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UK Hoops Opens SEC Conference Play: The Cats vs. The Tide

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The Cupcake Cafe has officially closed for UK Hoops. The non-conference schedule is over, and the real challenge - winning in the nation's most formidable conference - begins!

Finger's crossed that Jenny O is back to terrorize the SEC yet again today.
Finger's crossed that Jenny O is back to terrorize the SEC yet again today.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Cats hit the road today to take on the 11-4 Alabama Crimson Tide, looking for their fourth straight victory in SEC play openers.

I was a little shocked to see that the Tide are unranked with an 11-4 record. I was more so when I noted their victories to date include wins over Georgetown, Nebraska, Kansas and Temple. Sadly though, only one of those victories (Nebraska) came over ranked teams which no doubt is the major factor behind their lack of votes in the Coaches' polls. (Also: The Tide is currently ranked 166th in RPI this season, vs. #4 Kentucky.)

Make no mistake though, opening on the road in the SEC is always a challenge no matter who you're playing. And Tide fans may turn out in numbers today seeking some solace for last night's crushing Sugar Bowl loss to OSU.

What should we look to see today from both the Cats and our Crimson clad opposition?

For the Cats, it's going to be a question of who the heck we're starting. In Sunday's matchup vs. Tennessee State, we were without the majority of our seniors due to a persistent knee issue for Jennifer O'Neal, Bria Goss's broken thumb and Jelleah Sidney's more-or-less career ending knee injuries. It was a lean lineup for Coach Mitchell on Sunday, where he rotated time between 8 players. Freshman phenom Alexis Jennings stepped up to shoulder much of the Wildcat scoring, delivering an astounding 27 points (in 29 minutes!!!) and 8 rebounds. Our sophomore trio of power Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Linnae Harper and Makayla Epps had themselves a fairly fun night, combining for 41 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 steals.

Matthew sadly hasn't called to let me know his thoughts, but based on his pregame presser I suspect our opening lineup to be Azia Bishop, Jennifer, Kyvin, Janee Thompson and Linnae.

Alabama has some very decent talent who could give our Cats some trouble. The Tide has a height advantage (8 players over 6 feet) and we know how that played out vs. Duke. Look for 6' Ashley Williams to give us some serious grief on offense, where she's shooting 56% from the field and averaging 14.5 points a game. (Note, she's yet to shoot a three this season. Based on our ability to bring out the finest in our opponents, no doubt this is the game where THAT changes.) Fellow 6 footer Brianna Hutchen also looks to provide the Cats with some attitude, shooting 43% from the field and 71% from the charity stripe.

Yet again, this game is not televised - seriously, SEC Network? You're going to show Finnebaum vs. actual games??? - but you can catch all the shooty-hoops action on the SECN+ and ESPN3. Tipoff is at 3 PM EST.

Until gametime, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!