UK Women's Basketball

In big game on big stage, freshmen give Cats spark

Kentucky Wildcats forward Maci Morris (4) scored inside on the break as Kentucky played Louisville.
Kentucky Wildcats forward Maci Morris (4) scored inside on the break as Kentucky played Louisville.

When you grow up seeing the clashing red and blue colors from a young age, the Kentucky and Louisville game just means something more to you.

It certainly did to Maci Morris, UK’s freshman guard and the state’s 2015 Miss Basketball.

“Being from Kentucky and just the in-state rivalry is a big game for me,” she said. “I knew I needed to step up and score and play my butt off on defense and not let my teammates down.”

The 72-54 victory was a little bit sweeter for Morris, though, because she made some plays in the defensive end after a long talking to in the middle of the Cats’ last game at Northern Kentucky.

“She just wasn’t guarding anyone,” Coach Matthew Mitchell recalled of Morris’ poor defensive showing against NKU. “My mom is 73 and heading in for knee replacement surgery and I don’t think she could’ve kept her in front of her that night.”

As he told Morris in practice this week, Louisville was going to go right at her to start the game. It did and she responded.

While she wasn’t perfect, Mitchell saw plenty that he liked from the freshman from Pineville.

“She’s a battler,” he said of Morris, who had eight points. “And that’s who you win with. You win with people like her.”

Morris wasn’t the only freshman that had Mitchell smiling after the 18-point victory. UK also got some solid play off the bench from point guard Taylor Murray, who had 11 points and four rebounds.

“She’s able to put pressure on the ball and be disruptive,” Mitchell said. “She just is a hustler, a battler. She’s a winner. … We’re very proud of those two freshman.”

Considering the venue and the import of the game, junior Makayla Epps said she couldn’t be more proud of the freshmen, either.

“The freshmen played out of their minds,” said Epps, who did that herself with 24 points on 10 of 11 shooting.

Walz wails away

Cardinals Coach Jeff Walz stayed in the visiting locker room for nearly an hour with his team discussing its 3-5 start and its fifth straight loss to Kentucky in the series.

He’s more than frustrated with that stat.

But his most serious beef is with the Cardinals’ lack of fire and energy.

“We’ve got to play with more passion,” Walz said. “To be honest with you, that’s probably the most frustrating thing I’m dealing with right now is I’ve never seen a group with as little fire as this group has.”

The Louisville coach called it “a little depressing” that his team doesn’t play with fire on both ends of the floor. “The only thing we get excited about right now is if we make a shot. And that’s it.”

News, notes

Forward Alyssa Rice appeared in her first game of the season after missing the first seven games with a stress reaction in her right foot. The sophomore had a rebound and a foul in four minutes.

▪ Kentucky started the season 8-0 for just the sixth time in program history. The last time the Cats started 8-0 was in the 2013-14 season.