Women's Basketball
No. 11 Kentucky Faces First Road Test Thursday at Kansas State

No. 11 Kentucky Faces First Road Test Thursday at Kansas State

by Evan Crane

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 11 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will hit the road for the first time this season as it travels to Manhattan, Kansas on Thursday to square off against Kansas State inside Bramlage Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The game vs. Kansas State will be streamed on ESPN+ with Brian Smoller and Missy Heidrick on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick will have the call on the UK Sports Network on 630AM WLAP in Lexington. Live stats and free live audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Thursday’s game is part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which features every team from the Big 12 against 10 squads from the Southeastern Conference. This is the fifth season in which 10 games will be played. The format consists of five home games on campus sites for each conference. Four of the 10 games feature at least one team ranked in the AP Top 25. This will be Kentucky’s third time to play in the challenge. UK’s first showing was in 2016 when it defeated No. 12 Oklahoma 82-68 inside Memorial Coliseum. UK’s last showing was in 2017 when Baylor won 90-63 inside the Ferrell Center in Waco.
Kentucky (2-0) is coming off two home wins to start the season last week, defeating Murray State 86-60 and four-time defending OVC Champion Belmont 70-50. It was a different UK player in each game stepping up with senior guard Chasity Patterson scoring 30 points with eight steals against the Racers while sophomore forward Dre’una Edwards posted 27 points and 15 rebounds against the Bruins. Patterson became the first UK player to record eight or more steals in a game since A’dia Mathies in 2011, while Edwards was the first UK player since Evelyn Akhator in 2017 with 25+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game. Junior guard Blair Green has also started the season strong with 13 points against Murray State and nine against Belmont, adding four rebounds per game. Senior forward KeKe McKinney recorded her second career double-double against Belmont with 10 points and 10 rebounds and is averaging a team-best 31 minutes per game so far this season.
As a team, the Wildcats are averaging 78.0 points per game with a +10.5 turnover margin and +4.0 rebounding margin. UK is hitting 42 percent from the field and has 28 assists with 27 steals. Kentucky will welcome back to the lineup Thursday one of the best players in college basketball as Associated Press Preseason All-America honoree Rhyne Howard will play in her first action of the year after a two-game suspension to start the season for not upholding the standards of the program. Howard finished second nationally last season with 23.4 points per game while she set a school-record with 84 3s made.
Kansas State (1-0) opened the 2020-21 season with a 66-51 win over Southern University on Sunday. The win was the Wildcats’ 11th straight in a season opener. The game was tighter through three quarters before K-State outscored the Jaguars 21-10 in the fourth quarter to clinch the win. Sophomore center Ayoka Lee was the leader for Kansas State, scoring 17 points with nine rebounds while junior guard Christianna Carr scored 15 points with four rebounds.
Lee is the leading returner for the Wildcats as she is on the 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy Watch List, 2021 Wooden Award Top 30 Watch List and 2021 Lisa Leslie Award Watch List. Last season, Lee averaged 17 points per game adding 9.0 rebounds per game, 4.0 blocks per game and a 53.3 field-goal percentage. Carr was named to the 2019 Big 12 All-Freshman Team two years ago and has averaged 9.8 points per game each of the last two seasons. The junior has hit 114 career 3s with 76 assists, 24 blocks and 47 steals.
Jeff Mittie, one of the winningest active coaches in NCAA Division I with over 500 career wins, is in his seventh season at the helm of the K-State program. Kansas State has been to postseason play each season under Mittie – 2019-20 canceled postseason not included – including three NCAA Tournaments. Last season, the Wildcats were 16-13 overall and 10-8 in Big 12 play setting a school record for rebounds per game and blocks average for a season.
This is the first ever meeting between Kentucky and Kansas State in women’s basketball, while Kentucky is 9-9 all-time against teams that make up the current alignment of the Big 12.
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @KentuckyWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

