(Note: If you're anywhere near the Lexington area, I implore you to help "Pack the House" at Rupp tonight. Tickets are going for as low as $8, and group tickets are $2! Our ladies are counting on YOU for support, let's not let them down.)
Weird. That sums up this year's basketball season thus far. Putting aside the mens' issues for a bit, let's talk about our UK Hoops squad.
In our preview series, I'd talked about how incredibly deep this year's squad was. And within days of BBM, that concept went right into the trash. I'd referred to the growth of Linnae Harper and how important she was to the squad. She's now transferring to Ohio State. I'd talked about how Mitchell had recruited great height, and then we lost one of our trees with Kyvin Goodin-Rogers' decision to transfer to WKU.
And yet somehow, through all of this noise, UK Hoops has not only survived but flourished. They've beaten ranked teams on the road, thoroughly obliterated their most hated in-state rival, and seen a member of their squad make history with recording only the third triple double in Kentucky basketball history. Makayla Epps has been named National Player of the Week. Janee Thompson has bounced back from last year's devastating injury with six double-digit performances in a row. Maci Morris is shooting threes - LOTS OF THREES - at 45%, and is a perfect 100% from the charity stripe. Evelyn Akhator feels like she's failing if she's not pulling down at least 20 rebounds a game, and tiny Taylor Murray is picking pockets left, right, and sideways.
And yet tickets to see this team play are going for $2. If that's not weird, I don't know what is.
Let's talk about the game for a moment. Duke is coming into Rupp holding a 3-1 record against Mitchell's Wildcats (the lone victory coming at the hands of that plucky 2011 squad), and a 9-2 record overall. They're huge - 5 players are 6'4" or taller - and they're deep. They're excellent thieves - 9.9 steals per game to Kentucky's 8.2, they're better rebounders - averaging 44.6 per game to Kentucky's 42.6, and they can block the ball well to boot. They also have not one but TWO players on the Naismith Watch list in the forms of 6'6" Azura Stevens and 6'1" Kentucky native Rebecca Greenwell.
That all looks kind of terrifying typed out so now I'll tell you what the Cats have:
- Better shooting (hooray!): So far this season that Cats are shooting 49% from the field, 41% from three and 70% from the line. By contrast, the Dukies are shooting 46% from the field, 31% from beyond the arc and 66% from the charity stripe.
- More serious playmakers: The Cats have five players averaging double-digit performances per game (Makayla, Janee, Alexis, Evelyn and Maci) and 6 if we round Taylor's 9.6 points per game up to 10. Our Cats also excel in sharing the ball, averaging 19.1 assists to Duke's 15.4 per game.
- Better fan support: BBN has shown up to the tune of 4400 per game to Duke's 2241. We're used to playing in front of big rowdy crowds....the other guys, not so much. (And yes, BBN, you ARE an advantage.)
Our keys to victory tonight:
- Effective ball handling: the Cats are doing well in managing TO's this season, averaging 16.6 per game. We need to keep the TO's under 18 tonight, because of the Blue Devil's aforementioned pickpocket skills.
- Make every shot count: I'm thrilled with how shooting has improved for this squad, but we continue to have opportunities. We have 2 liabilities with our starters on free throw shooting - Alexis is at 57% and Evelyn at 48%. Don't think for a second Duke isn't going to know exactly who to foul to keep points off the board.
- Play fast but not out of our heads fast: speed continues to be a trademark of Kentucky women's basketball, and I'm happy to say the rule changes this year have actually added to that vs. hindering it.
- Guard Greenwell from hitting threes: she's 25 for 67 (37%) but the most any single one of our ladies has even attempted is 40. We've seen with both NKU and MTSU how hot three point shooting is a game changer - hopefully Mitchell had time to work with his squad on this in between getting knee surgery this week.
Tipoff is at 7 PM EST tonight on the SEC Network. If you can't make it to Rupp, then the next best thing is to enjoy it here with your fellow ASoB fans. Looking forward to a great game and chatting with terrific fans!
Until 7 PM, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!!!