Following an early exit from the 2021 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, it’s time for the Kentucky Wildcats to regroup.
A 78-66 loss to the four-seeded Georgia Bulldogs earlier on Friday wasn’t exactly how head coach Kyra Elzy planned her first postseason trip to go, but she’ll have another opportunity to redeem herself in a few weeks. The 2021 NCAA Tournament is scheduled to start the weekend of March 21-22 with the Selection Show taking place about a week prior on Monday, March 15. Kentucky has likely been knocked off a top four-seed in the NCAAs after losing to Georgia, but will still have a favorable position in the opening rounds.
Kentucky has been incredibly hot and cold the last few weeks. A big win has typically been followed up with a soul-crushing loss, and vice versa. The instability has cost them substantially and it resulted in a quarterfinal exit from the conference tourney. When the circumstances are “Survive and Advance”, instability will kick a good team out of the early rounds. By all accounts, Kentucky is a good team.
And while they might not be a great team, the talent–led by two-time SEC Player of the Year, Rhyne Howard–is capable of taking them deep into March. That being said, there are obvious areas that still need improvement. But is it too late in the season to make such stark changes? A two-plus week break should help iron out some of the issues.
“We’ll go back and watch this game film, learn from it, see what adjustments we need to make,” Elzy said after the loss to Georgia. “As a coaching staff, we still do have the NCAA Tournament. Right now, just focus on Kentucky. Go back and fine-tune some things offensively, then clean up what we need to clean up defensively, as well.”
But what exactly needs fine-tuning and cleaning up? Lengthy scoring droughts have plagued an often stagnant halfcourt offense, the one-on-one and team defense need some serious tightening, and the over-reliance on Howard is frustrating the junior guard more than it’s helping her team win.
Before we go any further, we should also take into account the mental and physical wear and tear that this season has had on these players. A long break is probably more necessary for the players and coaching staff than we imagine. Two weeks without any games is two weeks to reset, develop a new gameplan, and heal up any lingering injuries.
But when it comes down to it, someone besides Howard has to step up with confidence. Chasity Patterson has shown through most of the season she can do that while Treasure Hunt has recently done the same. Dre’Una Edwards went from regularly scoring double-digits to not surpassing the 10-point threshold since Jan. 31. Elzy was still toying with lineups and rotations deep in conference play.
The big question: Can three players–and maybe one or two more–create a harmonious, in-sync style of offense all at the same time? Thus far this season, especially against the nation’s top teams, Kentucky has failed to do so. Howard scored half of the team’s 66 points against Georgia.
“We’ve talked about it, a balanced scoring attack,” Elzy added. “That’s where I’ll do a better job of trying to get other people involved in the offense, out of timeouts, dead balls, make those people integral parts as well. When we are playing our best, we’re pushing the ball in transition, we’re moving the ball, making the extra pass. Our assists are usually high when we’re scoring at rapid pace. Today we just did not do that. But we’ll go back to work on it and get better before our next showing.”
There is only so much that can be done, though. One of the glaring issues that have prevented Kentucky from jumping into the national discussion is a lack of interior height. Unfortunately, that can’t be fixed in two weeks’ time. The one player with enough height to make an impact, 6-foot-4 Olivia Owens, was plopped on the bench for both SEC Tournament games in what Coach Elzy called a “coach’s decision”. The ‘Cats will have to make do with the roster they presently have.
But they can improve upon a season-low six-assist total against Georgia. The Bulldogs entered the game as the most turnover-prone squad in the SEC with over 17 miscues per contest. Kentucky watched them post a season-low of eight turnovers on Friday. It was a highly uncharacteristic outing from the ‘Cats in several key areas.
Those problems are fixable, and Elzy has roughly two weeks to figure it all out.