Former Lady Tiger Riley meets old team for first time


Sophomore guard Crystal Riley goes up for a layup during the first half of the game against Arkansas at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday. Photo by Zach Brake

Sophomore guard Crystal Riley traded the Bayou for the Bluegrass in early 2009.

After her first semester in college and five appearances as a Louisiana State Lady Tiger, Riley made the decision to leave LSU for the greener—or rather bluer—pastures UK had to offer.

“I chose Kentucky because I knew if I came here I’d get a chance to play,” said Riley, who got lost in the shuffle of guards at LSU and saw more playing time with the scout team than the first team. “More playing time to me is great, I’m not really worried about anything else.”

That makes the No. 23 Cats’ (16-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) Thursday game against the No.19 Lady Tigers (14-4, 3-3 SEC) that much sweeter for the 5-foot-5 Riley, who will suit up against her old team for the first time. She’ll try to help UK snap a 16-game losing streak to LSU that dates back to 1999.

“Crystal needs to know that she has a very important job to do for our basketball team and that’s where her focus needs to be,” Mitchell said. “She’s vital to us going down and winning. I’m sure she won’t be able to help but have some emotions going back to the place she went to school one time. Once she gets into the flow of the game it can only hurt her if she’s thinking about (her old team).”

Mitchell said he almost forgot Riley used to play at LSU until early Wednesday morning because she’s been a part of the team for so long.

Although Riley is the smallest player on the team, since she became eligible to play for the Cats Dec. 20 against Louisville, she has made big contributions to the team. Though she hasn’t broken into the starting lineup, she’s averaging 16 minutes per game to bolster UK’s depth.

“I think all of the players off the bench really give our team a type of lift that we really need,” Riley said. “Most bench players come in and don’t really do much, and we’re trying to make a difference here at Kentucky … in order for us to that we have to be engaged (in the game), not just the starters.”

The diminutive Riley primarily serves as the backup point guard to junior Amber Smith. Since becoming available for game action, Riley’s ball-handling ability has allowed for sophomore guard Rebecca Gray to focus on shooting rather than passing. Gray had been pressed into duty at point guard, an unnatural role for her.

Riley possesses almost a carbon copy of Smith’s up-tempo style of play. As a result, the combination of the two point guards has led to UK to becoming the top-ranked SEC team in scoring offense and scoring margin.

However, Riley and Smith will have to mind their turnovers against LSU, the SEC’s leader in scoring defense and second behind UK in scoring margin.

“The biggest challenge (LSU) poses is they make it tough to get in the lane and score and it’s so much easier to just shoot perimeter shots,” Mitchell said.

This means that the onus to facilitate ball movement and to get open shots will start with the point guards. Regardless of prior allegiances, Riley will look to prove she always had the spice necessary to succeed in Cajun country.

“I just think of this as another game, and I’m just going to get past this and get the win,” Riley said. “I’m kind of excited about going back and just playing my game.”