The 2017-18 season did not go as planned for the Kentucky Women’s Basketball team. After an 8-1 start to the season, things quickly unraveled and Coach Matthew Mitchell’s team posted their first sub-.500 record (15-17) during his tenure at UK. A streak of 8 consecutive NCAA appearances, including 3 Elite Eight finishes was ended.
But a new season brings renewed hope and determination to get back on the winning track. On Tuesday, a very relaxed Mitchell arrived at the annual Media Day and spoke at length about his 2018-19 team and opened his remarks with this:
“Well, we are excited to kick the season off. We had a great summer and experience preparing all summer for Italy and had a great trip. It gave us some idea of the quality people that we are working with. We just started our fourth week of practice and I am very excited. I think this is a special group of people who care a whole lot about each other and are going to look after each other. I am looking forward to getting the season started.”
Perhaps the biggest “news” was Mitchell’s confirmation that his team would return to the full court press that had been the trademark of some of his teams in the past.
“It’s alive and kicking. I shouldn’t say alive and well yet, because it doesn’t look too great right now but we’re committed to it. It fits our personnel.
We’re not really — we don’t have any 6-5 or 6-6 players, so we don’t have a big, big front court presence but we do have some pretty good size across the board. We have several players who are athletic, fast, explosive in that, you know, 6-1 to 6-3 range that can really move.
So I don’t think it would be the smartest thing for us to kind of sit back and let somebody come at us. I think we do have the athleticism and the personnel to get on the attack.
You know, as I was reflecting on last season, and looking at what this season could be, and then overall taking stock of our time here at Kentucky, a lot of kids that remind me of this team worked hard to create an identity for Kentucky that was aggressive and attacking and so I’m sure excited that we have a collection of players that can play this way, and it’s actually the way that they will probably have the most success.”
Playing this style does require players getting into top physical condition. When I asked several of the players if they were happy to play the press, I got an identical response from almost every player: a big smile followed by “Yes, it’s great” even though their lips didn’t move when they spoke. It was fairly obvious that they were still getting conditioned for this style of play, but it was also clear they were embracing it and expect it to bring positive results. The one exception was Taylor Murray who is genuinely excited for the full-court press as that is the style she played in high school.
Former Cat Amber Smith has been added to the coaching staff and should provide a lot of positives to this team. Mitchell had this to say about Smith:
“Amber, I think it’s invaluable. I don’t think you can understate the passion that she has for Kentucky, and the pride she has on being here on the ground floor when we really took this thing in a direction it had never gone before.
I think she connects with the players there. I think when you don’t practice hard and Coach Mitchell is getting on you, you might be thinking, he’s a head coach and he’s never satisfied.
When it’s coming from an assistant coach who just takes it personally, that this is a standard that I helped to establish, I think it holes a lot of weight.
She’s got a great way about her. When she was here, in my 12 years, one of the most popular players we’ve ever had. You see her around the facility, she’s talking to everybody. She’s got a great, great way about her, a great heart for people, and she has an absolute heart for service to help these players get better, and really, she and Kyra and Niya are committed to doing whatever is necessary to boost these players up and teach them what they need to know so we can have a great season.”
Each player I spoke to seemed to confirm Mitchell’s assessment and stated Amber Smith was the coach they found themselves going to most often when they needed advice.
The Cats return 3 starters this year (Maci Morris, Taylor Murray, and KeKe McKinney) along with reserves Lashae Halsel, Jaida Roper, Amanda Paschal, Tatyana Wyatt, and Kameron Roach. After missing last season due to injury, Ogechi Anyagaligbo is getting back into form and should be a boost to the Cats. Freshmen Blair Green and Rhyne Howard are also expected to make solid contributions to the team this season. Unfortunately, Paige Poffenberger had to medically retire and Kentucky is also without the services of sophomore center Dorie Harrison who is currently out with an unspecified medical condition.
In the meantime, Mitchell’s troops will continue to prepare for a successful season and will begin play on November 2 when they face Lincoln Memorial in an exhibition game at Memorial Coliseum.
Some season ticket seats are still available and fans may also purchase single-game tickets as well. For pricing and details just visit UK Athletics.