Happy Thursday, BBN! Before we get to the preview of tonight's very important UK-Mississippi State Game, let's take a moment to review the standings in the SEC.
EVERY TEAM in the SEC wants to be in one of the top four slots within the Conference in order to get that precious double-bye in Jacksonville. At number #1 is South Carolina, and I do not see any way they enter the tournament in any other position. After that, it gets quite muddy. There is a 3-way tie for second (State, A&M and Auburn), and a 3 way tie for third (Florida, Georgia, Mizzou). Sitting just underneath all of that is Kentucky. If the Cats can win tonight on the road, not only will they move up into that mess in third position, they'll knock State out of one of the top 4 positions.
In short, this game - along with every other SEC game for the rest of the regular season - is critical for the Cats to win in order to have the best shot at a deep run in March. The stakes right now are very, very high for UK Hoops, and every team they'll face knows it.
So what exactly does Vic Schaefer have in his arsenal at State that has them ranked so highly? Two words: Victoria Vivians. If you can think back to that double-overtime battle in Lexington last year, when Makayla Epps had 42 points and made Sportscenter go all women's basketball crazy for about a minute and a half? Victoria's 39 point performance got a bit lost in the shuffle. Victoria is averaging 17 points a game this season (just a tick ahead of Makayla's 16.5 point average), and is shooting 37.4% from the field. 30.5% from beyond the arc and 73.5% from the charity stripe. Her Bulldog sister Morgan William is averaging 10.1 points per game, mostly from the charity stripe where she's hit 108 thus far on the season for 84.4%, and is tied for 4th in the league on assists. Overall State doesn't strike you as an offensive juggernaut, hitting just 40.3% from the field this season, 30% from three point range and 74.1% in free throws but they play so hard they hurl up a LOT of shots knowing they'll fall in eventually. The Bulldogs are also vicious in making sure they grab every second chance point they can, and lead the conference with 19.1 offensive rebounds per game. On top of that, they will bully and cajole you into turning over the ball, forcing their opponents to commit an average of 22.2 TOs per game.
In short, they're aggressive and tenacious and will do their best to wear our Cats down in the Hump.
But we have Makayla Epps, who I've no doubt gave Vic material for years of nightmares last season. The Bulldog's coach said "She wants to see me in a best out of seven (series), I'm sure" following the Cats' 76-67 battle at last year's tournament when Makayla had a paltry 31 points. And we have a healthy Janee Thompson, who missed all the fun as both games against State were played after her injury at Carolina. And we have a squad who is showing signs of pulling all the key elements on both offense and defense together just in time to make a statement in the post-season.
Good news, all this drama is televised on the SEC Network tonight! Bad news, the game is at 6 PM which is EXACT SAME TIME THE GUYS ARE TAKING ON TENNESSEE AT RUPP. And we have fans at ASoB who are awesome and support both squads! So we're taking a page from our baseball/softball coverage experience and hosting our first ever combo hoops thread, where fans can comment and commiserate on the performance of both of our Wildcat squads...should be lots of fun.
Tipoff tonight for the ladies is at 7 PM EST on the SECN. Until gametime, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!!!!