After a week-long stretch that saw three players leave the program, the Kentucky Hoops team finally got the chance to get back to business on the court in their lone exhibition game against the Union University (TN) Bulldogs.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell said on his team's 95-63 win, "It was exciting to see the team get out there and do things well."
Mitchell was correct in stating that his team did many things well against Union, but there were some issues that need to be corrected as well as the team heads into their regular season schedule.
After a suffering a horrific season-ending injury against South Carolina last season, Janee Thompson made a triumphant return to the Kentucky lineup. The senior point guard scored 17 points and dished out 7 assists while only turning the ball over 3 times. She was in control of the offense the entire game and her quickness did not appear to be hampered by her injury.
Coach Mitchell said that Thompson is still "a work in process", but Thompson seemed to feel that she was already well on her way back to being in form. In the postgame press conference, Thompson said that her nerves disappeared about "30 seconds into the game."
Kentucky will need Thompson to keep up her stellar play as her younger teammates try to catch up quickly due to the limited depth on the roster.
Mitchell praised sophomore forward Alexis Jennings for her work ethic during the offseason. He said that her commitment to becoming a more positive person and to getting in better shape is paying dividends on the court.
Against Union, Jennings had a monster game for the Cats, recording a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Union had no answer for Jennings in the post and she was able to will her way to the basket with ease on several occasions. At one point in the 2nd half, Jennings flashed her ability to shoot from deep by easily making a jump shot far back on the right wing.
Matthew Mitchell’s teams are best known for their trademark defense. Against Union, Kentucky’s defensive pressure netted 26 Bulldog turnovers that they converted into easy buckets time and time again. The Bulldogs only shot 38 percent from the field and managed to score just 15 points inside the arc.
Three-pointers were another story, however…
Union hit an astounding 17 three points against UK and that accounted for more than half of their points. Union coach Mark Campbell said that while his team does not usually make that many threes, his team did lead Division II in made three-pointers last season.
Mitchell said that Union’s four-guard scheme gave Kentucky fits and led to many missed assignments when the Bulldogs were in transition. It's early, but you'd like to see UK defending the perimeter better with the regular season now here.
Even though Kentucky forced 26 turnovers, they also turned the ball over 15 times themselves. Mitchell said that turnovers and other issues should be easily fixable as long as his tea plays with maximum effort like that did tonight against Union.
Makayla Epps' Injury
UK was already without star guard Makayla Epps in this game as she was finishing out the terms of her suspension for being cited on alcohol-related charges this spring. However, Epps was not on UK's bench Sunday, and Mitchell revealed after the game that she suffered a concussion in practice on Friday after taking an elbow to the nose.
Concussions are always scary, and if not treated properly, can linger throughout a season and even career. Hopefully, that isn't the case here and it's just another minor setback in Epps' comeback.