The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team played 10 seasons under head coach Matthew Mitchell without ever suffering a losing record. Then came last season’s crash-and-burn.
The Wildcats finished 15-17 overall and 6-10 in the Southeastern Conference and missed out on the postseason for the first time since before Mitchell’s arrival in 2007.
The head coach has taken several steps this off-season toward restoring order at Memorial Coliseum.
The team plans a return to the up-tempo, aggressive playing style that made the Wildcats a fixture in the Top 25.
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The Cats added a couple of potentially difference-making freshmen in Rhyne Howard and Blair Green.
And UK got an early jump on its rebuild during a three-game exhibition trip to Italy in August.
On Wednesday night, Kentucky fans get their first look at the revamped Wildcats in a game that matters when UK opens its 2018-19 season against Alabama State in Memorial Coliseum.
The 7 p.m. contest is the first of four home games to open the season before Kentucky travels to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam during Thanksgiving week.
After hosting Alabama State, the Cats’ visitors include Southern (Nov. 11), Virginia (Nov. 15) and High Point (Nov. 18).
Is a fast start to the season critical? It never hurts, but it can also be fool’s gold, as evidenced by last year’s 6-0 start.
Mitchell will be looking for substance in the early going. Is the defense setting the tone and the tempo? Have last year’s freshmen matured, and are this year’s embracing their roles? Does the half-court offense click when the fast break fizzles?
Alabama State is the first to put Kentucky to the test.
The Hornets, from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, have also undergone an off-season makeover after finishing 8-22 last season. Ten freshmen populate Alabama State’s 15-player roster.
Both Kentucky and Alabama State were led by freshmen in their preseason exhibition games.
Green scored 17 and Howard 15 in UK’s 101-64 win over Lincoln Memorial.
Ayana Emmanuel, Jayla Crawford and Taylor Aikerson topped Alabama State with 26, 21 and 18 points, respectively, in the Hornets’ 81-56 win over West Georgia.
Alabama State at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Live video broadcast: SEC Network Plus (online only)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630