It’s been a tough road for Coach Kyra Elzy and the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball program. They’re currently on a five-game losing streak and find themselves at the bottom of the SEC standings.
Facing their third ranked opponent in as many games, Kentucky put up a good fight against No. 1-ranked South Carolina for three quarters on Thursday night before ultimately falling 95-66 at Memorial Coliseum. Prior to Thursday’s loss, Kentucky has had consecutive loses to Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, and to 5th ranked LSU at home.
Elzy, now in her third season, pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history a year ago when Kentucky took out South Carolina, last year’s national champion, in the SEC championship game to give the Cats their first title in 40 years.
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart promptly rewarded Elzy with a contract extension through 2027 and expectations were sky-high coming into this season with ten newcomers added to the roster, including Oregon transfer Maddie Scherr, a former Kentucky Miss Basketball who led Ryle High School to a state championship as a junior.
Fast-forward to January 2023, and Elzy has watched her team fall below the .500 mark for the first time this season with an 8-9 mark that has included home loses against the likes of Murray State and Florida Gulf Coast. Kentucky’s last win was a victory over Ohio on December 21st.
To make matters worse, Elzy has also taken some heat of late as Dre’Una Edwards, who nailed the game-winner in last year’s SEC title game, recently called out her former coach on social media for not signing her transfer papers that would clear the way for instant eligibility at Baylor this season. However, to her credit, Elzy quickly responded to the criticism and showed great composure in shutting down any negative perceptions.
Despite some tough moments this season, Elzy most certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt as the former Tennessee standout has tried to build momentum for her team by simply staying positive and looking ahead at the next opportunity to start a winning streak.
In fact, this team may have already turned the corner after a gutsy effort on Thursday night as UK went toe-to-toe with the Gamecocks and went on a 16-0 run to take a 29-20 lead with 6:56 left in the half. However, South Carolina’s size and athleticism proved to be too much to overcome behind the play of reigning National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.
“We want to win,” said Elzy after the South Carolina game. “Our staff and myself have to find a way to keep their confidence up, to keep their morale up. So, I just talked to them about the positives. For three quarters against the number one team in the country, you showed what you were made of. Obviously, they made the run in the fourth. We can learn from that. But that type of heart, intensity and I thought that was the most confidence we have played with. If we can take those into our next games and learn from our experiences.“
Scherr, a former McDonald’s All-American, was a consensus top-20 recruit coming out of high school and has found confidence as a scorer at Kentucky, scoring career-highs in back-to-back games, going for 25 against South Carolina after getting 22 in the loss to LSU.
The combination of Scherr and sophomore guard Jada Walker have proven to be a lethal one-two punch and may be the key to getting back into the win column as Kentucky travels to Florida on Sunday. Walker was also outstanding against South Carolina, scoring 17 points, including nine in the first quarter.
“They forced us to do some things that we’ve never done before,” said South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley. “We played a triangle and two, and we’ve never played a triangle and two, (but) they were having that kind of game. Both Maddie (Sherr) and the little one that I love Jada Walker, she plays with big heart. I remember recruiting her, but she’s found a great place here in Kentucky where she can play her game, She’s just a beauty to watch - fearless.”
As we move to mid-January, Kentucky has some tough roads games ahead and will need to take care of business at home with just five games remaining in Memorial Coliseum - Auburn on January 26th, Missouri on January 29th, Alabama on February 9th, Georgia on February 16th, and Tennessee on February 26th.
The big question is can Elzy and the Cats get things going and make another big run to close out the season. The first step is getting that first win in conference play.