By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky won at LSU a week ago when both senior Taylor Murray and freshman Rhyne Howard couldn’t play due to injuries and leading scorer Maci Morris, who missed the previous game (a home loss to Ole Miss) had to play in pain.
Morris still managed to score 20 points and Kentucky got a huge road win just like it had earlier at Tennessee with Howard in foul trouble and Murray unable to play the second half due to injury.
Now Kentucky has had a week off before it hosts SEC foe Missouri tonight at 6:30 in Memorial Coliseum. Coach Matthew Mitchell thinks all three players have “improved” physically.
“We’re always hopeful we can get them back on the court,” Mitchell said before practice Wednesday.
Mitchell said the time off was important for his team because of how physically demanding SEC play has been.
“Three of the first five were on the road, we had to travel, and then we had to deal with the injuries. Which, a lot of teams are having to deal with it this time of the year. It’s a long season and the bye date really came at an advantageous time for the Wildcats,” Mitchell said.
“Not only the two kids that missed the game Thursday night, but the kids that played were hurting and banged up just dealing with various issues. I’m so proud that they played through and earned a big victory down there. The ability trust and recover and rejuvenate is so important for our team.”
Mitchell praised UK’s other players for taking advantage of opportunities to help with other players injured.
Junior guard Jaida Roper scored 10 points with three assists while freshman Blair Green and sophomore Tatyana Wyatt each had nine points. Sophomore forward KeKe McKinney scored six points, including the last four points of the game, hitting a 3-pointer with :20 remaining.
“One of the attributes we want them to possess in life is resilience because they’re going to have to possess it once they’re done with basketball. Everybody in life has to deal with challenges – do you bounce back or do you not? So, resilience is something that we’ve really tried passing along to them each and every day and they’ve really embraced all of those opportunities,” Mitchell said.
“We’re far from perfect, certainly we still have flaws, but I don’t think you can question their desire to win. You know, sometimes you don’t make the right play, but for every mental error or boneheaded play you want to call that we made last Thursday night, we made about three hustle plays.
“I don’t know that we’re ever going to be a masterpiece and just a beautiful and perfect team, but those qualities of toughness and grit and intensity, and being able to find a way to get a stop on defense, those things are serving us well. What I love so much about it is it will serve them well in life.”
Missouri is ranked 25th in the AP Top 25 and is 15-5 overall and 4-2 in SEC play with wins against Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia and losses to South Carolina and Florida.
The Tigers average 65.8 points per game and hit 34.6 percent from 3-point range. Missouri is giving up just 56.3 points per game. Senior guard Sophie Cunningham leads the team at 15.9 points per game with 6.0 rebounds and a team-best 64 assists and 27 steals. Junior guard Amber Smith is averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game with a team-best 21 blocks.