Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament last year. How Matthew Mitchell plans to keep that from happening again.
How No. 19 Kentucky (9-0) and No. 5 Louisville (9-0) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard has been one of women’s college basketball’s elite freshman performers so far this season. The 6-foot-2 product of Cleveland, Tenn., leads UK in scoring (18.2 points per game), rebounding (6.9 per game) and blocked shots (12). It will be interesting to see how U of L Coach Jeff Walz — who coached Howard this summer on USA Basketball’s Under-18 National Team — defends the UK standout.
▪ Louisville junior Jazmine Jones (7.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) has made 26 of 40 field-goal tries this season. In U of L’s 87-63 beatdown of UK a season ago, the 6-foot Tallahassee, Fla., product got in foul trouble and went scoreless in 16 minutes. Two years ago, however, when Louisville rallied for a 69-67 overtime victory over the Wildcats, Jones hurt Kentucky with seven points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
▪ Kentucky’s KeKe McKinney is a big part of UK’s pressure defense. The 6-1 sophomore from Knoxville is second on the Wildcats in rebounding (5.1 rpg) and blocked shots (10) and third in steals (14). She has yet to get untracked offensively, though, averaging 4.0 points on 31.5 percent shooting. McKinney had three points and one rebound in eight minutes vs. U of L last season.
▪ Louisville’s Bionca Dunham, a 6-2 junior from Philadelphia, has the unenviable task of replacing graduated Cardinals stalwart Myisha Hines-Allen (the sister of UK football star Josh Allen). Dunham has so far played well, averaging 9.6 ppg and 3.6 rpg and making 64.9 percent (37 of 57) of her shots. A season ago, Dunham had two points, two boards and four fouls in three minutes vs. UK.
▪ Kentucky’s Tatyana Wyatt (4.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) is also in an offensive funk to open her sophomore season. The 6-2 Columbus, Ga., product has made only 11 of 45 field goals, one of five treys and nine of 17 free throws. As a freshman, Wyatt played a strong game (10 points in 19 minutes) against U of L.
▪ Louisville’s Sam Fuehring has had to adjust to drawing the opposing team’s best post defender now that Myisha Hines-Allen is in the WNBA. A 6-3 senior, Fuehring is the Cardinals’ second-leading scorer (10.8) and leading rebounder (6.4). The Wanaque, N.J., product had a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) against UK in 2017-18.
▪ Kentucky’s Maci Morris (17.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) struggled with her shot (12 of 44 field goals) during UK’s three victories in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands during Thanksgiving week. However, the 6-foot senior from Pineville has been dialed-in since returning to the continental United States. Morris has hit a combined 21 of 40 field-goal tries while scoring 31 points (Morehead State) and 29 (Rhode Island). In three prior contests against U of L, Morris has made 12 of 29 shots and averaged 11.3 points.
▪ Louisville’s Asia Durr (21.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 42.9 percent three-point shooting) is a National Player of the Year candidate. The 5-10 senior from Douglasville, Ga., dropped 32 points (six of 11 treys) on UK a season ago. For her career, Durr has made 11 of 22 three-point shots vs. Kentucky and averaged 18 points in three meetings with the Cats.
▪ Kentucky’s Taylor Murray is the biggest beneficiary of UK Coach Matthew Mitchell’s re-installation of a full-court pressing style of play. The ball-hawking 5-6 senior from Odenton, Md., is averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 steals and 3.3 rebounds. Murray has a history of playing well against Louisville. In three prior games against the Cards, she has averaged 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
▪ Louisville’s Arica Carter is off to a strong start to her senior season. The Los Angeles product is averaging 9.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and making 47.4 percent (18 of 38) of her three-point tries. Carter had 11 points and eight assists in last season’s U of L win in Lexington.
▪ Kentucky guard Jaida Roper (8.4 ppg, 20 assists vs. 9 turnovers) has emerged as UK’s top sub as a junior. Amanda Paschal (4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 21 assists), another junior guard, brings energy and toughness. After a strong start to her freshman season, ex-Harlan County star Blair Green (6.3 ppg, 2 rpg) has hit an offensive drought, having made six of 25 field goals over the past four games. Junior post Ogechi Anyagaligbo (2.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg) has missed three games due to injury.
▪ Louisville sophomore guard Dana Evans (9.4 ppg, team-high 43 assists) is a starter-caliber player who has accepted the role of energizer off the Cardinals’ bench. Kylee Shook (8.4 pg, 5.9 rpg), a 6-4 junior, blocked eight shots against Tennessee State. She is expected back after missing U of L’s win over UT-Martin with knee pain. With Pittsburgh graduate transfer Yacine Diop (6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) lost for the season due to a torn ACL, ex-Ashland High School star Mykasa Robinson (2.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is being used some at the 4 position even though she is only 5-7.
Intangibles and history
Matthew Mitchell and Jeff Walz were each hired before the 2007-08 season. Since then, UK holds a 6-5 advantage in the head-to-head against U of L. However, after the Wildcats won five in a row from 2011-12 through 2015-16, the Cardinals have won the past two.
Louisville 72, Kentucky 63.
Mark Story (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory