UK Women's Basketball

Dinged up Kentucky women’s team trying to get healthy for top 25 showdown

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.

After two straight games playing without one or more of its big three in Taylor Murray, Maci Morris and Rhyne Howard and many other players dealing with their own nagging injuries mid-season, No. 15 Kentucky got a welcome week off ahead of Thursday’s home game against No. 25 Missouri.

“It was important for us, particularly with the opponents we played, how physical and demanding the schedule had been,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said Wednesday. “The bye really came at an advantageous time, ... not only the two kids that missed the game Thursday night, but the kids that played were hurting, banged up and dealing with various issues.”

Howard, UK’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, remained questionable for Thursday after bumping her head in practice last week and entering concussion protocol.

Murray has been hobbled since a knee bruise against Tennessee and sat out last week’s win over LSU. Morris sat out the loss to Mississippi with knee pain on Jan. 13. Together they are the team’s leading scorers, each averaging double figures, but their absence has allowed others on the team to step up, evident in the way the Cats gutted out a road win over Tennessee two weeks ago and how they survived LSU last week.

“We’re always hopeful we can get them back on the court,” Mitchell said ahead of Wednesday’s practice. “Won’t know until later today or probably tomorrow.”

Led by guards Sophie Cunningham (15.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Amber Smith (13.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg), the Tigers (15-5) were ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press in preseason, but fell out of the top 25 after a few tough losses.

Missouri moved back up in the poll after upsetting then-No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville on Jan. 26., but have lost two of four since, including a 79-65 defeat at No. 19 South Carolina on Monday.

On the flip side of UK’s injury woes, the plus is that Mitchell has had to call on others to perform in key moments, like when KeKe McKinney’s three-pointer sealed last week’s victory over LSU.

“What a great opportunity we have to make sure everybody knows that we’re not a one-player team or two or even three-player team,” Mitchell said. “It takes every one of us. We had to finish that victory down at Tennessee with none of our three leading scorers on the floor. ...

“Now, you’ve had some players who’ve shown they are capable of doing things.”

Morris a future coach?

UK announced Wednesday that Morris has been selected to take part in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s So You Want To Be A Coach program, a three-day workshop to be held in Tampa April 3-5.

Morris was one of 36 NCAA Division I players selected and one of three from the Southeastern Conference. The Bell County native is a senior majoring in kinesiology. Her father, Lewis, is the boys’ head coach at Middlesboro High School.

We Back Pat

Thursday’s game is part of a slate of “We Back Pat” Southeastern Conference games to support the Pat Summitt Foundation and its work with Alzheimer’s research in honor of the late Tennessee women’s coach.

Thursday

No. 25 Missouri at No. 15 Kentucky

When: 6:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 16-3 (3-2 SEC), Missouri 15-5 (4-2)

Series: Kentucky leads 6-3

Last meeting: Missouri won 83-78 on Feb. 8, 2018, at Columbia, Mo.

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