Is it me, or does this week seem kinda flat? I think it's the withdrawal of coming off FEAST WEEK, when you could literally watch basketball all day, every day. Now that reality has returned, let's kick the beach sand off our flip-flops, snuggle back into warm fleece Kentucky hoodies, and talk about how we'll beat the Norse! (Semi-serious question: They are the NKU Norse, but that seems kind of an odd moniker for the women. Are they the Lady Norse? The Norse Women? The Norse People with whom a sane man does not mess? Just the Norse? You have to wonder these things or else playing such teams is just no fun.)
Our UK Hoops had themselves QUITE a tussle in Paradise. After dropping a heartbreaker to Illinois, the Cats bounced back with victories over a very good Oklahoma club, and a surprisingly sassy South Florida squad. Both games were nervewracking to the final buzzer, but the Cats inevitably pulled off the W.
Makayla Epps had the breakout season performance we'd all be waiting for. After delivering a career-high 20 points against Illinois, Makayla delivered an absolute smackdown in OT on the Oklahoma Sooners with 29 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Those performances, along with her 12 points in the win over South Florida, sealed the deal in Makayla being selected as the tourney's Most Valuable Player. Let's hope this is a streak that continues...her being named MVP of the SEC would be nice too!
As we look forward to tonight's game, what should we expect to see:
The NKU Norse play in the Atlantic Sun division, which is somewhat dominated at the moment by those Dunk City delights from Florida Gulf Coast. Even so, the Norse(persons) are coming into Lexington fresh off their Navy Classic Tournament victories over Grand Canyon (who apparently is playing EVERYONE this year) and UNC-Greensboro. Overall NKU is 4-3 on the season, having dropped games to Akron, Loyola - Chicago, and Ohio University. Their main players to watch include 6' forward Melody Doss, whose season average of 12 points a game is incredibly misleading seeing as she pounded in a combined 36 points and 10 rebounds in Annapolis. Another player to watch for is Louisville native Christine Roush, who's averaging 10.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. We do NOT want to foul Roush if at all possible, as bringing an 89% free throw shooter to the line seems like a bad game plan.
What do our Cats need to do to ensure victory?
- Play effective defense: our lack of defense is what killed us against Illinois. Our rebounding was ineffective and the idea "boxing out on your opponent" was completely AWOL. For whatever reason, the Cats were playing scared and it killed us. We need to get back to effective D, and not let zone - whatever the makeup - pull us out of our game.
- Chose our shots well and then MAKE THEM COUNT: During the tourney, our FG% was 43.6%. We made 25.8% from three point range, and hit 58.3% of our free throws. If those numbers sound bad, they are. Comparatively, South Carolina - the #1 team in the SEC and the country - is hitting 48.3% of their FGs, 39% of their 3 pointers, and a surprisingly low (but still noticeably better than ours) 66% of their free throws. If we want to compete with the best we have to get our offense clicking on a consistent basis.
- Fouling out is bad, kids!: Jennifer O'Neill and Bria Goss both fouled out against Illinois, Jennifer and Alyssa Rice both fouled out against Oklahoma, and while no players fouled out against South Florida, Azia Bishop and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers ended the game with 4 fouls a piece. While I will say the refs at the Paradise Jam were truly awful - as in, they made the halfwits who called the SEC CG last year look like geniuses by comparison - we earned the majority of those fouls on our own. We need to be more aware and less sloppy. That sounds harsh, but the fouls kinda speak for themselves.
Tonight's match ought to be a somewhat easy win for the Cats, and a chance for them to continue to perfect their game before facing Louisville Sunday. The #7 Cards are 7-0 for good reason, and as we're playing them on the road? All bets are off. Let's just hope tonight doesn't prove to be a trap game, and the Cats put the lessons they learned in Paradise to good use.
Until 7 PM, Cat fans - Go Big Blue!