Four Takeaways from UK Hoops Exhibition Win
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Four Takeaways from UK Hoops Exhibition Win

Zack Geogheganabout 2 years

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Article written by:Zack GeogheganZack Geoghegan

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[caption id="attachment_270679" align="aligncenter" width="600"] (Chet White | UK Athletics)[/caption] The Kentucky women's basketball team finally has that first game out of the way and there was a lot to take away from the 80-44 win over Southern Indiana. So let's jump into it.

Rhyne Howard's beautiful second-half

In the first 20 minutes of the Wildcats lone exhibition game, sophomore guard Rhyne Howard came out of the gates ice cold. She scored only three points in the first half on 1-3 shooting and didn't look all that eager to attack the basket. That quickly changed once the third quarter kicked off. Howard poured in four triples in that frame and finished the game with 20 points while shooting 5-7 from deep. It was the back half of this game that displayed just how special Howard is. She played at her pace and decimated the USI zone with a barrage of outside shots. If she had an inch of space, she was looking to make a play. “My teammates came to me and said keep shooting and keep attacking inside," Howard said about her second-half effort. "So, I was really just doing it for them.” She showed everyone in those final 20 minutes exactly why she's been hyped up as one of the top players in the country this year.

Two impressive debuts

Freshman Emma King and senior transfer Sabrina Haines showed out in their debuts at Memorial Coliseum. King buried four three-pointers on six attempts and looked as confident shooting the ball as her coach could ask of her. While she struggled at times working within the half-court offense, it's going to be a process for the Kentucky native. If she can continue to shoot the ball at the rate she did on Wednesday, she'll find more than enough minutes in the early season rotation. "That’s really good for her," Coach Mitchell said, regarding King's four made threes. "That’s a shot she can make without a doubt. It looks really good leaving her hand and she’s spent a lot of time on it. That’s what she needs to do when she gets in the game if they’re going to leave her open like that. I didn’t see a lot of hesitation from her and what I just love about her is her steadiness. She doesn’t carry a mistake to the next play and she’s not afraid to shoot it if she missed the last one." As for Haines, the guard played in her first college basketball game since an ACL injury early in her junior season kept her off the court. She came back looking healthy and with enough energy to spread across the entire team. If there's one thing I can confidently say after one exhibition game, it's that Haines is going to be a ton of fun to watch. She was yelling and screaming after big plays, talking to her teammates, and attacking the basket with authority. She totaled 11 points on 4-6 shooting to go along with six rebounds and an impressive chase-down block. Haines plays with a passion that is going to be infectious for this crew. "It was definitely something," Haines said about her return to basketball. "Just to be able to get back on the court, it honestly made me a little emotional because I haven’t played in over two years. My teammates tonight were everything to me. They supported me and pumped me up, and it was amazing to even be able to step out on the court."

The full-court press is back

Once again, we're going to see a constant full-court press from Matthew Mitchell's team. Led by Amanda Paschal (nine points and two assists) and Jaida Roper (six points and six assists), Kentucky once again boasts quick and pesky guards who know how to dig in on defense and break down ball handlers (not to mention Chasity Patterson, who will be eligible in mid-December). Paschal specifically made sure to always place herself at the point of attack and she did a great job of pressuring the offense whenever she was on the floor. Kentucky forced USI into 20 total turnovers, a majority of them coming from the press. With Howard in the middle of the floor, her length makes it dangerous for any pass that floats over the smaller Paschal or Roper. The Wildcats will have to play "small" for good chunks of the season and the press is only going to benefit from that. With agile frontcourt players such as KeKe McKinney (who added six points and seven boards on her 21st birthday) and Tatyana Wyatt (six points and six rebounds) lurking behind the defensive line, the backcourt can be a bit risky in the passing lanes knowing they have six-footers with enough speed to make up for any potential mistake. The press held USI to a mere 25.5 percent shooting from the field. Even if the Screaming Eagles were able to establish possession in the half-court, excellent post defense was there to prevent any easy layups. While the opponent isn't as talented as some of the SEC powers, the signs of discipline bring a reason for optimism that the lack of size won't be as glaring of an issue as it was last season. In fact, UK outrebounded USI 42-32 on the game and also outscored them in the paint, 32-20.

Will Mitchell use all 10 players?

All 10 players who saw the court on Wednesday played at least nine minutes and all but one of them registered a point. In the postgame press conference, Mitchell said that the starting five used in the win (McKinney, Wyatt, Howard, Blair Green, and Paschal) might not be anywhere close to the starting five a month from now. They can bring King in to spread the floor. Haines is a great primary ball handler. Roper's intensity will be impossible to keep off the court. The size of Ogechi Anyagaligbo and Nae Nae Cole will be vital against bigger frontcourts. "The starting lineup probably meant less tonight than any time I’ve been here in 13 years," Mitchell said. While I see the rotation thinning down to around eight players by the spring, Mitchell has the depth to experiment with unlimited five-person lineups until then. If they want to go small, Howard or Green can play the four - as they did a few times against USI. If they want to go big, they can bring in Cole or Anyagaligbo and run with a three-forward frontcourt. I would expect more small ball than anything, as it would utilize the strengths of players like Howard and Green - taller guards who can shoot from anywhere on the floor. Add in Patterson before the SEC schedule begins and we could see one of the deepest teams in the country. If I had to guess the starting lineup come December, I would say it features the same five it did tonight but with Haines taking over the starting point guard position for Paschal. Haines is going to be very difficult to not play at all times if she can score as she did on Wednesday. But it just goes to show that Mitchell has options: he can go with a duo of Paschal and Roper that brutalizes anyone who touches the ball, or rock with Haines/Howard/Green and score points in giant bunches. "Our team is very versatile," Paschal said. "Yes, we have depth, and everybody coming off the bench can score. That helps a lot since we need to replace Taylor (Murray) and Maci (Morris). I think we have a pretty good team and seeing that everybody can score off the bench, that just helps us a lot." https://twitter.com/KentuckyWBB/status/1189726428889141248 Kentucky came out and dominated as they were expected to. We won't get a real feel for this team until the schedule heats up in December, but there were plenty of signs that this will be a great team going forward. Now let's get the regular season started, shall we?

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2022-01-28