Welcome back Cats fans, for another edition of a UK Hoops Live Diary with Wilder and Hayley. After a big comeback win on the road against in-state rival Louisville, the Wildcats are back at home in Memorial Coliseum tonight to face the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on the SEC Network. Kentucky soared to 8th in the rankings this week, with an 8-1 record, while the Blue Raiders are 4-2 and currently on a three game winning streak. MTSU has notably defeated Miami, Clemson, Xavier, and Ole Miss this season, while falling to Arkansas and Arizona State. The Blue Raiders are a mainstay in women’s college basketball, almost yearly winners of their conference and in the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis.
Shalon Pillow is back in Lexington tonight. Pillow spent the fast five seasons in Kentucky as an assistant coach, but after Mitchell chose to not renew her contract, she took her talents to MTSU, now working under Rick Insell, the father of another former UK assistant and current Ole Miss coach, Matt Insell. Weird coaching circle, right?
#8 Kentucky Wildcats vs. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
FINAL: A good team win for the Hoops tonight!!! Scoring efforts were led by Jennifer O’Neill, who finished with 22 points, and only had four points at halftime. This game was certainly the fastest-paced, and finished promptly two hours after tip off. Stay tuned for more from Wilder Treadway, coming soon.
2nd Half 4:38- Hayley: Kentucky is continuing to offensively dominate, but MTSU has also turned up the intensity and is not going down without a fight. This game is the prime example of why I am glad that Coach Mitchell continues to push even when he can get up on a team by 20 points. MTSU Has fought back this whole game, and all it would take is a little run for this team to completely take over the game. The Blue Raiders are continuing to chip away at the Wildcats lead, but every time it gets down to about 14-16 points, the Cats go on a run. UK is up 72-52.
2nd Half 11:28 -Hayley: Things have #TurnedUp since we last talked, live diary. The offensive has shot out and quickly run up some score. Tonight has thrown us another plot twist. While looking at the MTSU bench, Wilder made the connection that one of the assistant coaches is none other than Tom Hodges… Remember him? He’s the ex-Morehead State coach who wore the crazy suit last year! This game has quickly turned into a bizarre “UK/ KSR favorites” family reunion. I would love to have some sort of post game sit down, “Real Housewives” style, where all the dirty laundry from these folks is aired… if there is any. Kentucky is winning the rebound efforts, 33-22, and is up on the scoreboard 58-36.
2nd Half 15:40-Hayley: With the second half fully underway, it is clear that the Hoops made some small adjustments at halftime. Their energy is higher, and their aggression, as a team, is much higher, but the defense is also playing at a higher level. Scoring, thus far, has been low, while foul shooting opportunities have been bountiful. Jennings is leading the team with 11 points, while Epps is trailing closely with 10 points. Jennings is also leading the defensive efforts with six boards. Hoops are up 49-30.
HALFTIME KENTUCKY 41 MIDDLE TENNESSEE 26 This was offensively one of the best halves of basketball Kentucky has played all season. The turnovers were a little high, but that was mainly due to the fast-paced nature of the game Kentucky plays. Eight Wildcats scored at two points, and UK was surprisingly led by freshman Alexis Jennings with 11, in her best game of the season. The Cats dominated the glass 26-12, another stat directly reflected by the effort and hustle of UK, which Mitchell is surely pleased with.
1st Half 3:55: In my opinion, Coach Mitchell should never take Makayla Epps out of the game. Her energy and finesse are something that always pump up the team, but until her defense consistently improves she won’t get a starting not. The (super) sophomore leads the Cats in scoring so far tonight with eight, on 4-4 shooting, and I guarantee you won’t find a happier player on the court, ever. MTSU not backing down, have crawled back to only be down seven, at 32-25.
1st Half 6:34: Solid basketball game so far. Kentucky has succeeded in avoiding that plaguing slow-start that Mitchell was afraid of, and I think Hayley and I are slowly watching this young post for the Cats grow up each possession down the floor. Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice have been called on a lot this season to man the post, and while Kentucky’s play in the paint has been suspect in some games, the physicality down low is something to be proud of. The Cats are firing on all cylinders and Kentucky has built a lead, up on the Blue Raiders 31-17.
1st Half 11:18: After not getting the start for the first time this season, senior Azia Bishop seems angry and out to prove a point. On back-to-back possessions she took a charge (something Mitchell jokingly says she’ll never do) and made a stellar move in the paint for a pretty jump hook. As we knew they wouldn’t, MTSU has not backed off at all tonight, matching Kentucky punch for punch. Game still knotted at 16 apiece. Six different Cats have scored so far.
1st Half 15:46: Quick, fast-paced start to tonight’s game so far. There have already been nine turnovers (five from Kentucky) and both teams are racing down on offense, but we haven’t seen the best efficiency. Point guard Jennifer O’Neill is sporting a nice black eye tonight, apparently from practice, getting hit by freshman Jaycee Coe. The Blue Raiders have the toughest schedule in the nation, not scared to play against the nation’s best. With Pillow’s scouting report of UK and MTSU’s competitive nature, tonight should be a good game. Game is tied 7-7.
TIPOFF: Decent crowd on-hand for a late Friday night game (another weird scheduling quirk from this season). Hayley and I have been on Pillow-watch all night to see how the former assistant is interacting with her old school. Her and Mitchell embraced in a loving hug, so that’s good to see. She was a great asset to Kentucky in her time as a Wildcat and will always be welcome in Lexington. Mitchell switched up tonight’s starting lineup for the first time this season, starting freshman Alyssa Rice for the first time in her career over senior Azia Bishop. Raiders win the tip and we’re off…
10 Minutes till Tip: In his press conference yesterday, Coach Mitchell noted the importance for his team to get off to better starts. The Cats have come from behind so far this year in four of their eight wins, and while their grit and motivation has been commendable while facing an uphill battle, the Cats need to put themselves in better positions earlier on. Look for a possible starting lineup tonight from Mitchell, as he’s anxious to kickstart the Wildcats right from the tipoff.