I'm going to start this write up with an unusual request: Don't participate in our thread tonight. I'm serious. If you are geographically capable of making it to Rupp tonight to support our Cats then please please do it. This team has worked too hard this season to get where they are, and they deserve to have 23,000 fans in Blue cheering them on to history. So if you can make it, please do so. However, if you can't attend the game live than by all means please join us here at ASoB.
The Cats enter tonight's game still flushed with victory over a very good Oklahoma squad in a game that showed just how well this team has learned to play for one another. Maci Morris was on FIRE from three point range, where she hit 4/5 of her attempts. Alexis Jennings came off the bench doing what she's learned to do so well this season - make shots inside when it counts and protect the rim - for 13 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks. Janee Thompson once again put the team on her back in the second half for 16 points and a blistering 88% performance from the charity stripe.
And every bit of those heroics were needed after Makayla Epps went down on a very hard foul from OU's Gioya Carter in the third quarter. Makayla's shoulder was clearly an issue, and that injury could have rattled the team and let them lose focus on the task at hand. Instead, they pulled together, and played an incredibly tough game that has put them in striking distance of a trip to Indianapolis.
Every bit of that mental and physical toughness will be needed this weekend if the Cats want their season to be one for the history books at UK. Washington knocked off a very good Maryland squad - in College Park no less! - in an upset no one saw coming. Led by Wade trophy nominee Kelsey Plum's 32 points, to include a stunning 13/14 performance from the line, the Huskies held the #5 team in the country to just 37% shooting on the night. Washington is coming to Lexington looking to extend their Cinderella hopes, and the Cats will need to once again play the game of their lives.
In looking at Washington's overall stats, the only elements that seem to be real outliers are their free throw shooting (78%) and steals (7.4 per game to the Cat's 6.8). Otherwise the Cats lead the Huskies in overall shooting (45.7% to 41.1%), points per game (74.8 to 71), three point shooting (36.2% to 33.3%), rebounding (39.9 to 39.1%), assists (462 to 396), and blocks (4.1 to 3.5). Washington has more available players, but who hasn't this season? The Cats have a height advantage, but not such a noticable one that it should play a major factor in the game.
How can the Cats get the W and their dance cards punched for the Elite Eight?
- Tenacious, unyielding defense. The team had stated that the tougher team will win tonight, and that is doubly true when it comes to defense. Washington is very good at holding their opponents to a low offensive efficiency, and returning the favor is critical to a win.
- Well-spread offense. Makayla's shoulder, no matter what miracle they shoot into that joint, will still be an issue and she's not going to be able to come in and lay down 40 points. We'll need strong shooting from every Wildcat, and the confidence to know that if the first show doesn't fall then the second one will.
- Defense without fouling. As previously stated, the Huskies are great from the charity stripe. We'll need to be disciplined in how we approach our defense stance and ensure that we minimize any cheap foul opportunities.
- The BBN comes through. Attendance at Memorial this past weekend was good enough for 12th place. We as Kentucky fans cannot claim to be the best fans in the country if that passion is only limited to men's basketball. These ladies work just as hard, have sacrificed just as much, and play with the exact same passion for the name on the front of their jersey as their Wildcat brothers. They deserve our respect and our support. This isn't just a writer's soapbox, folks - it's our opportunity to show we support ALL our Wildcats.
Tipoff tonight is at 7 PM EDT on ESPN2. Until then, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!