Tough Opponent Awaits Kentucky Women on Friday

The Kentucky women’s basketball team begins its season on Friday night. And there will be no easing into the 2016-17 campaign, as the Wildcats host No. 14 Miami (Fla.) in the Wildcat Classic at Memorial Coliseum.

Miami returns four starters from a team that went 24-9 last season while making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and its fifth in the last six years. Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell knows that the Hurricanes will pose a serious challenge for his team.

"It is a really, really tough opener, toughest opener we’ve had in a while," Mitchell said. "Miami has a veteran team, an NCAA Tournament team. Katie Meier is a great coach. I really respect how they play. They will pose a lot of challenges for us."

The Hurricanes feature a talented senior backcourt, which includes Miami’s top two scorers from last season, Adrienne Motley (15.7 ppg) and Jessica Thomas (11.7). Mitchell knows that these two players will be a big challenge for his team.

“Very good guards, very athletic,” Mitchell said of the Hurricanes’ backcourt. “They are very explosive offensively.”

Kentucky won its only exhibition game of the pre-season, beating Union University 78-60. Senior guard Makayla Epps scored a game-high 31 points, and senior forward Evelyn Akhator had 17 points and 17 rebounds in the victory.

Those two players, along with sophomores Maci Morris and Taylor Murray, figure to carry the scoring load for the Wildcats this season. Epps averaged a team-high 17.1 points per game last season, while Akhator posted 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest in 2015-16. Morris was fifth on the team, averaging 8.5 points per outing, while Murray was sixth at 6.8 points per game.

“I do feel like we have some explosiveness and ability to score some points right now, so that is a good thing,” Mitchell said. “In these early-season matchups, you have to shoot the ball well and get some good breaks, play really hard and try to outplay your opponent.”

Mitchell isn’t as sure about where his team is defensively. Union was able to hit 44.4 percent from the floor in the game as Kentucky tried to find its footing on defense.

“We are not a finished product defensively,” Mitchell said. “That’s a journey we’re still on, to see what this particular group can do. Individuals on the team continue to make small incremental improvements and you just have to be patient with that right now. We’re trying to get there, and we will get there, but (Miami) will test us.”

And after Miami, Kentucky will have a quick turnaround, as the Wildcats face Albany on Saturday night in the second game of the Wildcat Classic.

Mitchell isn’t sure about where his team is right now, but he has seen enough from them to know that good things could lie ahead.

“We’re still a ways away from where we will be. We’re a work in progress, but I’m excited about what we can become.”

Mitchell and the Wildcats will get their first indication of what this team is on Friday.