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Preview/Gamethread: #10 UK Hoops Hosts Alabama

After a rough SEC opener on the road against Auburn, the Cats look to right the ship when they take on the Crimson Tide Thursday night in Lexington.

Definitely looking to see smiles like this one on Thursday night from our Cats!
Definitely looking to see smiles like this one on Thursday night from our Cats!
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Women's Basketball is many things: aggressive, tenacious, incredibly competitive, not for wimps, the list goes on and on. One thing it is NOT is boring. Example #1: Undefeated Kentucky, who has knocked off 2 ranked teams (one on the road!) inconceivably dropped their season opener against unranked Auburn, whose RPI isn't even in the top 50. Yes, road games are tough in the SEC but I suspect there's more to the story as to why Kentucky, who was shooting 49% on the season, hit a truly horrific 32% in the second half and only 39% on the night.

Adding insult to injury? The Cats were 1 for 12 from 3 point range, and a perfect goose-egg there in the second half. Maybe it was jet lag, maybe the Cats were still on holiday break, whatever the reason? That nonsense needs to stop ASAP.

I'm not going to break down the stats of the Auburn game. There's no point. Just know it was no good, very bad and awful in that order. From the shooting (SERIOUSLY, 1 freaking three pointer???) to the turnovers (TWENTY SIX!), to blowing a 17 point lead (SEVENTEEN POINTS!) it was just a picture of horribleness that is NOT the team we've come to know and love this season. I recommend Matthew review the tape, but not harp on it aside from pointing out the low-hanging fruit the team needs to focus on:

  • Shooting baskets is GOOD. Do more of that.
  • Turnovers are BAD. Make less of them.
  • Dropping a seventeen point lead is ATROCIOUS. Never do that again.

Happily, the season didn't end on Sunday night in Auburn. And despite the worst fears of yours truly, the loss didn't even knock us out of the top 10. The Coach's Poll has us at #9, USA Today Media at #10. Maybe they figure everyone deserves a horrible game at some point. Let's hope we got that out of our system.

On to happier things: we have more games to play. And Thursday we're hosting Alabama. Bama has 2 losses so far this season: an 18 point drubbing at the hands of UT-Martin and a 12 point shellacking by Georgia Tech. However, the Tide is coming off an SEC victory with their win over LSU so thinking this is a gimme game is just silly.

Despite the record and ranking, Bama is a surprisingly good team. They're ranked 7th in the country for blocked shots on the season, and are just below UK in scoring defense. On average this season they're shooting 75.6 points per game and holding their opponents to 54.8. Contrast that to UK averaging 79.7 points per game and holding their opponents to 54.1 points.  In looking at the season to date stats, it would seem that Kentucky holds a decided advantage over Bama in three point shooting - we're 40.1% on the season from beyond the arc, as compared to Bama at 29.3%. That said, they've definitely attempted more (259 to our 167) and if those start falling it could play a decided factor in their favor. Add to that the fact they now have a film to study on exactly how to shut the Cats down and tonight should prove quite the battle.

The good news is that reports from Lexington indicate UK Hoops has had great practices and dialogue since Sunday's loss. Makayla Epps said the film review from Auburn was "eye opening and embarassing", and Matthew Mitchell praised both Makayla and Janee Thompson in his pre-game press conference for taking the lead in talking to the team the second the bus left Auburn. Per Matthew, the team "Responded well yesterday afternoon and it was a very tough practice, not to punish them, but because the things that we are going to have to do to be successful in the league are built around toughness. It was an embarrassing moment, but if we all live long enough we will have more of those at times and it is how you bounce back from them."

So, with all that in mind, what exactly are the keys to victory tonight?

  • Effective ball management. We'd seen some truly weak passing sporadically throughout the season but Sunday's was a new low. Every player, not just the point guards, needs to be laser focused on managing the ball through the entire possession. If you want it, call it. If you're passing it, talk about it. Communication is key.  We know Alabama is an aggressive team on defense - hardly unusual in the SEC - so we need to embrace the challenge. Anything more than 18 turnovers tonight is unacceptable, and ideally we'll get this number back down to under 15.
  • Get back to the offensive prowess we've shown all season. It's not like we've been playing midgets! We've had hands in our faces and tall bodies before. Shot selection, shot selection, shot selection!
  • Make the bunnies. And by bunnies I mean the easy layups AND the free throws.
  • FIGHT. We reacted way to negatively to adversity Sunday, and that is really not like this club. Channel the UK Hoops that played at Arizona State, and we'll be very tough to beat.

YET AGAIN, this game isn't televised. (Sorry, SEC Network, but whip around coverage doesn't count as televised.) You can catch sporadic glimpses of the Cats on the SECN, but if you're like me, you'll just listen in to 630 WLAP to hear Neil Price call it, or catch the game in full via ESPN3 or the SECN+. Tipoff is at 7 PM EST.

Until game time, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!