UK Women's Basketball

Transfer from LSU ready for debut for UK women

For an entire season, Crystal Riley has sat at the end of the Kentucky bench watching the coach walk past her, knowing that he'll never call her name to go into the game.

Riley was sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules after leaving Louisiana State midway through last season.

The point guard's wait ends Sunday against Louisville.

Then, when Coach Matthew Mitchell goes past her on the UK bench, there's a chance he might call her name to go in.

The thought makes the hair on her arms stand up.

"I'm going to be nervous," the 5-foot-5 sophomore said Thursday. "I have never gotten nervous before a game, but now, every time I think about it, it gives me chills."

Teammates and coaches say Riley, who has been able to practice with UK for a year now, will be a valuable commodity as a backup point guard to junior Amber Smith.

"She makes us a little bit stronger as far as being able to push the tempo both offensively and defensively," Mitchell said of Riley. "She's really, really fast with the basketball."

Rebecca Gray, who has played backup point up till now, will be glad to have Riley take over those duties, but she's glad to have her there for other reasons, too.

"Crystal's going to add a lot to our team, a lot of quickness and court sense, and she'll speed our game up even more," Gray said.

Mitchell has tried to take some of the pressure off of Riley, to get her to not do too much too quickly.

"She doesn't need to put any expectations on minutes or production or things like that," he said. "She just needs to get in and get comfortable playing again.

"Four or five games in, she's going to be a big, big asset if she's not right off the bat."

He said he isn't concerned about her coming in and messing up the chemistry for a team that has won nine straight and is averaging a Southeastern Conference best 81.7 points a game.

"These kids are really close," he said. "She's a huge part of our team."

Out of Memphis' Hillcrest High School, Riley was rated the 59th best player in the nation and the 11th-best point guard by the recruiting service

She averaged 21 points a game as a senior and once scored 42 points in a game.

It was a lack of playing time that sent Riley to UK, where she already knew two of the Cats' assistant coaches.

The guard said she isn't concerned about playing time at UK even though the team has a wealth of guards, including four who are averaging 24 or more minutes a game.

"I just hope I get in and do well," Riley said.

Gray said the team likes Riley's confidence, too.

"Both of our point guards are headstrong, and they want us to get to another level — one that UK's never seen before," Gray said. "I can't wait to see her out there and what she can do for us."

Packing the house?

As of Thursday morning, Kentucky has sold 6,500 tickets for its annual "Pack the House" game against Louisville on Sunday afternoon.

Because of renovations at Memorial Coliseum over the years that have cost the venue seating capacity, UK will never top the 10,622 fans who saw the Cats play Old Dominion in 1983.

But UK, which is going for its program-best 10th straight win to start a season Sunday, has a legitimate shot to take the No. 2 spot, which is 8,429 against Tennessee in 2004.

Never too soon

The bracketeering for March already has started over at ESPN. With UK's 9-0 start so far, ESPN guru Charlie Creme has the Cats as a No. 9 seed playing Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

As of Wednesday, has UK as No. 27 in the nation with a strength of schedule of 143, the worst of any team in the top 30.

The schedule strengths of the other Southeastern Conference teams so far are (in order): Tennessee (No. 2); South Carolina (8); Auburn (13); Georgia (22); Florida (90); Mississippi State (114); Arkansas (132); Vanderbilt (170); Louisiana State (205); Mississippi (228); and Alabama (250).

As a point of reference, Louisville's strength of schedule is rated at 207.