When a head coach uses a word like “uneven” to describe a performance or says his team was a “step slow,” he has to be grateful to have seniors to pick up the slack.
That was the story for Kentucky on Sunday in a 71-49 victory over High Point in Memorial Coliseum.
The Cats did a lot of things right, like scoring 18 unanswered points midway through the first half, but they also didn’t play as well as Coach Matthew Mitchell has seen them play in their first three games of the season.
“Great learning opportunity for us to understand that we’re not going to be a very powerful team just because we walk on the court,” Mitchell said. “We really have to focus to get it done.”
Being able to contrast those high energy moments on tape versus the low energy moments likely will prove helpful as UK prepares to play against big-name opponents including No. 21 South Florida, UCLA and North Carolina this week at the Paradise Jam.
Against High Point on Sunday, UK got enough energy and effort from its seniors to carry the team through lulls. Maci Morris led the way with a season-high 22 points to go with five rebounds.
Fellow senior Taylor Murray made all five shots she attempted and added 14 points and three steals in the victory, UK’s fourth straight to open the season.
“Me and Tay have been in this situation before, so it’s our job to not just pick up the slack but get everybody on the same page,” said Morris, who made eight of her 16 attempts. “We need to do a better job of that.”
Morris and Murray were the catalysts early for Kentucky in that decisive run that flipped the game from a 7-4 Cats deficit to a 22-7 Cats advantage. Morris had eight points in that span and Murray added seven.
“Maci got off to a hot start for us and I thought Taylor played with tremendous pace in the first half, really impressive,” Mitchell said.
“It helped us to get that lead at halftime. She was relentless at pushing the ball and I thought our seniors had some great moments today and led the way on a day when were a little uneven across the board.”
When UK watches the energy tape versus the non-energy tape, they’ll see a team that was going fast, forcing turnovers and quick shots from the Panthers, who made just 21.4 percent of their shots in the first quarter and 28.3 percent for the game.
They need to up the defensive intensity in general, Morris said of UK, which forced 104 turnovers in the first three games, scoring 124 points off of those misses.
On Sunday, previously unbeaten High Point kept the miscues to 19 and allowed UK to score just 15 points off those.
“We’ve been able to create some turnovers, not because we showed up and talked about it” early this season, Mitchell said.
“We’ll have some excellent opportunities to show what it looks like when you’re a step slow and you’re not real focused.”
High Point (2-1) was paced by Emma Bockrath’s 14 points and six rebounds. Lindsey Edwards added 10 points and 11 boards.
Freshmen Blair Green and Rhyne Howard added 10 points apiece for Kentucky, which shot 44 percent from the field. KeKe McKinney added six points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Cats were playing a bit shorthanded on Sunday with starting forward Tatyana Wyatt missing the game with a nagging foot injury. The sophomore, who averaged 5.7 points and five rebounds a game in the first three games of the season, is listed as day-to-day.
Kentucky vs. No. 21 South Florida
1 p.m. Thursday in Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands