BASKETBALL: UK Women Face Challenging 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team played the second toughest schedule in the nation last season and head coach Matthew Mitchell (pictured) has not strayed from wanting to play the best teams in the country as a challenging 2017-18 non-conference slate awaits the Wildcats.
Of its 14 scheduled non-conference games, seven will come against teams that finished last season inside the top 100 of the NCAA RPI, including four that finished inside the top 50. The schedule is highlighted by home games against Louisville and California and challenging road trips to Washington State, Baylor, Florida Gulf Coast, Miami (Fla.) and Middle Tennessee.
“Our goal every year is to use our non-conference schedule to prepare our players for the grind of a full SEC slate and that is exactly what we have done this season,” Mitchell said. “We played one of the toughest schedules in the country last year and I believe this season’s schedule will be similarly difficult. The balance of this schedule is what sticks out with quality opponents coming to Memorial Coliseum and some very challenging road trips all over the country. We have been very pleased with the work our team has put in so far this summer and cannot wait for full practices to get underway this fall.”
The demanding slate includes games against 2017 NCAA Tournament participants Baylor, Florida Gulf Coast, Miami (Fla.), Louisville and Cal. Four of those teams were either ranked or receiving votes in last year’s final ranking with Baylor finishing sixth, Louisville finishing 12th, Miami (Fla.) finishing 19th and Florida Gulf Coast receiving votes. In all, seven non-conference opponents won 20 or more games last season.
Kentucky will hold its lone exhibition game Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. against Southern Indiana before officially starting the regular season Friday, Nov. 10 at home vs. Sacramento State as part of Morehead State’s multi-team event called the Matthew Mitchell Classic. UK’s second game in the event will be against Gardner-Webb on Sunday, Nov. 12 before concluding the event a few weeks later on Wednesday, Nov. 22 against Morehead State inside Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky’s first road trip of the season will start out west against first-time opponent Montana on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m. before returning a home-and-home game at Washington State on Sunday, Nov. 19. Last season, the Cougars battled injuries but earned a bid into the Women’s National Invitational Tournament and advanced to the semifinals of that event.
Kentucky concludes November with a Nov. 26 contest against Marshall inside Memorial Coliseum before traveling to national championship contender Baylor on Thursday, Nov. 30 to compete in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. This is the second year Kentucky has participated in the Big 12/SEC Challenge after defeating Oklahoma in Memorial Coliseum last season. Baylor record 30+ wins last season and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Bears return 6-7 post Kalani Brown, who led the team in points scored (15.4) and rebounds (8.2) last season.
Mitchell’s squad begins December with a two-game home stretch starting with Tennessee Tech on Sunday, Dec. 3 and Evansville on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Kentucky’s third road trip of 2017 could be its toughest as the Wildcats travel to face two NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago. The trip starts Friday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at Florida Gulf Coast, who returns a majority of their talented 2016-17 roster that won 26 games and nearly defeated Miami (Fla.) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes are UK’s final stop on the trip, returning a home-and-home game on Sunday, Dec. 10. Last season, Miami spent a majority of the season in the top 25 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The non-conference schedule will not get any easier as UK returns to Lexington the following weekend to face in-state rival Louisville on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum. The Cardinals finished the 2016-17 season with a No. 12 RPI and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament after winning 29 games. Pac-12 foe Cal will make its first ever trip to Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 21 at noon before the Wildcats break for the holidays. Cal made the NCAA Tournament a season ago after winning 20 games and is expected to return its top two scorers. UK completes non-conference play on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Middle Tennessee, who brings back its top scorer in Alex Johnson, who scored over 20 points per game last season.
Game times are ET and subject to change while TV selections are still to be determined. The Southeastern Conference schedule is set to be released at a later date. More information regarding season tickets will be released in July/August, while all single-game tickets will go on sale in October.
Kentucky, which is entering its 44th season of varsity women’s basketball and 11th under Mitchell, is coming off its school-record eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. The Wildcats finished with a 22-11 record last season, marking its 18th 20-win season and its eight straight under Mitchell. UK finished No. 18 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 25 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25. It was the eighth straight season the Wildcats have finished inside the top 25 of both national listings.
The Wildcats took down three ranked opponents during the year, defeating then-No. 14 Miami (Fla.), then-No. 12 Oklahoma and then-No. 3 Mississippi State. UK also earned wins over Belmont, Missouri, Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida, who were either ranked or receiving votes at some point during the season. Mitchell’s squad, which finished with the No. 14 overall RPI in the final NCAA RPI report, played the second-toughest schedule in the nation in 2016-17 with 25 of its 33 games being played against teams that finished in the top 100 of the NCAA RPI report.
A key task entering the 2017-18 season will be replacing the All-America production of Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator, who combined to average 33.0 of the team’s 70.9 points last season. The Wildcats do return juniors Taylor Murray and Maci Morris, who both averaged double-figures last season, and key reserves Makenzie Cann, Alyssa Rice, Jessica Hardin and Jaida Roper, who each averaged 12 or more minutes last season.
In all, the Wildcats return nine of 11 eligible players and will add Stony Brook transfer and 2016 America East Conference Rookie of the Year Ogechi Anyagaligbo, who practiced with the team last season. UK also adds five newcomers in true freshmen Dorie Harrison (6-2, F/C, Nashville, Tenn.), KeKe McKinney (6-1, G/F, Knoxville, Tenn.), Kameron Roach (5-6, G, Hopkins, S.C.) and Tatyana Wyatt (6-3, F, Columbus, Ga.), and junior college transfer Amanda Paschal (5-6, G, Brooklyn, N.Y/Gulf State College).
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught