UK Women's Basketball

UK women aim to be straight shooters

Matthew Mitchell doesn't try to sugar coat it in his syrupy-sweet, Southern drawl.

"It's been terrible, just terrible," the Kentucky coach said of his team's three-point shooting the past couple of seasons.

In the past three seasons (two of them under Mitchell) the Kentucky women haven't shot better than 29.6 percent from three-point range.

With just one true post player in Victoria Dunlap, the Cats often will be moving to a four-guard lineup, and they will have to find a way to be better from long range.

Kentucky's media notes brag that the program has hit a three-pointer in 184 consecutive games dating to 2003, but that statistic was in jeopardy last season.

Twice last year the Cats made just one three-pointer in a game and in 22 of their 32 games, they made five three-pointers or fewer.

"It wouldn't be very difficult to shoot it better" than the team did last year, Mitchell said. "People haven't had to be real creative guarding us. They leave you open and you don't make the shots."

He doesn't think that will be a problem this season, which starts Friday morning against Boston University.

Help is on the way in the form of transfers like Keyla Snowden and Rebecca Gray as well as freshmen like Adia Mathies.

"My assists are definitely going to go up," point guard Amber Smith said. "We have some shooters. I can pass to either wing and have the confidence that they're going to knock it down."

In practice this pre-season, there have been days when UK has shot 40 percent or better from the three-point line, Mitchell said.

Snowden, who came back to Lexington from Akron, was one of the nation's most prolific three-point shooters there. She broke the Zips' record for most three-pointers in a season with 91.

Snowden made just 33 fewer three-pointers that season than Kentucky's entire team.

"Keyla Snowden actually does shoot three-pointers like people shoot free throws," said assistant coach Kyra Elzy, who helps coach UK's guards.

Mitchell concurred.

"When she misses, I'm kind of surprised," Mitchell said. "She's a really, really good shooter. Rebecca Gray is that kind of player, too."

Having pure shooters on the team has helped UK's other three-point shooters like Smith, Carly Morrow and Amani Franklin get better, too, the coaches said.

There is more competition for playing time, which has made the gym a popular place.

"The other night I was here at 11 at night and down in the gym was Carly Morrow," Elzy said.

"We've said to them, 'Figure it out, there's only going to be three of you on the perimeter and there's 40 minutes in one game.' "

Morrow said she's disgusted that UK was ranked 216th out of 252 teams in three-point shooting percentage last season.

She's well aware that Kentucky has been near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting since she arrived on campus two seasons ago.

"I take that personally," the junior guard said. "I do. All you can do is stay in the gym and keep shooting. We'll make the shots this year when we need to make shots."

She said adding players like Snowden, Gray and Mathies has helped relieve some of the pressure.

It helps Mitchell sleep better at night, too, knowing that there's more than one or two options for scoring.

"We've more than doubled the amount of kids we had confidence in to shoot those shots from last year," Mitchell said. "Last year, it was like every time you shot it, you were thinking, 'Man, this needs to go in and if I'm not making it, we're sort of sunk.'

"It makes those other players a little more relaxed."

Mitchell and company stopped short of likening this team to Pitino's Bombinos, but they say UK definitely has more options.

"When you have pure shooters, it makes the offense look a lot better," Elzy said. "Our offense is much more settled. It doesn't look so pressing, like every shot has to be a make."

Notes

With a start time of 11 a.m., Kentucky and Boston will have the distinction of playing the first women's basketball game of the season.

Instead of conflicting with the men's opener versus Morehead State that night, the women opted to play an extra-early game so fans could come for extended lunch breaks and area schools could plan field trips, spokeswoman Susan Lax said.

Parking will be at a premium, though, with class in session. UK is directing fans to park at the structure on South Limestone for free and ride a shuttle. For more parking information, go to www.ukathletics.com.

Lydia Watkins is listed as doubtful for the game because of the shoulder injury she sustained in the exhibition win over Bellarmine. X-rays were negative, but she did not practice this week.

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