Kentucky Women’s Basketball defeated Boston College on Thursday, 83-81, to snap their five-game losing streak. Back and forth from start to finish, Thursday’s game had one crucial component: the “Baltimore Connection.”
The now referred to “Baltimore Connection” was created for the likes of Ajae Petty and Eniya Russell, for an obvious reason — they’re both from Baltimore, Maryland who transferred into Kentucky during the same offseason. In fact, Petty and Russell knew each other long before they were teammates at UK.
So, before getting into exactly how the Baltimore Connection changed Thursday’s game, there’s some much-needed background about the Petty-Russell duo to break down.
Ajae Petty and Eniya Russell: A history lesson
Petty and Russell met in middle school (keep in mind, they’re both college seniors now) while playing on their school’s basketball team. As fate would have it, the pair parted ways in high school. Petty went to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, while Russell was a student at Saint Vincent Pallotti. The schools were less than 30 miles away from each other, but Petty and Russell wouldn’t reunite until last year.
After high school, Petty made her way to LSU. Russell started off at South Carolina. Both athletes played two seasons for their former schools. Russell even helped the Gamecocks secure the 2022 NCAA National Championship (while also losing in the SEC Championship team to UK several weeks prior). Despite that, Petty and Russell both needed a change. The pair entered the transfer portal and found themselves in Kentucky.
Fast forward a year and a half later to the present. Ajae Petty and Eniya Russell are both making significant impacts on the court for the Lady Cats. But during Thursday night’s game against Boston College, something really clicked.
“My Baltimore Connection was connecting tonight,” Head Coach Kyra Elzy said in a press conference following the ‘Cats victory. The statement referred to the play that won the Wildcats the game: a last-second layup by Russell to give the ‘Cats a two-point lead. “Petty told her [Russell] ‘Put it up, and if you miss it, I’m gonna get the offensive rebound,'” Elzy said.
“They’ve grown up together,” Elzy continued. “They have a great feel for each other and playing with each other.” Coach Elzy mentioned the Baltimore Connection, which made it all the more fitting for Petty and Russell to walk into the room once Elzy was finished speaking.
“When I see Eniya driving, I know if she’s going up, she’s going to make it, if not, I’m going to grab it,” Petty said. “Most of the time she’s looking for me to dump it off.
“I remember one play where she was going and I just was standing there with my hands ready, because I’m like ‘She’s going to pass me the ball,'” Petty continued. “When we first started playing together, I couldn’t catch her passes — it was so crazy, but it’s just knowing. You know when you play with someone for such a long time, you know their tendencies and you just know what they’re going to do.”
Russell laughed as Petty talked, their chemistry obvious both on and off the court. Even though the final play was the crowning glory of Thursday’s game, the Baltimore Connection was clear for 40 minutes.
Petty finished Thursday’s matchup with 17 points (8-12) and eight rebounds, just two shy of marking her third double-double of the season. The forward also added a block. Although Petty got into foul trouble early in the game, she cleaned it up toward the end.
Russell led her team in scoring with a career-high 21 points (7-13). The guard also added four rebounds and four assists. Russell had two steals, one of which was a crucial moment in the fourth quarter when the Eagles had a chance to take the lead for good.
Finally, the game was tied 81-81 with less than 10 seconds to go. Coach Elzy designed an inbounds play specifically for Eniya Russell. The backup plan if Russell missed her layup? Ajae Petty. Luckily for Russell, the ball went in the basket and marked Kentucky’s first win since Nov. 11.