Kentucky Sports

UK women's basketball: Assist-minded Cats rout Appalachian State 111-74

Appalachian State's Bria Carter and Kentucky's Alyssa Rice battle over a loose ball during the first half of their game in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. Friday November 14, 2014.  Photo by David Stephenson
Appalachian State's Bria Carter and Kentucky's Alyssa Rice battle over a loose ball during the first half of their game in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. Friday November 14, 2014. Photo by David Stephenson Herald-Leader

The goals for the season included being the fastest team, the most disruptive team and the toughest team.

Kentucky might be able to add the most unselfish team to its résumé by season's end.

In their season opener at Memorial Coliseum on Friday night, the No. 11 Cats had 24 assists on 38 made baskets in their 111-74 victory over Appalachian State.

Kentucky only had 20-plus assists in five games last season, with the last one coming at the end of November.

Coach Matthew Mitchell expects that number will be much higher this season with five different players dishing out three assists or more in the victory.

"I do think you see a tendency to share the ball," he said of the Cats, who won their sixth straight season opener. "They understand they have to play together and make the extra pass."

The UK coach joked that he might like to see a little less sharing on a play in the second half.

"I just about lost my mind when they were too unselfish when Makayla Epps threw the behind-the-back bounce pass that was a too generous, too much sharing of the basketball," he smiled.

Senior guard Jennifer O'Neill, who led all UK players with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals, said she was happy to see so much movement.

"It's a sign of our chemistry, that we enjoy playing with each other," O'Neill said. "Nobody on our team is selfish. That's why everybody gets a touch."

And all but one player that played got a point. In all, seven different players scored in double figures for Kentucky (1-0), which has a big matchup with No. 8 Baylor at Rupp Arena on Monday night.

Linnae Harper added 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists with Epps chipping in 16 points and four rebounds. Azia Bishop had 14 points and a team-best nine rebounds.

Kentucky started its season by making nine of its first 11 shots, including back-to-back three-pointers to open the game from Kyvin Goodin-Rogers.

The former Marion County star, who sat out last season after a blood clot was found in her lung, had eight of the Cats' first 10 points. She finished with 11 points, six boards and four blocks.

UK led by as many as 22 points midway through the first half before Appalachian State cut the lead to 13 points, 55-42, on a Maryah Sydnor jumper in the lane.

The junior forward had 18 of the Mountaineers' first 23 points and 23 points at the break, which saw Appalachian State (0-1) trailing 58-42. She finished with a game-best 33 points.

"I'm so happy she was able to come on this stage and in this environment and perform the way she did so people will know about her," Mountaineers Coach Angel Elderkin said. "She's a special player and she's going to be a big part of our success this season."

Kentucky was missing lockdown defender Bria Goss, who sat for a good portion of the first half in foul trouble, and Sydnor was able to get loose, getting 17 attempts in the first half alone.

Late in the game, the Mountaineers looked gassed.

"At that six-minute mark, saw fatigue set in," Elderkin said. "That had a lot to do with Kentucky's pressure."

On the staffs previously at Louisiana State and Tennessee, she used similar practice tactics to prepare for Kentucky that she saw used at those schools.

They included using six practice players against five, but it's still tough to simulate the pressure Kentucky puts on you, Elderkin said.

In all, the Cats forced 31 Mountaineers turnovers and scored 43 points off of them, holding the Mountaineers to 29.2 percent shooting in the second half.

Quick hits

Assistant coach Christian Stefanopoulos was absent from the bench for the Cats' exhibition last week and again for the opener on Friday. Mitchell said she's been "battling some illness right now and we're trying to get a handle on that." He did not offer a timeline for her return from the undisclosed illness.

■ Forward Ivana Jakubcova has not been on the UK bench yet this season. Mitchell said during the games, the junior college transfer has been rehabbing a stress fracture in her right fibula and that she watches the games on a television inside the Joe Craft Center.

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