The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will spend Thanksgiving week enjoying the sun, sand and surf in the Caribbean.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-80s on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but the Wildcats won’t have to hit the beach to feel the heat.
Kentucky will play three games in three days beginning on Thursday at the Paradise Jam, and UK can expect a significant step up in class from what it has encountered during its 4-0 start to the 2018-19 season.
“Our work is cut out for us to go down there and we’ll get a chance to really play some top-level competition,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said in a UK news release. “It’ll be a challenging stretch for us.”
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Kentucky opens with South Florida on Thursday. The Bulls (4-0) are ranked No. 17 in this week’s Associated Press poll. The Cats face UCLA (3-1) on Friday and North Carolina (3-1) on Saturday. UCLA’s victories include an upset of then-No. 14 Georgia. UK is 0-5 all-time against North Carolina.
All three games are 1 p.m. EST tip-offs. The round-robin tournament is not televised, but live video broadcasts of all the games are available by subscription on FloHoops.com. A subscription costs $29.99 for one month or $150 for one year. All three radio broadcasts will be available on the UK Sports Network (WLAP-AM 630 or WBUL-FM 98.5 in Lexington).
“It’s a real treat for our team, our fans and our family who are traveling down with us,” Mitchell said. “It’s an outstanding tournament. It will be very challenging for our basketball team — three consecutive days of play, three high-level, top opponents.”
In victories over Alabama State, Southern, Virginia and High Point, defense has been Kentucky’s calling card. UK has limited four consecutive opponents to less than 51 points for the first time in the Matthew Mitchell era. UK ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and seventh nationally at 44 points per game. UK also ranks first nationally in turnover margin at plus-18.5 and fourth nationally in turnovers forced per game (30.7).
Freshman Rhyne Howard leads Kentucky in scoring at 16.3 points per game and also averages 5.8 rebounds. She has made a team-best 13 three-point baskets. Seniors Maci Morris (13.5) and Taylor Murray (13.3) are also scoring in double figures.
“This is a great opportunity for the players to find out some toughness about themselves where if you let that psych you out and you approach it the wrong way, it can kind of weigh you down,” Mitchell said of playing three games in three days. “Or if you approach it that we’ve really worked so hard on our conditioning that we need to embrace this opportunity and make sure that that shows up and counts for something. And on that third day, we want to be stronger than our opponent because of our conditioning. So, this will just be so many opportunities to learn.”
▪ 2016 McDonald’s All-American Lindsey Corsaro, who signed with Kentucky out of high school but requested and received a release from her letter of intent, is playing her third season at UCLA but is considered a redshirt freshman. She was limited to six games in 2016-17 and two games in 2017-18 because of injuries and received a medical hardship season from the NCAA. The 6-foot-1 guard is averaging 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in a team-high 36 minutes per game this season.
▪ Eight of the 13 players on South Florida’s roster are foreign. The Bulls have players from Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Latvia and Spain.
▪ North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, is one of only six women’s basketball coaches with 1,000 or more career victories. She is in her 33rd season at UNC.
Kentucky vs. No. 17 South Florida
What: Paradise Jam
Where: St Thomas, Virgin Islands
Records: Kentucky 4-0, South Florida 4-0
Live stream: FloHoops.com (subscription required)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.5