On what Kentucky needs to improve on ahead of meeting Kansas State…
“Well, I’ll start with how excited I am about this team. They play extremely hard on both ends of the floor, and I love that we play team basketball. The second thing is, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to play different lineups. We’re excited about the versatility that this team brings. Chasity (Patterson) and Dre (Dre’una Edwards) have really stepped up in the first two games, so I like that we have people that are capable and willing to step up. And the last thing I am extremely excited about is that Rhyne Howard will return to the floor in this game, so I look forward to putting her in the mix. But as far as what we need to work on, so offensively, offensive execution. I think we need to be sharper in our spacing, timing, setting screens and really taking what the defense gives us, so making better decisions. Defensively, we have just talked about one-on-one defense, keeping someone in front of you, getting to help-side, as well as finishing our defense with a boxout.”
On navigating the challenges from associate head coach to interim head coach and any solutions you’ve found along the way…
“Greta question, I think any time you’re taking over a program and you’re following someone like Coach (Matthew) Mitchell who has been extremely successful, that is tough in itself. Also, just dealing with COVID and the social issues that we are dealing with, that is like no other. So, I I think I am just figuring it out just like the rest of the coaches across the country. And, I just think being flexible and taking every day as they come, you know, some days I hold my breath waiting for the COVID tests, some I just take it day-by-day, minute-by-minute, but also, just being open to the players, having honest conversations, how they are feeling, what they need, and being surrounded by an amazing staff that can take so much off your plate that I can just focus on the issues at hand. Last, I would say, having amazing mentors and collogues in this business, Coach Mickie DeMoss sends me messages, challenges my thoughts. Coach Lin Dunn is on staff with us, and I promise I receive about 10 text messages a day just making sure that I am prepared, and just getting advice from other coaches has been a big help.”
On your process and the importance for suspending Rhyne Howard…
“Well, it was a tough decision, obviously. It’s not a decision that you want to make any time in your career, when you’re talking about a player of Rhyne’s caliber, however, this program is built on honesty, hard work and discipline, and our winning attributes, one of them is accountability, so, like I have addressed before, I love them enough, the staff loves them enough, that we are not going to turn our head. Our job is to prepare them for life after basketball and life after Kentucky, and we want them to be successful on and off the court, so in turn, sometimes you have to make the tough decisions. It’s like parenting. It does not come with a rule book, you just have to go with your gut, and they may not like it, but it is the best thing for them at that time. Our job is to guide, lead, inspire and impact, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
On your team’s COVID protocols…
“Well, there are a lot of protocols, and Courtney Jones our trainers, and Jim Madaleno, and our whole medical staff have been amazing at keeping us informed and laying out what we need to do to keep everyone safe. Obviously, social distancing, wearing our masks, we space out in practice, but there are a lot of things that we must do to play, sacrifice time away from our families and friends, to keep everyone in our bubble, per say, safe. So, there have been a big sacrifice, but our players are willing and our coaches are willing to do those things in order for us to have a basketball season. And also, small things that you don’t think about like, Courtney our trainers talked to me today, even how we sit in timeouts where I have the point guards sitting in the middle, the guards on the right and the posts on the left, she just reminded me today, when we come to timeouts, make sure players are not sitting next to the same person every time, so those are things as a basketball coach you don’t always think about. Or, how they’re standing behind the players that are sitting, to make sure that we are spaced out. We’re constantly reminding them in practice to stay away from each other, get on the X across the baseline or the sideline, space out in our huddles, things like going to pregame meals that we haven’t had to encounter, putting on gloves to touch the ice, or to get utensils. So, it is a lot, but it is worth it to play basketball.”
On if you have had issues encountering COVID…
“Well, I think we have had our fair share of issues just like everyone. You know, we’ve had to have people in and out of practice, however that is part of what we’re dealing with, and that is why we say we must stay resilient and mentally tough to get through these times.”
On the most noticeable difference of your transition after your first week of games…
“I think the biggest difference in moving one seat over is the game is moving so fast, there are so many things happening and so many decisions that you need to make, whereas as an assistant coach, you are honed in on what you are responsible for, whether that is guard play or transition defense, and when you’re standing as a head coach, you’re watching the overall picture, trying to think about the decisions that you need to make, also getting input from several different people and having to make the final decision instead of just suggesting these things. I think that has been the biggest change. But again, I am so grateful for an amazing staff with Niya Butts, Amber Smith, Daniel Boice, their basketball knowledge, I totally trust them, they know what we need to do to be successful. They give me great advice, and it helps to have a talented team as well.”
On where you see Kentucky defensively…
“You know, I really thought we took a step forward in the second game. I challenged them after our first game. I did not like our energy defensively. I didn’t think we came out with the mindset or the energy that I was looking for, but game two, we came a step closer. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but we are still forcing turnovers, I thought we did a better job of limiting the straight-line drives, really tried to finish our defense with a box out, we have been really committed to that in practice. Coach Niya Butts has been over our defense, so she does an amazing job of challenging our players and putting them in a position of being successful, so we have work to do, but this goes back to those three things, these are the things that we are focused on – one-on-one defense, making people score over you, flooding help-side, sprinting to help, and committing five people of getting a box out. K-State is going to force us to do that, they are a tough team, they are skilled offensively, and they’re extremely big. This is the most size that we have faced in awhile, with a 6-6 and a 6-7 post player, so we must box out.”

