Friday night the 2017-18 basketball season began for both the UK men and women. Fans knew what to expect. One team would be flying up and down the court at a breakneck pace, seemingly scoring at will while the other would struggle for a large portion of the game before finally eking out a victory. But I’m not sure the fans expected the former team to be Coach Matthew Mitchell’s Cats and the latter team to be Calipari’s.
Despite losing seniors Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps, scoring was no problem for Mitchell’s team who defeated Sacramento State 101-70. With 5 newcomers joining Morris, Murray, Cann, Roper, and Rice, it would be understandable to expect it to take some time for team chemistry to develop. And it did take time — about 13 minutes. With 7:27 remaining in the first half, UK was clinging to a 37-35 lead only to make a 19-7 run to take a 14-point lead at the half (56-42).
Compared to last year’s Cats, this year’s edition has depth and lots of it. In the 1st quarter alone, Mitchell had 10 players see action (12 for the game, with 10 of those scoring). Conserving energy because of a thin bench is no longer a concern. The ladies were playing at a blistering pace with Taylor Murray and Mackenzie Cann leading the way. How blistering was that pace? For a point of reference, I noted this during the opening half:
With roughly the same amount of time remaining in the 1st half as the men's game, UK women have already scored more points (40) than UK/Utah Valley combined (39).
These are @curtisburch level stats.#CameronRadio #BBN mb
— Cameron Mills Show (@cameronradio) November 11, 2017
In the end, 5 Wildcats hit double figures in scoring. Taylor Murray led all scorers with 22 while Mackenzie Cann added 17 with some impressive shooting from beyond the 3-point line (4-6). Tatyana Wyatt had 13, Maci Morris 12, and Dorie Harrison had 10. Overall the Cats shot 50% for the game and were a very steady 79% from the free throw line.
Sacramento State Head Coach Bunky Harkleroad, a 1993 graduate of Berea College (“I’m a proud Kentuckian!”) was complimentary of the Cats in his post-game remarks. While his Hornets made it a close game early, they couldn’t maintain the pace. “Kentucky did a good job defending us. We didn’t do a very good job of creating enough looks and didn’t get enough 3 point shots up.” When asked about Taylor Murray, Harkleroad chuckled and then said, “She’s ridiculous. She’s a handful, very good, hard to guard.”
Despite the 31-point loss, Harkleroad was not discouraged. His team is looking ahead for their conference play and the team’s goal of performing well then. “This brutal schedule will prepare us for winning a league championship.”
Not all was sunshine and roses for the Cats. Rebounding is a little bit of a concern, but Mitchell said his team has time to improve in that area. He noted these players are very teachable and he is confident they will learn from mistakes made.
How fast will they learn? Only time will tell but if they learn as quickly as they move up and down the court, this could be an outstanding season for the Cats.
Next game: Gardner-Webb, Sunday 2 p.m.
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