Fans have been clamoring for a true center that would help shore up some of the issues that have plagued the Kentucky Women’s Basketball team over the last few seasons. On Monday, they finally received their wish – although they might just have to wait one more year to watch it play out.
Olivia Owens, who spent the last two seasons at the University of Maryland, announced her decision to transfer and become a Kentucky Wildcat. Owens marks the third Wildcat transfer this offseason to come from a high-profile school.
— Olivia Owens ? (@liv35_oo) June 1, 2020
Standing at 6-foot-4, Owens is already the tallest student-athlete on the roster. While her time in College Park was limited, she left high school as a top-ranked recruit. ESPN rated her as the fifth-best post player in the class.
Owens’ first season at Maryland was spent mostly on the pine. She appeared in just 16 games during the 2018-19 season, averaging 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.4 minutes per outing. Her career-high in minutes played was 11 during a season-opening win over Coppin State. Owens then redshirted the 2019-20 season due to complications with Mononucleosis and she’ll have three years of eligibility left once she is allowed to play. As of right now, she’ll have to sit out the 2020-21 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Along with Owens, fellow UK transfers Jazmine Massengill and Robyn Benton will also have to sit out this season unless they can successfully apply for automatic eligibility waivers. No matter if she plays this season or the next, Owens has the potential to come on the scene as an immediate impact player thanks to her size.
While she didn’t get to showcase her skills on a consistent level at Maryland, Owens has a knack for rebounding in traffic, scoring in the post, and even possesses a face-up game. Clips from her high school games show a player that knew how to use her height to her advantage and that’s something Kentucky hasn’t had the pleasure of utilizing recently.
Last season, UK ranked as the second-worst rebounding team in the SEC, pulling down just 33.8 boards per game (for reference, the SEC’s leader in rebounding, South Carolina, averaged over 46 rebounds per outing). Out of 351 Divison I teams, Kentucky ranked 338 in terms of defensive rebounding (and they ranked 340 the year prior). The offensive rebounding numbers for the ‘Cats have been respectable, but they have been dominated constantly on the defensive end of the glass.
If we take a look at Kentucky’s 2019-20 season, they were outrebounded in 17 out of 30 overall games and posted a 10-7 record in these outings. On the flip side, when UK outrebounded the opponent, they went 12-1.
There were bad losses in particular against Florida and Vanderbilt – who finished 10th and 12th in the SEC, respectively – where Kentucky was outrebounded by a combined total of 20. It ultimately didn’t matter considering the NCAA Tournament was canceled, but those two losses were massive stains on Kentucky’s resume.
The poor showing UK put up against Florida back in early February was devastating. Kentucky won the first three quarters but went on to lose the rebuilding battle 45-27 before fumbling a late lead. Arguably the two most important games from last season, a one-point loss to Louisville in Rupp Arena and the 27-point beatdown thanks to South Carolina two weeks later, saw UK outrebounded by FORTY! An 18-point loss to Arkansas on the road saw Kentucky surrender a 14-rebound edge, as well.
However, Owens’ pure presence on the floor is going to make the ‘Cats more physical down low going forward. Here is a bright point to all of this: Kentucky only lost to Lousiville by one-point this past season and UK were still outrebounded 37-17. It only takes a few extra rebounds for the momentum to shift and Owens will provide that ability.
“With Kentucky, I just felt like in talking to the coaches that there was a sense of comfortability,” Owens said, according to The Daily Gazette. “I felt like some of the things I needed as a player were things they could offer.”
A season ago, Rhyne Howard led UK in rebounding. It doesn’t matter how good she is, Howard shouldn’t have to lead the team in rebounds. Yes, she’s 6-foot-2 and generally one of the taller players on the floor, but there weren’t many alternatives surrounding her. Her fellow teammates in the frontcourt maxed out in height around 6-foot-2. Tatyana Wyatt and KeKe McKinney are both excellent returning seniors to have on the block, but even they don’t specialize as rebounders; they earn their time with defense and the ability to stretch the floor. Both are right at the same height as Howard.
If Howard can leak out on the sidelines a few more times throughout a game instead of fighting for defensive boards, more fastbreak opportunities will arise for a team that was already known to want to push the pace.
Kentucky has never had a “small” roster by any means, but they’ve always seemed to lack one premier rebounder who can tussle in the paint. In the coming years, Matthew Mitchell’s backcourt and wing core are going to have some height with Howard (6’2″), Massengill (6’0″), Treasure Hunt (6’2″), and Blair Green (6’0″). If you add in Wyatt (6’2″) and McKinney (6’1″) down low plus the additions of last season’s sit-outs Dre’Una Edwards (6’2″) and Deasia Merrill (6’1″), Kentucky actually has some size across the board. Owens is the cherry on top – especially if she can play immediately.
But even if Owens has to sit out, she has three years of eligibility remaining and can learn from the veterans in front of her. While the 2020-21 season for the UK Hoops program already looks promising, it’s the potential in 2021-22 – when the transfers would become eligible and Howard is a senior – that creates the thought of a National Championship contender. Owens is the exact type of addition that Matthew Mitchell’s program has needed. Now they have her for another three seasons.