After dropping their SEC opener at Auburn, UK Hoops delivered a statement win in their game Thursday against Alabama. The Tide, who has given their opposition fits with their defensive press this season, led for only a few moments in the first quarter before the Cats regrouped and went on to a 73-48 win in Lexington. Evelyn Akhator proved herself worthy of her ASoB nickname "The Destroyer of Worlds" with a standout performance: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, zero turnovers, zero fouls. Evelyn also delivered her best free throw performance on the season, going 5 of 7 or 72%. Whatever Evelyn had for dinner Thursday needs to be bottled and sold online because that is some serious stat sheet stuffing.
All five of Kentucky's starters joined Evelyn in delivering double digit points Thursday: Alexis Jennings had 12 points, to include a perfect 6/6 from the charity stripe, while Janee Thompson, Maci Morris, and Makayla Epps ended up with 10 points a piece. The Cats thoroughly trounced the Tide in the paint, with 30 points to 'Bama's 10. The 4800 fans who witnessed the return to form in Memorial Coliseum definitely liked what they saw.
Next up for Kentucky: an unranked and very dangerous Georgia, who is looking for blood after dropping their first two SEC games. It's going to seem very different in Athens without Georgia legend Andy Landers in the coach's box. What else will we see?
First off, we're going to see some very lethal scoring defense. Georgia in the #1 team in the conference and 9th best in the country at overall defense, holding their opposition to a miserly 51.6 points per game. Much of that is based off their very effective three-point defense, where they hold their opposition to a horrifying 24.5%. If the Cats wish to get another W on the road, they are going to have to figure out how to get their offense going against what is basically a solid wall of red and black defenders.
Secondly we're going to witness some very skilled and experienced Georgia seniors in action, who also lead the team in points. Expect a monster game from Shacobia Barbee, a double double machine who's averaging 12.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and also leads the Dawgs in steals. She's backed up by fellow chaos orchestrators Tiaria Griffin, who's averaging 14.5 points per game and hitting 82% of her free throws, and Merritt Hempe, who's 51% shooting from beyond the arc has led to her averaging 12 points a game.
Matthew Mitchell knows exactly what sort of game to expect in Athens, and has spent much of this week's practice time prepping the Cats for the challenge. He acknowledged this in his pre-game press conference, saying "One thing that I know about the conference: there is nobody sitting in their facility today even thinking about losing. Everybody wants to win in this conference. This is the most excellent athletic conference in the world and it is very, very competitive and tough."
Our keys to victory:
- As ever, effective ball management. Georgia's defense has forced their competition to commit an average of 19.8 turnovers, and the Cats have worked really hard to get their turnovers under control this week. Kentucky will need to really talk to one another and make sure to minimize the self-inflicted wounds on the court.
- Smart shooting: against that kind of defense, the Cats will all have to be laser-focused on ensuring their shots fall. Happily, UK holds a height advantage against the Dawgs, who only average 4.3 blocks per game. If Evelyn and Alexis go on a tear in the paint again, that could be what tips the balance in our favor.
- Getting the small stuff done perfectly: Stuff like free throw shooting, where the Cats are hitting 72.6% of their shots, can be the difference in this game. So can correct ball carriage, to ensure we don't get our pockets picked.
- The power of the bench: We've all seen what a menace Taylor Murrary can be. Batouly Camara showed signs of being an equally effective sixth (wo)man against Bama, and as Alyssa Rice's health and conditioning continues to improve, expect to see more and more from her in big games.
No, this game isn't televised, and yes, I am really sick of typing that. But this gives you yet another chance to tune into 630 WLAP and enjoy the talents of Neil Price, who's doing an outstanding job in his eleventh year of calling UK Hoops. You can also catch the game via SECN+/ESPN3 for live streaming coverage. However you chose to catch the game, this is one you won't want to miss.
Until tipoff at 2, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!