UK Women's Basketball

One slight adjustment has changed things for Kentucky’s ‘very stubborn’ point guard.

Kentucky women’s basketball team in action at preseason practice

The University of Kentucky women's basketball team practiced in the Joe Craft Center after Media Day activities on Oct. 23, 2018.
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The University of Kentucky women's basketball team practiced in the Joe Craft Center after Media Day activities on Oct. 23, 2018.

The stat lines clearly show that Taylor Murray is playing the best basketball of her career at Kentucky.

The senior is third on the team in scoring at 15.3 points a game. She’s making 55.6 percent of her shots, up some 12.4 percent from a season ago.

As point guards are apt to do, she leads the Cats in assists (4.6 per game) and steals (3.6) while also bringing in 3.6 rebounds a game.

“She’s playing completely different,” fellow senior guard Maci Morris said. “Her confidence is through the roof right now. She’s more aggressive. She’s looking to score. She’s not turning the ball over. She’s making everybody better on the floor. She’s great defensively.”

But the stats can’t tell how she got from a low place — about this time a year ago when Kentucky was playing a brutal schedule with a young team — to now with the Cats ranked No. 19 nationally and unbeaten at 8-0.

“It’s just the little things that happen each and every day that points to how she is trying her best to be the very best version of Taylor Murray,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said recently after Murray piloted UK to three wins in three days at a tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A year ago around this time facing Miami (Fla.), Murray was frustrated that teams were being physical with her and fouls weren’t being called.

Opponents had scouted her well. They knew one of the fastest players in the Southeastern Conference could be slowed with a lot of bumps and forcing her to use her left hand.

“Teams really try to wall her up and force her left and she’s playing with both hands now,” Mitchell said of Murray, who is No. 12 in the conference in scoring, sixth in field goal percentage and fourth in assists so far.

Getting Murray to focus on becoming fluid and fluent with her left hand was not easy an easy task. The guard spent an entire offseason trying to get better.

“Just to grow my game that was one thing that I needed to add,” she said. “Point guards need to be able to go both ways. It’s not like I couldn’t go left, it’s just that I didn’t want to go left.

“I’m dominant right, but teams scout you, and in order to make plays for my teammates I needed to go both ways.”

For the past three years, coaches have been on Murray constantly about how much more dominant she could be if she would just focus on using her left hand more.

“She’s a very stubborn person,” Morris laughed.

So when Murray would do something in drills or practice with her off hand, teammates and coaches heaped praise on her, tried to encourage her to keep up the hard work she was doing behind the scenes and get over the mental hurdle.

“Once she realized she can go left and she can finish left, it makes it more hard to guard her and stop her when she’s able to use both hands,” Morris continued. “She’s realized that being able to do that is going to open so many doors for her.”

Learning a new skill, working hard at it and seeing it pay off didn’t just grow Murray’s game, it grew her confidence, which makes Kentucky look like a different team.

“You can’t manufacture confidence,” Mitchell said. “Confidence has got to come from something that’s real and the only way you can gain confidence is to achieve something. I can’t go in and tell them to be confident. She’s earned it.”

Rhode Island at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Memorial Coliseum

TV: SEC Network-Plus