Murray Named Semifinalist for Naismith Defensive Player of Year; Howard Chosen SEC Freshman of Week
LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky women's basketball senior guard Taylor Murray, who leads the Wildcats and ranks top-10 nationally with 82 steals this season, has been named a semifinalist for the Naismith Women's Defensive Player of the Year Award, it was announced Tuesday, Feb. 19
Murray (pictured) is one of two players from the Southeastern Conference on the list, joining last year's recipient Teaira McCowan (Mississippi State). The group of semifinalist was selected from the midseason watch list which featured 15 players.
Murray is having a great season for the Wildcats, averaging 12.6 points per game while leading the team with 92 assists and 82 steals. In just 19 games played this season, Murray already had more steals than she had in 32 games played last season (67). The strong defensive performance by Murray has moved her up the career steal lists, sitting seventh all-time in program history with 266 career takeaways. The senior needs just six more steals to enter the program's top five all-time in steals. She is on pace to become only the fourth player in program history to lead UK in steals all four years of her career.
The native of Odenton, Md., who was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team last season by league coaches, has had some incredible performances this season. Her best performance came against top-25 ranked Missouri, scoring a game-high 21 points with four rebounds, four steals and two assists. Murray scored 19 points in the second half alone vs. the Tigers with all of her steals coming in the final 20 minutes. Murray nearly had a triple double against North Carolina, scoring 23 points with 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds. Against Auburn, she recorded six steals with 17 points going 7-of-12 from the field.
The quick guard has posted three or more steals in 16 games this season and has accomplished the feat in 47 career games. Murray has led Kentucky in steals in 70 of her 120 career games played, including 17 times this season.
Howard Sets SEC Record With 7th Freshman of the Week Honor
Records were made to be broken and UK freshman guard Rhyne Howard is here to break them. The native of Cleveland, Tenn., has been named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for the seventh time this season, setting a new league record for most FOW honors in a single season.
Howard’s seventh honor surpasses Missouri guard Sophie Cunningham’s six honors back in 2015-16. The rookie guard is the only player in school history – men’s or women’s – to earn seven such honors from the league office in a single season.
The guard began her dominance of the award this season by winning the title on Nov. 13 after scoring 15 points in her collegiate debut and 29 a few days later against Southern. She also claimed the award on Nov. 27, Dec. 11, Dec. 23, Jan. 8 and Feb. 12. Tuesday marks the first time this season Howard has won the award consecutive weeks.
The latest honor comes after Howard led Kentucky in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the Wildcats win over Arkansas on Sunday. Howard hit the game-winning jumper with 1.3 left in the game and then secured a game-clinching steal on Arkansas’ final possession. She became the first UK player to hit a last-second shot to win a game since Makayla Epps in 2017 vs. Mississippi State. Howard had 14 rebounds in the game helping her earn her fifth double-double of the season scoring 18 points.
The strong performance moved her up to third all-time in program history in scoring for a freshman while she continues to increase the school record for most 3s by a freshman to 63. Howard has 15 or more points in 20 games this season and had led UK in scoring 13 times and in rebounds 14 times. She has hit three or more 3s in three straight games and has three or more assists in nine of her 11 SEC games played.
Howard, who is on the Cheryl Miller Award Top 10 Watch List for best small forward in the nation, is the first UK freshman in the Matthew Mitchell era to score at least 10 points in each of her first 10 games and currently ranks first on the team in points per game with 16.8 and leads in rebounds per game with 6.9. She sits tied for first in 3-pointers made with 63 and ranks second in steals with 56.
The guard ranks high in the league in several categories, including sixth in field-goals made, 10th in field-goal percentage, fifth in points, fifth in points per game, fourth in steals, fourth in 3s, third in 3s per game and fourth in 3-point percentage. She is also all over nearly every UK freshman single-season record, sitting third in points, second in points per game, third in rebounds per game, first in 3s, second in 3PFG%, fourth in steals, fifth in double-figure scoring games and fifth in double-figure rebounding games.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught