Senior Nigh is a night of celebration, appreciation and sadness: celebrating the accomplishments of an athlete's tenure at UK, appreciation for the years of hard work and sacrifice that come with being a D1 athlete in the nation's most competitive conference, and finally the touch of sadness that comes with knowing eventually we have to say goodbye. I've yet to get through writing a Senior Day preview without shedding some tears, and doubt this year will be any different as Janee Thompson has held a special place in my heart since her freshman year.
When you Google Janee Thompson, beneath her name the next option that pops up is "Janee Thompson injury". I don't want to belittle what Janee went through last year, and all the hard work she put in to recover, but Janee is so much more than what happened that horrible night in Columbia last January. When you think of Janee Thompson, you should think of toughness. From her first outstanding performance against UofL as a freshman, to her most recent game against Arkansas, this 5'7" dynamo from Chicago made it very clear that great things can come in small packages. Through Sunday Janee has scored 911 points in her career at Kentucky, to include 80 3-pointers, 43 of which she's made in her senior year. Janee has 318 assists, or 2.9 for every game she's played at UK. And she's done all of this while making the SEC Academic Honor Roll every year, and being active in the Lexington community with various charity work. Janee is a leader, a scholar and an outstanding athlete who we will miss terribly next season. What else can we say besides a sincere "Thank you!"?
Janee is playing somewhat wounded, as she twisted the ankle that needed surgically repaired on Sunday. When asked if she was playing, Janee said yes. When Coach Mitchell was asked if Janee would play, he said yes. I'm pretty that means we'll get to set Janee out with a roar...she's certainly earned it.
Onto the game now. But first, let's look at the current standings: South Carolina, shock shock, is still king of the mountain at 14-0. A&M, whom the Cats face Sunday afternoon, are #2 at 10-4. Mississippi State is #3 at 9-5 and hey, look at that! A five way tie for 4th! Kentucky is sitting at #5, just a tick under Mizzou and ahead of Georgia, Florida and Auburn. We win tonight and we slide into the 4th spot. Win at College Station on Sunday and we'll cement our spot in the top 4 and a double bye for the tourney. But no pressure, Cats!
Mizzou is 21-6 overall, and a very respectable 7-4 on the road. They are strong offensively, shooting 43.8% from the field, 32.4% from beyond the arc and lead the conference in free throw shooting at 74.5%. Defensively the Tigers play very aggressively, but don't stand out in terms of forced TOs (they actually average 2.2 more TOs than their opponents) or steals (7.7 per game is good enough for 10th place in the SEC.) They are extremely good at rebounding (36.1 per game) and lead the conference in assists (16.1 per game.) Players to watch include freshman phenom Sophie Cunningham, who is the Tiger's leading scorer at 13.3 PPG. Sophie hits 50% from the field and 80% from the charity stripe. (I may not be a coach, but I say we guard her like the Crown Jewels!) Right behind her is Jordan Frericks, who's hitting a mere 56% from the field to average 12.4 PPG.
Our keys to victory and hopefully moving into that coveted 4th spot:
- This should go without saying but playing tough defense against a defensively tough team is critical to victory. Hard to win games if your shooters are flustered and theirs are feeling easy and relaxed.
- Hit the bunnies. We are going to get very few easy shot/open looks and we need to make them count.
- I applaud unselfish players but if you see a shot, take it.
- Defend this house! It's Janee Senior Night, but I know she'd like nothing more than the right to play in Lexington for the NCAA tourney again. We can applaud her all over again!
You'd think a game that was this critical and important would be televised, but you'd be wrong! You can tune in via the SECN+ or Watch ESPN app. OR you can listen in as Neil Price calls all the action on 630 WLAP. However you catch the game, it's sure to be a good one. Tipoff is at 7 PM Eastern, with the Senior Night festivities directly before then.
Until gametime Cat fans.....GO BIG BLUE!!!!!