It's Middle Time! Well, middle of the year, that is. Time to take a look at what has happened so far for the UK Hoops Squad, and hand out some grades for performance this season. We are now fully into the SEC portion of the schedule and there has been plenty enough time to rate and analyze.
Overall team performance is a really easy one at this point. Short that very early on debacle at Baylor, this team has been overwhelmingly good. They are beating everyone they play, and they are doing it convincingly and without a lot of fanfare. This is a very business-like team that plays much like my father would talk about the New York Knicks in days of old. They get up, pick up their dinner bucket, and go to work. And they don't come home until the work is done. There are a few stars on this team, but no one overshadows anyone else, and everyone contributes in some way, especially in this "Forty Minutes Of Dread" defensive system of Matthew Mitchell's. So, our overall grade? A.( It would have been an A+ had they been able to pull off that Baylor win, but that's long back in the rear view mirror.)
Coaching: This one is also a good one. Matthew Mitchell gets an A-. And why the minus you ask? Well, there are a couple of small items that UK is going to have to fix to get that elusive #1 Seed and a clear path to an NCAA Championship. And Coach Mitchell is going to have to coach those things into this squad. Yesterday's victory over Mizzou showed just what UK can do when they clamp down and set their minds to taking care of the ball. Unforced T.O.'s have been a major stumbling block at times this season. They are improving, but they still must develop play at just a tick slower pace, and they would improves their offensive efficiency by a ton. If UK has 5-8 less turnovers per game, they are winning by 25-30 every night and dominating everyone they play. It's not that they cannot overcome them, but they can make their lives a lot easier.
Front Court: This one is a slam dunk. Period. DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker may be the best 1-2 tandem in the paint in all of college basketball. They defend, block shots, force their opponents out of position, and share their playing time with good backups in A'Zia Bishop and Brittany Henderson. You might shut one of them down, but you won't stop both. they play fast, they play tough, and they play hard from the tipoff to the final buzzer. Their chemistry has come together massively since the Baylor game. After Coach Mitchell got them to see that they were going to have to be the game inside for UK, their numbers started climbing and so did the win total. Grade: A+ (they may not have shut out Griner in November, but let's see how she does against them now)
Back Court: Well, this part could take all day if I wanted to. A'Dia Mathies and Jennifer O'Neill are truly becoming something special. They are both dead eye shooters, and they both handle the ball well, although Jen has had a few of the turnovers we spoke of earlier, but I honestly think those come from the pace of the game, not because she cannot handle the ball.
A'Dia struggled a bit through the bottom half of the OOC schedule, but has corrected that and is now back to her SEC Player of The Year form from last season. They hit 3 point shots when the defense either forces them outside, or leaves them unguarded, and when the defense moves to compensate, they drive past and hit the lane to make layups, or put the ball where Walker and Stallworth can get to it. Both are adept at getting out of double teams and they are also excellent at dishing the ball. With O'Neill at the point and A'Dia at the 2, UK is a force to be reckoned with. Grade: A (fix those turnovers completely ladies and I bump that one up)
Playing the 3: This position is strange for this group, in that there is no true 3 in the entire group of players. We do not have a Small Forward. The closest thing to it is Samantha Drake, a reserve who fills the paint well, but plays at the 5 better than the 3, and Jelleah Sydney, a transfer who has not yet seen floor time. Mitchell tried to recruit for the spot with Sydney Moss from Boone County, but she decided to take her talents elsewhere and ended up at Florida. So Cal plays 3 guards mostly, which fits in his constant pressing defense. The 3 is platooned by Bernisha Pinkett, Bria Goss, and Kastine Evans. They do a great job at coming in and out for UK as the pace gets faster and faster. It gives UK fresh legs in the game when most teams are getting tired of running from that same press. Grade: A (Sometimes it takes all 3 to get it done, but they always seem to do just that)
Team Offense: This one suffers a bit, because honestly, the Cats have not been incredibly efficient on offense. They just wear you down so much that they get their second chance points like crazy. They play just a tick too fast to be a really good offensive team, as the pace takes it's toll. It is probably by design, however, it is the team's only weakness. Grade B
Team Defense: Easiest one yet. Forty Minutes Of Dread. Nothing else need be said. Grade: A+ (only because I could not rate it higher)
So there it is. We have one of the Top 5 women's teams in the country in my opinion. I think they are not only worthy of that #1 Seed come tourney time, but that they will indeed this time get it. They are playing tough at home, tough on the road, and the mistakes are dwindling. I would not want to play this team come tournament time, because they will be looking for blood. And if they can't get it, then they may really get tough.