On putting this roster together, which includes freshmen, transfers and returners…
“It is going well, but it is a work in progress. We have three freshmen that we are trying to get up to speed. I have said this before and will continue to say it, but they have been baptized by fire. They missed a whole summer and now that we have thrown them into games. They are all very talented and are going to help this program. We have to let them experience the process. Even the newcomers, they have college basketball experience but have never played at Kentucky and played our style. It is a transition. Some days and some games will look better than others, but at the end of the day we will get to where we are trying to go and achieve the things we are trying to achieve but it is a work in progress daily.”
On what she is focused on in preparation for Kansas State…
“Six-foot-six and six-foot-seven has kept me up at night. One thing we have really emphasized with our players as we have started to prep for K-State is that our post defense will start with our guards. We really have to bring great ball pressure and have to get to help side. We are asking our posts – they have a big task in front of them – but it will take everyone to help them get the job done.”
On what you expect from Rhyne Howard tomorrow night after being suspended for two games…
“The thing about Rhyne is that she has held herself accountable the whole time. She has taken responsibility for her actions. She has apologized to the staff and team for putting us in this position and I commend her for that. She has been great on the bench as far as energy and coaching the other players. What we talked about yesterday is that she will take the floor but it is still team basketball and I want her to play within herself and we will continue to play as a team. I don’t want her to feel like she has to go out and make heroic plays, I just want her to play good basketball and do the things that she does best and greatness will come out. There are other people on the floor that can help her get the job done. That is what we are focusing on is team basketball.”
On how you prepare your starting lineup…
“it just really depends on our game preparation and how many days that we have in-between. All the players will know at least a day before the game who will start. I like to wait and determine that in practice. We talk a lot about you earn your playing time in practice. That is what we do and they know what they need to do to get in the rotation.”
On what Treasure Hunt brings to the team in her first year…
“Treasure Hunt comes in highly touted. She was a McDonald’s All-America and is extremely talented and gifted. For Treasure, it still goes back to she is still a freshman. She is still trying to learn and is a work in progress. Offensively, she has the tools. She can shoot the 3 and can get to the rim. She can shoot the pull-up jumper. The hardest thing for her right now is playing at the intensity and pace that we need her to play consistently on both ends of the floor. That is normal for freshmen. Treasure will have a great impact on this program and it will take her time and we are going to allow her the time to find her place and figure out what she needs to do to achieve her goals here. It will happen, it might just take more time than what we really want her to have.”
On your message to Emma King having a difficult time getting into an offensive rhythm…
“Emma and I just talked and she has worked extremely hard and earned that position. She has shot the ball extremely well in practice, they haven’t fallen for her in the game, but they will. My message is to stay confident and continue to work and good things will happen. We believe in you and most importantly, try to think of the positives that you are doing on the floor. Maybe your shot in not falling, but you are getting a defensive stop and getting in the right place in transition defense. She is trying to be a vocal leader. So she is bringing some positives to the table even though her shot is not falling right now, but it will.”
On what this team is best at offensively…
“I think what we are best at right now is pushing the pace. We play up-tempo and want to try to score in transition. It has been great to have a post presence when our outside shot was not falling. We were able to throw the ball inside to Dre and Olivia Owens and they were finishing in the paint, which keeps the defense honest. What we are focusing on going into K-State is using the ball screens and just working on our timing. We have a tendency right now, although it is great we are playing up-tempo, sometimes in the half court right now we have a tendency to go 80 miles per hour so we are missing some of what the defense is giving us. So we want to be able to play fast but we also need to slow down and execute more in the half court.”

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