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UK Hoops vs. UPike - Preview and Game Thread

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The Road to Tampa starts Thursday at 7 PM! Your Kentucky Wildcats begin their battle to be the best within the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum as they face The University of Pikeville Bears. What should we look for from our 2015 squad?

To kinda sorta quote a certain coach we all know and love, today we turn the page from anticipation...to celebration! UK Hoops has put the pain of the 2014 season behind them and are fresh on the trail of another outstanding season of women's basketball in one of the toughest conferences in the county.

If you read our pre-season previews, you're aware that our incoming recruiting class brings great talent along with badly needed size to our squad while our returning veterans bring the experience of fierce on-court battles both within the SEC and without. Our projected lineup took a noticeable knock before the 2015 squad was even introduced with the unfortunate benching of Ivana Jacubcova due to fibular stress fracture. Senior Jelleah Sidney is suffering from knee issues and her impact this season may also be in question. Matthew Mitchell's ongoing injury reports will be a critical element to review this season for the Cats.

All is not doom and gloom, despite the injury reports. Kyvin Goodin-Rogers is back on the court after sitting out last season due to a pulmonary embolism and Mitchell reports she is looking really strong in practice. "Kyvin has long arms and explosive athleticism...She also has a bit of a mean streak that I like when she's out on the court, and so she can compete with a taller player because she has quickness, athleticism, strength and...length."

Joining Kyvin on the court is her former Marion County teammate Makayla Epps, who also had a rocky freshman year. When asked about Makayla's upcoming year, Coach Mitchell said "I think you'll see a noticeable difference in how she looks. She's really changed her body. She is in the best shape she's ever been in and getting in better shape...she is just one of our most talented players." Anyone who watched Makayla's SEC tourney performance has to be excited after hearing that!

Now, who are our leaders and what should we expect from them? Anyone who has followed this squad will be unsurprised to hear that Bria GossJennifer O'Neill and Janee Thompson are stepping up to lead our young Wildcats! The three McDonald's All-Americans (yes, the women have them too! FIVE, to be exact!) have set their sights quite high, but are't talking SEC Championship or Final Fours...yet. To quote my girl Jenny O', "I just want to lead my team and see how far we can go. As far as expectations, I don't really know but the sky is the limit for this team."

Now, what of our competition for Thursday night? Pikeville gave our men a heck of a tussle Sunday night. I'm not expecting quite as much of a battle for the women. UPike is currently picked to finish 7th in the Mid-South Conference, and are unranked overall in the NAIA. This also looks to be one of the few squads where we'll actually have a size advantage. That said, the Bears are coming in fresh off a 77-67 victory over Midway, and as we all know, anything can happen in college basketball. Long story short - take nothing for granted!

Unfortunately this opening match is NOT televised, but you can catch all the UK Hoops action at 7 PM via either SECNetwork+ or ESPN3. Unfortunately yours truly cannot join you for this game, but I look forward to hopefully joining you to catch the close!

Until Thursday night at 7 PM, Wildcat fans...GO BIG BLUE!