UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky has momentum, confidence. How long can Cats keep good times rolling?

Matthew Mitchell on Rhyne Howard: ‘She has a whole lot of talent’

Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell answers a question about how freshman Rhyne Howard will acclimate to the college atmosphere at University of Kentucky.
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Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell answers a question about how freshman Rhyne Howard will acclimate to the college atmosphere at University of Kentucky.

Things were a bit upside down last season for the Kentucky women.

After nearly a decade of being a regular top-25 program and making it to the NCAA Tournament under Matthew Mitchell, the Cats struggled with inexperience and limited depth.

There was an eight-game losing streak where we “got on a negative roll,” the head coach said. “Some of those games we were good enough to win, but your confidence is so low.”

Things are looking a bit more right-side up for the Cats now.

They are unbeaten, off to a 7-0 start after three straight days of play in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and UK is ranked No. 25 in the latest polls for the first time since this time a year ago.

On Tuesday, guard Taylor Murray was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and swing player Rhyne Howard was named the league’s Freshman of the Week, the first sweep of awards for the Cats since 2011.

Kentucky is finally feeling good about itself again.

“Like the old saying goes: Confidence is key,” senior guard Maci Morris said Tuesday as Kentucky prepared to meet Morehead State on Wednesday at noon.

“Having everybody on the team with confidence. … Knowing we have players with high confidence levels just helps our team.”

But high confidence, a little momentum and a shiny, new national ranking don’t mean much if UK can’t keep it going.

“I actually texted the team last night and told them that rankings don’t mean anything right now, but just congratulated them on being in the top 25 because we did go through that spell last year,” said Morris, one of three Cats in double-figure scoring at 13.9 points a game.

Howard leads the team with averages of 18.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game followed by Murray’s 15.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.4 steals.

Morris said: “We’re just going to continue to build, stick together, play for each other and try to continue to get win by win.”

Kentucky will have a big test on little rest with an afternoon game in Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday.

“I’m not concerned about a letdown as much as I am just where we are after the grueling tournament,” Mitchell said of UK, which has won 13 straight over the Eagles. “It’s a really, really tough tournament. There’s a price to be paid for that.”

The Eagles (6-1) are on quite the roll of their own, averaging 94.7 points a game, third best in the country. They are hitting 51.8 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from long range.

Morehead State, which is coached by former Lexington Catholic coach Greg Todd, is outscoring opponents by 30 points a game, forcing foes into an average of 26.7 turnovers each time out.

“You need energy against that team,” Mitchell said of Morehead State. “So if you’re concerned about anything, it’s the toll of traveling and three games in three days, and coming back and trying to get back into classes. It’s part of what we’re doing, but that’s what I’m concerned about.”

But if the head coach learned anything about his team last week in those three games, first in a victory over then-No. 17 South Florida, then an overtime win over UCLA, followed by a comeback win over North Carolina, it’s that Kentucky has moxie.

“They played their guts out, played really, really hard,” Mitchell said of last week’s tournament victory. “We’re not the most talented team around, but they are an outstanding group of people and they want to win and want to play hard.”

One of the more difficult components of playing in the Paradise Jam last week with three games in three days was UK’s injury situation. Four UK starters averaged 28 or more minutes — three averaged 31 minutes or more — over those games.

The Cats will be without Ogechi Anyagaligbo on Wednesday as she battles a high-ankle sprain. “Everyone else right now looks like they’re a go,” Mitchell said, including Tatyana Wyatt, who suffered a bruised tail bone and missed time in the Virgin Islands.


Morehead State at No. 25 Kentucky

When: Noon

TV: None

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Live stream: SEC Network Plus (online only)