Just how fast is Taylor Murray?
“She could fall down, get back up and still beat me,” Makenzie Cann said she jokes regularly to the Kentucky point guard in practice. “Taylor is very fast. It’s definitely a great gift she has and a great asset for the team.”
The junior guard’s 22 points helped the Cats speed past Sacramento State 101-70 in Memorial Coliseum on Friday night, UK’s ninth straight season-opening victory.
Coach Matthew Mitchell has coached his share of speedsters at Kentucky, but he had to borrow a player from men’s basketball lore to describe Murray’s straight-line speed with the ball in her hands.
“The only person I remember visually seeing here at Kentucky, it was John Wall,” Mitchell said of the guard, now an All-Star for the Washington Wizards.
“John Wall just had that burst of speed that you’re like, ‘Wow, how’s he going that fast?’ And that’s kind of where Taylor … when she gets going, it’s hard for anyone to keep her in front.”
That was the case on Friday night when Murray scored 11 of her 22 points in the decisive second quarter, including scoring the Cats’ final nine points going into the halftime break up 56-42.
“She’s ridiculous,” Hornets Coach and Berea native Bunky Harkleroad said after. “She’s an outstanding player. I told her when we were shaking hands that she’s a handful.”
Early on, Sacramento State was a handful for Kentucky (1-0), scoring seven unanswered to pull within two points 37-35 with 7:27 to go in the second quarter.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Cann helped extend UK’s lead again and start what would be a 21-7 run to end the first half. The senior swing player had 15 of her 17 points before the break.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to last Sunday” in the exhibition, said Cann, who also added six rebounds. “It was definitely a focus of mine this week just to be more — to have a bigger role than last year — that’s something that’s been on my mind to get in the gym and get extra shots up.”
At the half, there was lots of talk about settling in and playing good defense. Then Kentucky was able to use a luxury it didn’t have last season (depth) to continue to pull away from the Hornets (0-1).
In all, the Cats had six different players score nine points or more in the victory and 10 of their 12 players score.
On a team loaded with newcomers, the veterans led the way with Maci Morris adding 12 points and four rebounds. Jaida Roper pitched in nine point and three assists.
Not to be outdone, several of the new players made their mark.
Highlights included forward Dorie Harrison’s 10 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Tatyana Wyatt chipped in 13 points for Kentucky, which shot 50 from the field and held the Hornets to 36 percent shooting.
Perhaps more importantly, the Cats held Sacramento State to 25 three-point attempts (and five makes). That was a key against the Hornets, who have led the nation in three-pointers made per game for each of the past four seasons.
The goal coming into the game was to hold the visiting team to 28 three-point tries.
“You didn’t want that team hanging around,” Mitchell said of Sacramento State, which was led by 19 points and five rebounds from Hannah Friend. “They were explosive.”
Maranne Johnson added 13 points and a game-high tying nine rebounds for the Hornets, who tied UK in rebounding 42-42.
This game was a good tuneup for a tough road schedule to come Harkleroad’s team, which has upcoming games against high-level teams like No. 13 West Virginia and Arizona State and Miami, Fla., who both received votes in the preseason poll like UK did.
Harkleroad said: “Tonight’s the best thing we could’ve done to take our first step toward a conference championship is to come to environment like this and play.”
News and notes
The Sacramento State coach, who was born in Berea and spent a good portion of his coaching career at the college, got a loud ovation at Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.
He saluted his own personal cheering section.
“Very happy to see those guys,” he said. “Just so many people rooting for us tonight have allowed me to have an opportunity to coach basketball. A lot of people out there who root for these young ladies from across the country despite the time difference.”
▪ Kentucky was without Stony Brook transfer Ogechi Anyagaligbo, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the exhibition game on Sunday. She had a brace on her left leg. … Walk-on guard Paige Poffenberger also had to sit out while making her way through the concussion protocol after taking an elbow to the head in practice.
▪ UK assistant coach Kyra Elzy was not on the bench for the game. She was dealing with a family issue, a team spokesman told the Herald-Leader.
Gardner-Webb at Kentucky
2 p.m. Sunday