Friday's matchup against Rice allowed our newest Wildcats to show why this year's class may prove to be one of Matthew Mitchell's best. First year Wildcats Evelyn Akhator, Batouly Camara, Maci Morris, Ivana Jakubcova and Taylor Murray shot a combined 50 points or 69% of the total offense, while pulling down 61% of the rebounds.
Team ball for the night went to Evelyn, and it wasn't even a close contest. 16 points, 17 rebounds, a block and a steal? Way to put on a show, Miss Akhator. Honorable mention goes to Alexis Jennings, who was a single rebound away from back-to-back double-double performances. It was another great game for our young Wildcats.
Tonight's competition will be much tougher. The Sun Devils are coming off a 29-6 season, where they made it to the Sweet 16 in post-season play. Leading scorer Katie Hempen returns, as well as their assist machine Elisha Davis. As this is the first game of the season for Arizona State, I can't really talk to their current performance but will highlight their last year successes:
- The Sun Devils shot an overall 44% from the field, compared to the Cats 40%. Overall points on the board was a little lower at an average of 67.7 points per game vs. Kentucky's 75.6.
- Arizona State was more effective from beyond the arc, making 36% of their attempts to Kentucky's 28.6%. (Yikes)
- Free throw shooting was also a titch higher in Tempe, with ASU making 71.4% of their attempts to Kentucky's 67.2%.
- Interestingly enough, the Cats were a much better rebounding team with an average of 41.6 rebounds per game to ASU's 36.3.
With so much unknown about this year's ASU squad, my keys to victory are fairly simple:
- Don't let the home crowd shake our focus. ASU fans can get pretty rowdy. Their attendance per game however is about half of what the BBN delivers (3064 to Kentucky's 6379) but if they're noisy? They'll be an unwelcome new distraction.
- With the new rule change that doesn't allow free throws until the 5th foul per quarter, FT shooting is less of a factor than in previous seasons but still a critical offensive skill. After opening at 75% against Union University, the Cats shot 70% against Rice. 70% is my minimum expectation, so hopefully the team is up to maintaining that performance.
- Effective ball handling. We had 22 turnovers Friday and you could literally hear the steam coming off Mitchell's head. Way too many lazy passes by our nervous newbies - they'll need to calm down and take their play up a level if they don't want a repeat of Friday's showing.
- Fast is great, sloppy is not. The Cats had 12 fast break points against Rice, but with the speed this squad is capable of this should be represent at least 25% of their total game.
Rumor has it Makayla Epps will be suiting up for her first game of the season, and I'm really curious to see how Matthew Mitchell uses his 3 quality PGs. I've really liked what we've seen thus far from Taylor Murray. Suffice it to say, this is a good problem to have.
This game is televised - yay! On the Pac 12 Network - less yay, as that means you can't pick it up on ESPN3. If you don't have the Pac 12 Network, I strongly recommend listening in to Neil Price's play by play on iHeart. We are very lucky to have such an awesome commentator covering UK Hoops, and if you've not heard Neil before you're in for a treat. Tipoff is at 5:30 EST.
Until game time, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!!!!