Freshmen Playing Big Roles for Mitchell, Wildcats

The plan for the 2015-16 Kentucky women’s basketball team did not include freshmen playing significant minutes. But, as head coach Matthew Mitchell knows, plans change.

Mitchell saw his roster shift dramatically before the season started, and as a result, he had no choice but to play his talented rookies. And on Thursday night, as the Wildcats beat No. 14 Mississippi State 83-60 on the road, it was Kentucky’s three freshmen leading the way.

Maci Morris led Kentucky with 17 points in the game, while classmate Taylor Murray notched 13 points, one shy of her career high. Freshman forward Batouly Camara chipped in with eight points and three rebounds.

Mitchell is pleased with how his freshmen have progressed.

“Well, we were thinking all of those freshmen were going to have veterans in front of them and we were going to be able to bring them along and they weren’t going to have to play the volume of minutes,” Mitchell said. “But it’s been a blessing for them because they have got great experience. I think they have learned a lot through the struggle of the season and (against Mississippi State) it looked like maybe them coming out on the other side of the storm because they really played some good ball last night, all three of them.”

Morris knows that she and her classmates are getting better.

“We've all been, the whole team, has been playing well together,” Morris said. “We have great chemistry. Practice has been really hard. We just have to keep encouraging each other. The freshmen, coach gets on us, but we know it's in our best interest, so we just try to do our best.”

Morris, Murray and Camara are the fifth, sixth and seventh-leading scorers this season for the Wildcats, respectively. Morris is now scoring 8.8 points per game, Murray averages 7.3 and Camara is scoring 5.2 per contest.

This time last year, those three players were either in high school postseason tournaments, or their seasons were over. One of the biggest challenges for freshmen is to adapt to college basketball’s longer schedule. But Mitchell doesn’t think that’s a problem for this group.

“You always have concerns about freshmen and the length they can play,” he said. “A lot of kids are in the state tournament right now and it’s over. And we have hopefully another month of playing. So you do concern yourself on trying to prepare for that and encourage them and keep their spirits high.”

After consecutive road wins, the spirit of the Wildcats is certainly high heading into Sunday’s game against Arkansas (3 p.m. ET, SEC Network). Morris knows that getting the huge win at Mississippi State was vital.

“It means a lot to us,” Morris said of Thursday’s victory. “We've been working really hard in practice. We've been focusing on toughness and last night, we wanted to out-tough our opponent and I think we did that.”

Mitchell has seen his team have letdowns after big wins this season, but he thinks this team may be past that stage.

“Well, I think some of those experiences have gotten through to the team,” Mitchell said. “We have had some real disappointments in the conference and I think that all of those – I really believe – that they have sharpened us and shaped us and developed us. I choose to really trust these players right now and that they understand what our formula is now.”

The Wildcats hope to keep the positive momentum going on Sunday as the postseason approaches. And if Kentucky is able to do that, the freshmen will definitely be a part of those successes.