The No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats secured a dominant victory over the Stetson Hatters on Wednesday night in Memorial Coliseum thanks to a quick start from Rhyne Howard and a great defensive effort all around. In case you missed my recap of the game, you can check that out here. But right now, we’re going to look over what stood out in the ‘Cats 67-48 win.
Rebounding issues are slowly vanishing
Remember last season, when Kentucky was constantly outmuscled on the glass and losing the rebounding battle? Yeah, me either. Through three games in the 2019-20 season, the Wildcats are making everyone forget about the rebounding issues that plagued them a year ago.
We have two individuals to thank for that – junior forwards KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt. Both McKinney and Wyatt corralled 10 rebounds apiece against the Hatters with McKinney recording her first career double-double to go along with her 10 points. Wyatt finished with nine points. They both combined for 10 offensive rebounds, too, boxing out and bullying the taller Stetson bigs which often resulted in easy putback layups.
Kentucky was a solid offensive rebounding team last season and they have kept that rolling thus far. 19 offensive rebounds for the ‘Cats compared to just 10 for the Hatters made a massive difference in second-chance points and allowed UK to take 22 more shots than the opponent. Kentucky is plus-18 in overall rebounding through three games this year.
Granted, the competition isn’t as tough as it will be once SEC play begins, but it’s a great start at shoring up what was one of the more glaring weaknesses from last season’s squad. Sabrina Haines and Howard combined for 11 rebounds, as well. Add in the fact that 6-foot-3 center Nae Nae Cole and 6-foot-1 forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo bring even more size off the pine and this team can go deep into its bench while keeping opposing teams off the glass.
Rhyne Howard finally popped off
Head coach Matthew Mitchell didn’t explicitly say that he was running set plays for Rhyne Howard to start this game, but he didn’t need to. She scored 12 of Kentucky’s 13 points in the first quarter and was deadly coming off screens in the half-court setting.
I didn’t keep an exact count, but there must have been five or six plays in a row where Howard was working off the ball to get open shots and she executed them to perfection. She started the game 5-7 (her teammates shot 0-8 in the first quarter) and came out hot for the first time this season. It was a welcome sight after watching her struggle with a combined 6-26 shooting clip in the first two games.
“I thought she was much more focused and we tried to move her around a little bit and be intentional about where we got her shots or her opportunities early on,” coach Mitchell said. “But I think it was really her just having a mission tonight. You could see she had a lot of juice in her cuts. She was really going and attacking the basketball and getting into her shot and just had some great plays tonight. I thought it was an attack mentality from the first possession.”
Howard finished the night with 24 points on 11-21 shooting in her best outing of the still-young season.
The perimeter shots *WILL* start to fall, but how soon?
Through the first three games of the season, Kentucky is shooting just 35.8 percent from the field and an even worse clip from deep with a dreary 27 percent mark. Against Stetson, the ‘Cats shot 4-20 from three with a good chunk of the looks coming unguarded.
This was one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country last season, albeit with Maci Morris on the roster. But the shots just aren’t falling right now. Jaida Roper, who hit 34.6 percent from three last year, is sitting at 1-6 from deep. Blair Green connected on 36.4 percent last year and is currently 0-8. Howard is just 6-23 from three at the moment. Only Haines has been effective from long range, drilling six of her 11 attempts.
So what’s the deal? Are the shots just not falling? That’s what it sounds – and looks – like.
“We’ve worked hard at shooting. We spent a lot of time… we know that this is a good shooting team. We have to look at the things we can control and that’s being on balance, catching it ready to shoot. Sometimes you do everything right and the ball doesn’t go in,” Mitchell said, before continuing on about his team’s shooting in practice. “The 3-point percentage is really low right now and I just don’t think there is any way in the world that can stay low. It’s a good 3-point shooting team and we’re going to hit our stride before long.”
Haines, who shot an uncharacteristic 2-8 from the free throw-line, shared the same sentiment.
“We are knocking them down in practice,” Haines said. “We really are, we promise. It’s just different whenever you get in the game. It’s a different type of feel, and of course it’s another team you are playing against. You have to adjust and luckily Rhyne (Howard) came off hot tonight. She really helped us out a whole lot. The rest of us are getting used to everything. I know personally, I’m still getting used to the game feel. In practice, we’re shooting great. It’s going to translate, we know it.”
Haines also added that she had never shot so poorly from the charity stripe during a game in her life. She was a career 86 percent free-throw shooter during her time at Arizona State.
This is a very good defensive team
I need to point out that the competition was not up to par, but Kentucky’s defense through three games has been something to behold. McKinney and Wyatt look like completely different players on that end, especially McKinney, who coach Mitchell praised in the post-game press conference.
“I think KeKe has really matured in every possible way,” Mitchell said. “As a person, from a fitness standpoint, from a knowledge of the game, feel for the game and she always had just tremendous fire burning in her, competitive fire, and so I just think all of her maturity and experience is kind of coming together now and she’s just doing an outstanding job. She’s really the glue that’s holding everything together on the defensive end. Playing her guts out and just getting after it and a lot of the stuff that’s not on the stat sheet, she’s doing a great job taking away high post and denying that or denying the reversal pass that keeps the ball on one side of the floor, a lot of little things she’s doing. So, real proud of her effort. She’s getting after it on the defensive end.”
McKinney was the primary defender on Stetson’s leading scorer, Day’Neshia Banks, who had 21 points in the team’s opener against Palm Beach Atlantic. Banks registered just two points on 1-8 shooting before fouling out as McKinney spent most of the game with the task of guarding Banks.
The 6-foot-1 forward is also stepping up as a leader. There was a moment during the third quarter where McKinney was leading a fastbreak with a Wildcat on both sides of her. As McKinney crossed half-court, she swung a pass to freshman Emma King for an open look at a three, but King passed up the shot. McKinney quickly got on her once the ball went dead, demanding the first-year sharpshooter take that open look.
As a team, Kentucky was able to hold Stetson to just 36.5 percent shooting from the field and 23.5 percent from three. The Wildcats also forced 24 turnovers with nine of them coming in the third quarter and another seven in the fourth. The full-court press was the most active it has been through three games and it helped Kentucky pull away late in the game. Once the ‘Cats start hitting open shots, the press is only going to become a more dangerous weapon for this team.
Also, I should note that Howard had *another* chase-down block on an unsuspecting victim. She literally stalks down her prey while they gallop to the basket thinking they have an uncontested layup only to emphatically swat it straight into the ground.
If you missed the game, check out some of the highlights below.
We know you didn't miss it, so for the fans that want to watch it again.
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— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 14, 2019