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#8 UK Hoops hits the road to face #13 Duke - Preview and Game Thread

Happy Early Catsmas, Wildcat Fans! I think it's safe to say that the Elf on the Shelf told Santa what a good BBN we've been this year, based on yesterday's smackdown of UCLA in Chicago. Will Santa reward us with just ONE MORE great present this weekend? Because a win in Cameron Indoor Stadium (clearly is a more desirable place to play in December than Cameron Outdoor Stadium) would look really nice under the tree.

When Makayla and Linnae celebrate like this? Game. Over.
When Makayla and Linnae celebrate like this? Game. Over.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Santa:

I've been a very good girl this year. I've eaten all my vegetables, worked out at least 2 times a week, and have been nice to my brother, who for some reason is still holding a grudge about being locked in the attic that time in '81.

All I want for Christmas is for the Cats to win it all this year. And world peace. And to beat Duke at home. And world peace.

Hope you like the cookies. Also, I skipped the milk, figuring when it's this cold you'd rather have a hot toddy. (Go easy on the Maker's Mark, we don't want to have another incident like last year.)

Don't forget about the Cats winning it all!

(and world peace, because we really could use some of that)



P.S. Seriously, beating Duke at home would be really sweet.

Ok, enough silliness - time to get serious and talk UK Hoops and their chances against Duke on the road.

The last time UK Hoops took the floor, well - it could have gone better. The final score of 71-55 really doesn't tell the story. Shooting just 40.6% from the field and a discouraging 26.3% from 3 point land, this game was an unexpected battle against the 2-7 Bruins. Azia Bishop stepped up to lead her team with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals...a truly terrific performance from a senior we've been hoping to see have a phenomenal final season at UK.

The performance MAY be explainable though, as we found out afterwards that the team's leader - and one might say heartbeat - Bria Goss broke her left thumb during the pre-game shoot around. She'll be out for likely 6 weeks, meaning we won't have her skills on the court again until early February. (With luck, we'll have her back on 1/29 for Tennessee. With LOTS AND LOTS of luck, we'll have her back on 1/11 for South Carolina.)

Make no mistake, folks - this is a huge loss. As big and possibly bigger than Alex Poythress being out for the season with an ACL tear. UK Hoops is deep - not 2 platoons deep - and when you have 5 McDonald's All Americans on one squad you really can't complain. But you can't always replace talent AND heart easily, and Bria has both.

What does this mean? It means other players are going to have to step up. We saw that with Azia Bishop last Sunday. We saw it with Janee Thompson against UofL. And we're going to need each and every player who takes the court against Duke to do the same if we want to win in Durham.

Speaking of which, how is Duke doing this season? Glad you asked! They're 7-3, with 3 straight losses coming a few weeks ago at the hands of Texas A&M (they're pretty good), Nebraska (when did they become a basketball school, exactly?) and South Carolina. (#1 team in the country) They're not beaten a ranked team, which seems odd considering their #13 ranking but whatever.

Dookies to watch include 6'3" Elizabeth Williams, a 3 time All-American and ACC DPOY who leads the Blue Devils with 14.1 points a game and shoots 55.6% from the field.  Also keep your eyes peeled for Rebecca Greenwell, a native of Owensboro averaging 13.9 points a game and shooting 94.3% from the charity stripe. (I REPEAT, SHE MAKES 94% OF HER FREE THROWS. FOULING HER WOULD BE DUMB.) Last but not least be sure to watch out for fiesty freshman Oderah Chidom, currently the third best scorer on the squad and second best overall shooter at 55.8% from the field.

How will the Cats win?

  • Effective ball handling: Coach Matthew Mitchell was clearly frustrated with the turnovers thus far this season, and said the team HAD to keep it under 12 TOs against Belmont. (They had 11) Even so, that brings the Cats to an average of 18.5 TOs per game vs. Duke at 16.2 TOs per game. Granted, as fast as the Cats play we are going to turn the ball over higher than the average D1 squad, but the dumb ones need to stop.
  • Duke is tall, with 9 players over 6 feet. We are small, relatively speaking, with only 4 players over 6 feet taking the court this season. But we are FAST. I vote we play small, play fast, and basically just shoot around the trees.
  • Resist the temptation to engage the DDFH offense. Duke has almost 40% more blocks than we do on the season. That said, Louisville isn't exactly a squad of midgets, and when we slowed down enough to pick our shots intelligently we had that game firmly in hand.
  • MAKE FREE THROWS aka The Lather-Rinse-Repeat request of the season. 64% is still not where it should be.

I've not watched the Duke women play this season so I'm not entirely sure what to expect live, aside from a well coached team with a height advantage. I'd like to think a win in a very hostile Yum Center would prepare UK Hoops well for Cameron, but as we all know, that is an intimidating locale.

Prediction: UK by 4 (78-74)

You can catch all the UK Hoops action tomorrow at 3 PM Eastern/2 Central on ESPN 2.

Until game time - GO CATS!