The No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats may have proved its worth in a one-point loss to the Louisville Cardinals this past Saturday in Rupp Arena, but now they have expectations to meet.
This isn’t “just another team” coached by Matthew Mitchell. There is legitimate optimism that the ladies have the talent and depth to win the SEC this season. The Lousiville game showcased that to everyone who was lucky enough to watch it.
The Cards are one of the top 5-7 teams in the nation at the moment and will be a serious contender to make a run for another Final Four this March. Losing to them is by no means a poor indicator of how the rest of this season is going to go down. The hype is still real in Lexington.
Now Kentucky has to continue to improve. They have to prove they are just one point behind one of the best teams in the country. With SEC play a little over a week away, Kentucky doesn’t have any time to sulk or sit on its loss to the in-state rival. The South Carolinas and Texas A&Ms of this conference will sniff that fear out immediately and strike before the iron can even warm up.
The Wildcat are coming off its first loss of the season and need to play hungrier than ever. Here is the upcoming slate of games for the ladies:
@ California (7-2)
@ No. 5 South Carolina (10-1)
vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-2)
Louisville was just the tuneup game. Now the season really begins. The addition of Chasity Patterson will help tremendously as she’ll be eligible to play starting with the game against Cal. Getting her in the flow of the offense will be a challenge, considering she’s already 10 games behind her teammates. But she’s been on campus for a while now, practicing and going through daily routines with the team that every one of her teammates does. Now, Patterson will actually be on the court.
But one more point guard isn’t going to mask the rebounding issues down low. The Gamecocks and Volunteers are two of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Cal also ranks near the top in that category. If Kentucky hauls in a couple more defensive rebounds against the Cards, they likely win that game. Rebounding is going to be the biggest talking point during losses and a blip on the radar during wins.
UK can’t expect to shoot over 45 percent from beyond the arc every game (even though they’ve done so in four straight games). The offense can’t come to a complete halt when the opposing team kicks off a scoring run as UL did in the third quarter.
What happens if Rhyne Howard’s shot isn’t falling early in the game? Can the defense hold quality opponents to under 50 points? If Tatyana Wyatt or KeKe McKinney get into foul trouble, who can shore up the rebounding responsibilities?
Truthfully, I don’t what to expect over the next three games. Kentucky will be more talented overall than Tennessee and California but will have to play up to South Carolina’s standards to win that game. The ‘Cats could go 0-3 in this stretch just as easily as they could go 3-0. This is the first time all season that this team has faced adversity. The narrow three-point win over Virginia doesn’t even compare to what the ‘Cats endured last Saturday. Potentially dropping two consecutive games will be a serious test to this team’s mental toughness.
The players have said all the right things before and after the loss to Louisville, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about what happens next. Traveling to the West Coast and playing through the time change could pose just enough of a problem to affect how Kentucky plays. The Holiday break is in full swing. Taking six days off in between games allows for over-thinking.
The Louisville game proved that Kentucky is a threat. Now they need to prove they can be a threat every time they take the floor.