Mix of transfers and freshmen hope to give women’s basketball team ‘special season’


Senior Sabrina Haines shoots a layup during the game against University of Southern Indiana on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

Eric Decker

A new season of Kentucky basketball is almost upon us in the Bluegrass. Matthew Mitchell, now entering his 13th season as head coach of Kentucky’s women’s basketball, looks to improve on an impressive season that ultimately netted him SEC coach of the year in 2019. Last season the Wildcats finished the year with a record of 25-8 and 11-5 within conference play, and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky’s season ultimately ended in a 72-57 loss to N.C. State in the round of 32 after defeating Princeton in the first round. The Wildcats finished the year ranked No. 21 in the postseason Coaches Poll.

“I think this is a team that has tremendous capability to have a special season,” Mitchell told reporters on media day. “We have some versatility, we have some depth, we have some great attitudes working right now. So, the key for us is to really come together as a team and stay focused on that throughout the entirety of the season.”

Mitchell looks to improve a career .692 overall winning percentage and a .632 conference winning percentage at Kentucky behind the play of returning sophomore Rhyne Howard who earned the honors of espnW, WBCA, and USBWA National Freshman of the year in 2019. The leading scorer (16.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.6 rpg) from last season, Howard has already earned herself another honor this year by being named to the First Team All-SEC in the media’s preseason poll. Mitchell plans to challenge her to improve on a stellar freshman campaign.

“So, it’s a mindset first of all that we’re talking to her about, and then really the thing that I wanted to work on in her game was I didn’t think she was able to finish around the basket at a high enough level that can really take her game to another level and she’s really worked on that this summer and she’s looked much better,” Mitchell said.

The Cats are going to have to find a way to replace the offensive production of two of their three double digit scorers from last year after losing Maci Morris (15.1 ppg) and Taylor Murray (12.4 ppg). Mitchell hopes to have this come from some now-eligible transfers and the incoming freshman.

“You add the transfers, Sabrina (Haines), Nae Nae (Cole) and Chasity (Patterson) who were on campus working hard and have a feel for the program,” Mitchell said. “And then a really intelligent, smart freshman in Emma King who is catching on quickly.”

Coach Mitchell expects a successful, however rigorous route through the SEC this year after being predicted to finish fourth in the preseason polls.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be a really tough and competitive league,” Mitchell said. “I stay so focused on our team throughout the summer and during the preseason that I can’t tell you as much as I will be able to tell you once we start looking at the tape and seeing how the teams are developing, but just knowing the coaches in the room and knowing some of the players that are coming back, it’ll be a big and great league.”

Kentucky kicks off its 2019-2020 campaign on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Memorial Coliseum when they face off against Mount St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.