Following Coach Mitchell’s Media Day press conference Tuesday, members of the media were allowed to sit in on a women’s basketball practice. Savannah gave us plenty of sights and sounds from the practice, but here are some leftover thoughts from yesterday’s game.
He wasn’t kidding about their speed
Coach Mitchell spent a lot time during his press conference talking about this team’s athleticism and fast-tempo. After watching the Wildcats play for over an hour, it’s clear he wasn’t kidding.
With junior Taylor Murray running point, she drives the offense with a speed this team simply didn’t have last season.
Mitchell raved about Murray’s “elite speed” during his press conference, calling her one of the “great weapons in the country.” Additionally, she’s taking on a larger leadership role, helping patch the hole Makayla Epps left behind.
“She’s just really embraced her role,” teammate Alyssa Rice said of Murray. “She’s becoming more vocal. She’s a quiet player and just naturally leads by example, but I think now she’s taking the step in becoming a more vocal leader and helping the younger players come along as well.”
And while her leadership skills may have taken time to develop, her speed did not.
“My speed just comes natural,” Murray said. “That’s just something I try to improve on each and every year: just getting faster or changing direction.”
Alysaa Rice impressed
After a season in which she dramatically improved her game, the senior is stepping into her new-found leadership role — on and off the court.
“That’s one thing we talked to Coach about early in the season — just accepting that leadership role,” Rice said. “I think we’ve done a nice job of just coming together and helping the younger players out and accepting that coaching role as well as players.”
In addition to her team-leading abilities, Mitchell touched on Rice’s improvements on the court, specifically around the rim. Throughout practice today, the senior showed off this increased physicality, hustling for rebounds and getting physical under the basket.
“We’ve been working on it all summer. We’ve just been doing a lot more team-oriented stuff. Just going against a player constantly when we do 5-on-5 things. As a senior now, [physicality] is just something I really have to emphasize. It’s something that’s really on my mind.”
Expectations are high
After finishing last season tied for third in the SEC (22-11 on the season; 11-5 in conference play), this year’s team is determined to improve their record this year – and they’ve got the expectations to prove it.
“We’re winning a championship,” Maci Morris said. “We’ve got to lead the team and make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing because we want to win.”
Coach Mitchell agreed.
“Oh, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to go for an SEC title and an SEC tournament title and a Final Four and a National Championship. That’s what we’re going to aspire to.”
Like Mitchell reiterated numerous times during today’s press conference, this team is going to have to work to get to where they want to be.
“You have to be realistic: are any of those things that I’m telling you just going to fall out of the sky and be given to us? No, we’re going to have to go after it. But that’s the pursuit.”
This is a very young team, and it’s clear the pieces are still coming together. Statistically speaking, both sides of the ball will suffer – at least initially – in the absence of last year’s record-breaking seniors, Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator. Coach Mitchell and the players are optimistic – but that’s often the case on Media Day. Although the practice was strong, fans won’t get a real chance to analyze this new UK Hoops team and how they fit together until their first game of the season: November 5 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.