Alyssa Rice has served as Kentucky’s academic bar-setter, its event organizer, its quiet confidant for hurting teammates.
“I always tell people she’s like our mom,” junior Maci Morris laughed.
Turns out “mom” might be one of the Cats’ secret weapons this season. Rice recorded her first career double-double as No. 22 Kentucky drubbed Marshall 69-39 on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky’s coaches and players knew Rice was a great person off the court, but Coach Matthew Mitchell challenged her to be more than that this season.
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“I just wanted her to round into the basketball player she can be,” Mitchell said on Sunday. “She’s just come a million miles since the beginning of last year. Very, very happy for her.”
Rice was all smiles, too, after notching career highs in points (19) and rebounds (10). She also had two blocked shots in just 24 minutes of play.
“Any time you can put the ball in the hole, it gives you that confidence and shows you your true capabilities,” said Rice, who is averaging a solid 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds for Kentucky (6-0). “Just being able to have a game like this really did help my confidence.”
Rice was one of three Cats in double figures, including Morris (15 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Taylor Murray (13 points, six boards, two assists).
The Cats outrebounded Marshall 47-22, including 20-5 on the offensive end.
It was a point of emphasis going into the game, especially with a road trip to No. 8 Baylor up next on Thursday.
A slow-starting offensive rebounding team, Kentucky sometimes needs “to be prodded and heavily encouraged at timeouts to go to the offensive glass,” Mitchell said.
Not on Sunday, when UK was winning the rebounding battle 28-9 at the half, including 14 offensive rebounds to just one for Marshall (1-4).
“Multiple kids had multiple offensive boards,” Mitchell said of his team, which had 18 second-chance points to two for Marshall. “Lot of people getting more than one offensive board, and that’s what we need to do.”
The Thundering Herd kept it close early on, even grabbing a two-point lead to open the second quarter before the Cats found a different gear.
They closed out the first half with a 20-2 run that included 20 unanswered points, holding Marshall scoreless for nearly eight minutes. The Thundering Herd, which came into the contest averaging 70.8 points per game, were held to single-digit scoring in the second (five points) and fourth quarters (three points).
UK didn’t allow a single field goal in the fourth quarter, marking the first time that’s happened for the team since women’s college basketball moved to that format two seasons ago.
Out of the halftime break, Rice scored Kentucky’s first six points and dominated from there. Seeing her have a breakout game excited the senior’s teammates.
“She does a lot of things that people just basketball-wise, they don’t see what she does off the court,” Morris said. “Seeing her have a great game makes me happy. Hopefully she continues to do it.”
▪ Kentucky was without freshman Tatyana Wyatt for a fifth straight game while she works her way through the concussion protocol. The forward has returned to some practice activity, a team spokesman confirmed.
No. 22 Kentucky at No. 8 Baylor
8 p.m. Thursday (Fox College Sports)