Dreams can be amazing. Dreams can be scary. Dreams can be painful. But that doesn't mean you should stop dreaming.
UK Hoops hasn't. In a season fraught with player exits, injuries, short bench issues, and the pressure that comes with playing the SEC, their dreams have never changed: They want to be the first UK squad who makes the Final Four. Matthew Mitchell's teams have been to the Elite Eight but never to the promised land that is the Final Four. That seemed possible prior to the start of the season, when we had a roster loaded with talented veterans and talented newcomers. It seemed but a fragile soap bubble waiting to pop when the roster shrank to just eight eligible players. And yet here we are, with a single game to go and the Cats are well poised to be in the top of the SEC rankings. Win today, and the Cats are one step closer to their dream. Lose, and that dream becomes much harder to attain.
Per the SEC standings, the Cats are already in 4th place at 9-6, tied with but ranked ahead of Georgia and Florida. Per SEC Now, the Cats are ranked fifth behind Georgia...which makes no sense as we beat Georgia. We lost to Florida, should Florida be ahead? But Georgia beat them twice. Maybe Georgia should be ahead? No wait, we beat Georgia! I'm so confused. Darn you Andy Landers and Nell Fortner, you're supposed to make me smarter, not confuseder. (Yes, that's a word. If not, it should be.)
After a few days of careful study, I can confidently say I know we're in a three way tie with UGA and the Gators and we really REALLY need this win. (This is why you come to ASoB, people: the stunning analysis skills.)
A&M isn't confused. Gary Blair has the Aggies making serious noise in his 26th season as head coach. We knew a healthy Jordan Jones would be critical to this squad. We knew her Aggie sisters and fellow seniors Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams were really good. But folks, the Aggies are really REALLY good. 11-4 in conference play and 21-7 overall good. Courtney Walker currently leads the SEC in PPG at 18.5, shooting 50% from the field and a blistering 86% from the charity stripe. Jordan Jones leads the conference in assists, providing 5.7 a game. Overall A&M shoots 45% from the field, 30% from beyond the arc and hits 70% of their FTs. They hold their opponents to just over 60 PPG, and steal like crazy. They are very aggressive inside and will try and bully their way to the glass with every trip. It's going to be yet another knock down, drag out fight for our ladies today, because why should their final SEC game be any different?
Our keys to victory:
- We have to defend our basket like it holds a signed blank check from Warren Buffet. Our defense has been good but inconsistent of late - case in point, the entire third quarter against Mizzou. We cannot back down whatsoever on the intensity today or the Aggies will run right over us.
- Missed shots happen. We can't let them affect us mentally. Again, in that third quarter against Mizzou, when shots weren't falling, our entire team seemed to sag. If you question your abilities in game, it impacts your shot that much more. Easier said than done, but we need Maci to channel whatever it was Janee did that let her go off in the fourth quarter to seal a UK victory.
- If you have the shot, take it. This is mostly directed at Makayla Epps, who tries too hard at times not to be a ball hog. Makayla, you're one of the best players in the country: hog the ball already!
- Play for woman in the UK jersey next to you. One of the reasons this team has been so fun to watch is their obvious love and trust in one another. They take charges for the good of the team. They sacrifice for the good of the team. They coach one another on the court in order to make their team better. When they do all of that well, this team is unbeatable.
We've seen how obnoxious it can get in Reed Arena, and while today should be down a notch from the last time a group of Wildcats took the court, it's still going to be hostile. But it was hostile at the Hump, and the Cats pulled that win off in spectacular fashion. I expect today's game to be quite the ride.
Today's game is televised - HOORAY! - and on ESPN - double HOORAY - so hopefully all interested Cat fans can tune in, even those a little far from home. Tipoff is at 4 PM EST.
Until Gametime, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!