The Kentucky Women’s basketball team got back on the winning track with an 80 –73 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Wildcats (10 – 3, 3 – 2 SEC), having lost two straight games in a brutal four-game SEC grind against top-15 ranked opponents, were hoping for a much-deserved bit of a breather to refresh and refocus.
Even the best laid plans, however, often go awry. We learned shortly before tip that Robyn Benton, Jazmine Massengill, and Kameron Roach were felled by the dreaded Covid protocol. In addition, Player of the Year candidate Rhyne Howard was also sidelined due to a day-to-day ankle sprain.
No worries, initially, as Kentucky came out of the gate looking like they wanted to put this one out of reach early. The Wildcats jumped out to a 29 -13 lead before Vanderbilt (taking advantage of 12-for-18 shooting at the free throw line) cut the deficit to 38 – 37 at the half.
Both teams scored at will in the second stanza before Vanderbilt inexplicably slowed the game down in the half court after grabbing the lead. Kentucky found themselves still down 69 – 67 with just over three minutes left when some clutch shooting and a key defensive stop from Chasity Patterson and Blair Green put the team over the top.
Green led all scorers with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Dre’una Edwards added 17 points and 8 rebounds, and Patterson chipped in with an all-around 16 point, 7 rebound, and 7 assist performance.
Midway through a potentially tumultuous season, Coach Kyra Elzy’s team evidently still has its eye on the prize. With Matthew Mitchell unexpectedly resigning only days before the opening tip, it would have been easy for chaos and dissension to rear its ugly head. Instead, the transition to Elzy has been almost too smooth to be true. A suspension of her star player for two games at the beginning of the season due to disciplinary reasons barely registered a blip—and in just over a month, Elzy’s “interim coach” tag was permanently removed.
So what’s been the key to Elzy’s success?
Right on cue, the LaGrange, Kentucky native, Oldham County star, and former Tennessee Volunteer paid homage to her troops. Whether returning veteran players, heralded transfers, or highly touted incoming freshman, Elzy has somehow managed to banish and quench any rising cords of discontent about playing time.
“A credit to the players,” Elzy eagerly admitted when asked about Kentucky’s success so far. “They have great team chemistry. They came into this season wanting to win. We knew we had the talent, so we stressed from the very beginning—one basketball, five positions, 40 minutes, and a lot of talent.”
As we’ve seen on the men’s team so far, superior talent and preseason rankings has its limits. Too much “me” basketball can readily sink the Titanic in the blink of an eye.
“But if we want to win, we have to be selfless [and] ego-free,” Elzy further explained. “[We have to] buy into the three P’s—peers, parents, and press. No outside distractions. And when we do that, we will reach the goals we’re trying to achieve.”
For these 18 to 22-year-old young adults, those three P’s can be fairly daunting (well, two out of the three at least). Having to deal with friends, family, and social media is difficult under any circumstances. Throw in a world-wide pandemic, college-level courses, and the expectations of a rabid fan base, and you can see how the results could be crippling.
“Peers,” Green answered, when asked which of the three P’s was her biggest challenge. “Because maybe they’re really excited about you, because they know you from high school and they’re just expecting that kind of stuff from you. My parents are just encouraging me and just telling me to lock in [and] dial into what the coaches are saying because they really trust in them. Right now I’m trying to limit my social media…and kind of staying off there.”
That’s obviously good advice. It should serve the team well over the second half of the season.
Now back to the three D’s–Defense, Defense, and Defense!