline and was foul-prone against larger or quicker opponents. Lately, she’s kept her hands off the ball-handler and has been defending with her feet.
Another recent trend with Green is her willingness to find her shot early in the game. With KeKe McKinney out of the lineup for a few games (she played on Monday night, more on her in a second), Green was inserted into the starting lineup and had to find confidence in her ability. She came out and drilled two threes to open the game against Auburn, scoring the first six points for UK. While she finished with just seven points on the evening, Green is stepping in other areas of the court that she hadn’t been early in the year.
She whipped out a beautiful behind-the-back move in transition against the Tigers that surprised the crowd. It’s one of those things she’s always had in her arsenal, but just has never looked confident doing – until now.
The give and take with Chasity Patterson
There is no denying that Chasity Patterson is an elite ball-handler. She controls a basketball like a puppeteer and makes up for her lack of size with impressive dribble-moves and a sneaky layup package. Standing at just 5-foot-5, she’s one of Kentucky’s top finishers at the rim.
Against Auburn on Monday, Patterson had an up-and-down game. Her night was highlighted when she scored all seven of her points in the second quarter, shooting 3-3 from the floor and knocking in a three, as well. She finished the game with two rebounds and one assist on 3-7 shooting but also turned the ball over four times.
And it’s not like these were forced turnovers, either. On two separate occasions, Patterson literally threw the ball out of bounds to a teammate that had already made a cut. Another turnover was the result of her trying to dribble through three Auburn defenders. This has been a common theme ever since she joined the team on the court eight games ago.
Patterson did also record two steals and scored two impressive buckets in transition where she had to initiate the contact to get a good look. Those were the ups. The downs were limiting her to just four second-half minutes after she played 12 in the first half. There is clearly still a level of trust with the coaching staff that Patterson hasn’t earned yet. With other guards such as Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal, who can pass and dribble at a high level, Patterson isn’t a necessity right now; she’s more of a special bonus.
But she’s one hell of a bonus.
Sabrina Haines is as clutch as they come
This is becoming a common occurrence lately.
Kentucky needs a big basket and Sabrina Haines delivers. The redshirt senior drilled the two biggest shots of the game for the ‘Cats in a span of 26 seconds.
With Rhyne Howard out of the game dealing with her dislocated pinky, Kentucky was struggling to maintain its lead. Auburn cut what was once a 16-point lead at the intermission all the way down to three. The ‘Cats went the first eight minutes of the third quarter without a field goal. It wasn’t until there was 1:56 left in the period that Haines found a way to drop in a score.
Haines knocked down back-to-back triples for Kentucky, extending the lead back to nine points. UK would ultimately head into the fourth quarter with a mere five-point lead. Had it not been for Haines’ two triples and a made free-throw, the Tigers run might have never stopped.
“We were really back-peddling that time [during the third quarter],” head coach Matthew Mitchell said after the game. “They had wrestled the momentum from us. They had just really come out and we were not a confident bunch at the time, and we were not mentally sharp, and I felt like it was maybe slipping away from us there. She [Haines] just stepped up and made some huge plays for us… She really made some big shots for us to steady the ship and get us in with a victory. So, I’m real proud of her.”
Haines finished the night with 17 points, tying her career-high, as she connected on a 5-10 shooting clip from the floor and 4-8 from beyond the arc.
KeKe McKinney is BACK
And thank goodness she is.
The Kentucky frontcourt had desperately missed their interior presence over the last four games as she sat out with severe migraines. In her return, she announced to everybody that she’s ready to go – she just needs some more to get back into game shape.
McKinney posted 13 points (which also tied her career-high) on a perfect 6-6 shooting from the field to go along with eight rebounds, one block, and one steal. She played in 29 minutes on Monday.
“Just an amazing performance on a night when we needed it and we’ve been missing her,” Mitchell said about McKinney in the postgame. “That’s been a tough four games without her and was proud of how the team rallied because she’s so significant to us. Proud of her too for stepping in because she’s not played for a while. It was a tough, physical, physically taxing, mentally taxing game and she really showed up big for us and had as good a game as anybody. Proud of KeKe. She said she was tired after the game but she’s excited we were able to get the win.”
It was arguably her best performance of the season. She credited the ability to sit back and observe as a big reason she didn’t miss a beat despite the four-game hiatus.
“I think you learn more about the game in general,” McKinney said. “I learned a lot more about my teammates and how we play for real. When I was on the bench, I thought about what I could do that I didn’t see my teammates doing. I learned about our team, the other team, and the game in general.”
Reactions to the passing of Kobe Bryant
In the pregame warmups, it was brought to my attention that Kentucky was allowing their players to sport any style of “Kobe” shoes they would like. Roper and Paschal went the colorful route while a few others wrote meaningful messages.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 28, 2020
Here’s what coach Mitchell had to say about Kobe and how his team found out about the tragedy.
“We had just finished practice when we first got the news and it was a stunning blow to just the basketball community, but also the sports community,” Mitchell continued. “And it’s been amazing to see how influential and how many people were inspired by what he did with the game of basketball and what he was doing in retirement. So many of our players were influenced and inspired by Kobe and it’s just really sad. We’re so sad for his family and they’re certainly being prayed for and we are just proud of our players for just trying to honor him in some small way tonight. He was definitely so influential to so many and we’re very sad for that development and we just hope that his family can find some strength going forward.”
McKinney shared a similar sentiment.
“For me, personally, well not for me personally, literally everybody, it’s crazy how much you feel like you have a connection to somebody that you don’t even know,” McKinney added. “He was a legend, a GOAT, he was everything to everyone so it was a big loss for everyone in the basketball community so that was very tough to hear.”
Kentucky’s next game will take place this Thursday when the ‘Cats travel to Columbia, MO to face the Missouri Tigers at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.