This weekend is off to a heck of a start, Wildcat fans. The men beat Louisville in a nail biter that is no doubt responsible for a sharp increase in Prozac and Lipitor prescriptions in the 859-area code. (And the 502, 270, 606, and 262.) The Bat Cats had a great series opening win against Vandy. So how do we relax?
With a rematch of the best game of any women's game this year: Kentucky vs. Baylor!
To help prepare us for this critical match-up, Glenn was nice enough to do a roundtable discussion (really more of a tiny booth discussion) about our upcoming game:
Brittney Griner may be gone, but Odyssey Sims has stepped handily into her very large shoes to emerge as the star of this tough Baylor Club. In our first match we managed to hold Sims to a mere 47 points in 41 minutes. Fortunately she fouled out so we didn't have to deal with her for all 20 bonus minutes. If you were in Mitchell's shoes, how would you try and manage thrwarting the Big XII player of the year?
- Glenn: I think the only thing you can do with Sims is manage her in transition. In the first game, Baylor absolutely killed Kentucky in transition and got way too many easy shots on the break and off of dribble drives to the basket. I think the zone Kentucky has been playing lately will limit Sims' penetration some and open her up to some shot-blocking. There is no player for the Wildcats that can shut Sims down, the 'Cats are just not big enough or strong enough in the back court. It's going to take a team effort. Alternatively, Mitchell may just not worry about Sims and try to take away the rest of the team. But I doubt that.
- Jords: I doubt the refs will let us hog-tie her to the bench, so that does somewhat limit our options. And as much as our defense has improved - South Carolina can attest to that - I agree with you that I'm not sure our squad has the strength to contain her. That said, I'd love to see Azia Bishop step up and have a break out game defending Sims. If she and Samarie can use their height advantage to get some blocks we have a chance.
UK's bench scored 61 points last round to Baylor's 31 bench points. Granted Jenn O'Neil was 71% of our bench points, but how much will UK's improved offensive balance play into a win over the Bears?
- Glenn: Offensive balance is always desirable. I think moving Makayla Epps to the point guard position has really improved the offense, and keeping O'Neill in the off-guard position allows her more freedom to attack without having to worry about distributing the ball. I love the way that the Wildcats have been able to "Go fast, but not hurry" paraphrasing the legendary John Wooden, and I think Epps has been a big part of that, as well as DeNesha Stallworth returning to form.
- Jords: Makayla's performance has definitely helped take our offense to a new level, but right now my favorite offensive threat has to be Janee Thompson. For such a tiny thing she is flat out scary when she goes on a tear: plowing into players, and generally causing all kinds of havoc. A very close runner up is Bria Goss, whose outstanding FT performance needs to continue...and infect the rest of the squad. (+90% at the charity stripe. I'm drooling at what this could mean if the rest of the squad could pick up even a shred of her skills!)
We had a shaky performance over Syracuse Monday night. How much do you think the squad was looking ahead to the Baylor game?
- Glenn: I don't think that was the problem so much as not taking Syracuse seriously. We've seen that happen before with this team, playing down to the level of their competition. The good news is, there is no danger at all of that happening against Baylor. Kentucky has seen Baylor all too up close and personal already, so they will be in this one to win it.
- Jords: I was really unhappy with our TOs against Syracuse, and hated how we lost the rebound battle. If Brittney Sykes had been healthy this could have been a very different outcome. But to your point, looking ahead to a potential Notre Dame match up seems ridiculous - this squad KNOWS how tough Baylor is.
Who has been the most pleasant surprise on our squad in the last month that Baylor may not have seen in similar form on December 6th?
- Glenn: Unquestionably Makayla Epps, but I think Linnae Harper has really come on lately as well. She's been aggressive all season, but her shot has been wildly inconsistent. Now that it's falling, it's good stuff for her and the team.
- Jords: Both of our freshman played an incredible SEC tournament and have definitely started playing their best ball of the season at the PERFECT time. I'd also say seeing DeNesha's return to health, and with a little more bulk on her frame, has made a huge difference of late.
What is the #1 thing we CANNOT allow Saturday if we want to make it to the Elite Eight?
- Glenn: Kentucky absolutely cannot go 18-28 from the line like they did against Syracuse, they will lose. Kentucky has way too many good free throw shooters, and gets fouled way too much to do that. That's equivalent, roughly, to 5 additional turnovers.
- Jords: 67% Free Throw shooting on the season, when you have Bria Gross at +90%, is just sub-par. 64% against 'Cuse was the basement below par. 68% against Wright State wasn't exactly a thing of beauty. But more than anything, we cannot lose the rebound battle again. Baylor is too tough to allow second chance anything.
So what say you, Cat Fans? Come and share as we prep for a REALLY tough competitor Saturday at noon!