UK Women's Basketball

UK’s Murray finds her way back from intersection of ‘disappointment and discouragement’

Kentucky guard Taylor Murray (24) rebounds the ball past Alabama Crimson Tide guard Shaquera Wade (23) during their game at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2017. Kentucky beat Alabama 79-54.
Kentucky guard Taylor Murray (24) rebounds the ball past Alabama Crimson Tide guard Shaquera Wade (23) during their game at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2017. Kentucky beat Alabama 79-54. aslitz@herald-leader.com

They’re all metaphorical of course, but none of the places that Taylor Murray has been the past month or so sound like vacation destinations.

“She lived in a place of disappointment and discouragement for some time,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said this week of his junior point guard.

“I was in a hole,” Murray clarified on Friday.

Wherever it was or however one wants to describe it, Murray has been on a journey to get back from there.

While in that hole, there was a recent seven-game stretch — all Kentucky losses — when the junior didn’t score in double figures. There were missed layups and slumping shoulders.

Against Georgia, the guard scored no points for the first time this season, missing all six shots she attempted. During that seven-game span, capped by the loss to the Bulldogs, Murray made just 26.9 percent of her shots.

“I don’t think I was relaxed and I was just trying to be so perfect,” Murray said.

“I was trying to find myself and my place in a lot of the stuff we were doing. I was just thinking so much about how I was supposed to play instead of going out and playing.”

Maci Morris was asked about her slumping friend and teammate and she replied simply that it was something Murray was going to have to work through.

Mitchell said something similar. Noting Murray’s living arrangement at the corner of “disappointment and discouragement,” the head coach added: “You can’t live there. You’ve got to pull yourself out of it.”

Murray seems to have done that.

She will try to lead Kentucky (10-11, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) to a second straight league win at Arkansas (11-10, 2-5) on Monday night.

Against Alabama on Thursday, she looked like her former self again, leading Kentucky fastbreaks with a smile and a full head of steam.

“She was outstanding,” Alabama Coach Kristy Curry said of Murray, said of the guard, who had 20 points and 10 assists in the Cats’ 25-point win over the Tide.

Curry knew all she needed to know about Murray when she walked on the Memorial Coliseum court long before fans were in the stands and the band was warming up.

“We first pull up and she’s already out there on the floor,” Curry said of Murray, who only had one turnover. “That’s pretty special and says a lot about her.”

Since Murray started clawing her way out of that self-described hole four games ago, she has averaged 19.7 points per game.

“I decided it was time to get out of that and just come back to myself,” Murray said. “The past couple of games, I haven’t been thinking as much, I’ve just been going out there playing.”

Much of that playing and not thinking has come courtesy of short video clips slipped to her by assistant coach Lin Dunn. The clips showed Murray before her slump: fearless and aggressive.

Some of the progress has been courtesy of an attitude adjustment, but some of it has meant being willing to change the way she plays, too.

One opposing coach, Louisville’s Jeff Walz, noted that Morris and Murray are both dynamic players who can take a game over, but he also mentioned a tendency that has allowed foes to slow them down this season, too.

“We knew that they loved to drive right,” Walz said of the scouting report.

Murray can go left, but she admitted that she tends to shoot layups right-handed even on the left side, which has meant many more blocked and altered shots this year.

So she got to work, adding that she wanted “to show them I can go both ways on film.”

The guard gave opponents an eyeful on Thursday versus Alabama.

“She really made plays with her left hand tonight,” Mitchell noted. “What I’ve tried to tell her is actually now you can really go make some plays because everybody is trying to scheme you and keep you from going right. She made some great plays tonight.

“I’m really proud of her resilience and being a big enough person to admit she needed to change her attitude and she has. You’ve seen some good play from her recently. We need it desperately.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Monday

Kentucky at Arkansas

When: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Arkansas 11-10 (2-5 SEC), Kentucky 10-11 (2-5)

Series: Kentucky leads 21-13

Last meeting: Kentucky won 69-62 in Fayetteville last season.

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