UK Women's Basketball

Maci Morris ‘much more than a shooter,’ Mitchell says

Kentucky’s Maci Morris (4) dribbled around South Carolina’s Khadijah Sessions (5) during the second half in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 4.
Kentucky’s Maci Morris (4) dribbled around South Carolina’s Khadijah Sessions (5) during the second half in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 4. The State (Columbia, S.C.)

It becomes a bit of a “who me?” moment for Maci Morris every time she gets the ball in the corner and hears opposing benches yell out “shooter.”

The Kentucky freshman has never thought of herself as a pure shooter waiting meekly on the perimeter for others to create her shot.

“I’ve always penetrated more than I’ve shot,” Morris said.

Her dad, the boys’ basketball coach at Bell County, scoffed at the notion of Maci being just an outside threat.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Lewis Morris said. “She never was a shooter. Her most effective thing was driving.”

In her five seasons as a starter at Bell County, Morris didn’t take a ton of three-pointers. She was known more as a slasher who could penetrate and get a shot from close range, or a passer who could create a better shot for a teammate.

So Lewis was a little perplexed when Morris spent much of her time roaming the three-point line the first few games of the season at Kentucky.

“She was just standing out there, she wasn’t really driving and stuff. I was like, ‘Gosh dang, that’s not what she’s all about,’” Lewis Morris recalled.

The good news is it’s not just her dad who knows that. It’s her Kentucky coach, too.

“I knew we were getting much more than a shooter,” Matthew Mitchell said of the 6-foot guard.

On Thursday night at No. 14 Mississippi State, the coach challenged Morris to show it.

“I told her, ‘Drive the ball tonight,’” said Mitchell, who ordered up at least six points in the paint against the Bulldogs. “People underestimate her and think she’s just a shooter and she’s a really good basketball player.”

Morris got more than the requisite six points in the paint in the win over the Bulldogs, matching her career best with 17 points.

“We were trying to get her mindset on trying to get into the paint because we thought she could drive (on) those players at Mississippi State,” said Mitchell, whose No. 16-ranked team will face Arkansas (11-15, 6-7) at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. “She did a fantastic job of that.”

Morris, who has started every game of her Kentucky career so far, has needed to be an outside scoring threat at times this season. She’s second on the team in three-pointers with 34, hitting 37.8 percent from long range.

Kentucky’s coaches are hopeful she can continue that perimeter shooting while also going back to the driving that helped her score 3,368 points at Bell County, sixth most in state history.

“She is a heck of a basketball player that is only going to get better because her mind is strong and her work ethic is strong,” Mitchell said of the 2015 Kentucky Miss Basketball. “She is going to get more explosive and faster and stronger.”

Morris’ dad did what he could to prepare her for life in the Southeastern Conference. When Maci was in middle school, Lewis Morris encouraged her to go through workouts with his boys’ teams.

“When we did individual stuff, even playing pickup ball with them, just to go against that strength to get bumped when driving it and all of that stuff,” Lewis said. “It’s a lot different than playing against little high school girls.”

It gave her an edge. “You definitely had to be tough,” Maci said of playing against the boys.

She showed that edge in a close high school game where she got flipped up and over an opposing player and landed on her chin. Lewis applied some bandages and Maci went back on the floor.

The 10 stitches would have to wait until after the game.

“She’s tough,” Lewis said. “She don’t look like she’s real strong or nothing, but she can hold her own.”

Lewis said he never worried about his daughter getting hurt in a game, not even when playing against boys.

“Nah,” he said with a laugh. “Her mommy’s tough, too.”

And with the guard’s slight frame, she needed to learn to play through contact.

“If you’re skinny, you’ve got to develop toughness about you and play a little stronger than you probably really are,” he continued. “I think it’s a mindset much of the time.”

Morris seems to be finding that other part of her game at the right time for Kentucky (18-6, 7-6), scoring in double figures in four of the last five games.

She’s ready to show opposing teams that she’s much more than just a “shooter.”

“I’ve always had people say ‘She can’t do this’ or ‘She can’t do that,’” Morris said a few weeks ago. “And I always want to prove them wrong.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Sunday

Arkansas at No. 16 Kentucky

When: 3 p.m.

Records: Arkansas 11-15 (6-7 SEC); UK 18-6 (7-6)

Series: UK leads 19-13

Last meeting: UK won 56-51 last season in Fayetteville, Ark.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

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