Is it too late for Kyra Elzy’s Wildcats?

Cole Parke

Kentucky womens basketball is on a free fall, suffering four losses in its last five games by a combined margin of 80 points in the month of January.

The Cats entered 2022 ranked No. 21 with a 7-3 record and two of their three losses coming from top ten teams in the country.

Checking in now with one week left before February, Kentucky is 9-7 and without even a single vote in the AP Poll, being unranked for the first time this season. Recent bracketology predictions even have the Cats not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.

Looking ahead, Kentucky has two more games this month, both road games, including a tough test in Baton Rouge against No. 12 LSU. To make matters worse, head coach Kyra Elzy can only guarantee seven players going forward with three injured Wildcats and one facing a suspension of an unknown length.

The team that took the court in Kentucky’s recent 63-54 loss to Ole Miss was a far cry from the 8-3 unit that handily beat No. 15 Georgia at home on Jan. 6. 

Things went south for Kentucky on Jan. 9, hitting the road to take on No. 1 South Carolina in Columbia. While the Cats hung around for a quarter, they finished the game being blown out by 20 points, with the final score being  74-54.

In a fit of misfortune, Mississippi State was forced to pull out of its game against Kentucky in Lexington due to positive COVID cases, forcing the Cats to have two consecutive road games against top five opponents.

Traveling to Knoxville, Kentucky was then blown out by 26 points, its single largest margin of defeat this season, by then No. 5 Tennessee. It marked the second time this season Kentucky had suffered back-to-back losses. It also stood to make the Cats 0-4 on the road this season, a foreboding sign for their upcoming road games.

“We just did not do what we were supposed to do,” Elzy said. “We had a stretch that we quit making baskets, but there’s no excuse.”

Finally getting to return home, Kentucky hosted Florida on Jan. 20 in what initially looked to be a strong bounce-back opportunity over an unranked opponent. This would not be the case.

Prior to tip-off, it came out that junior forward Dre’una Edwards would not be on the bench for the Cats, as she was facing a suspension for disciplinary action. 

The game went from bad to worse for the shorthanded Cats as senior guard Robyn Benton had to leave the court after going down with an ankle injury in the second quarter. 

When the dust settled, the Wildcats found themselves on the wrong end of a 25-point beat down, having never led Florida at any point in the game.

“We have to do some soul searching,” Elzy said after the loss. “We need to refocus and change our mentality. We are not victims. Obviously we’re dealing with adversity but so are other teams in the country. We just have to step up to the challenge.”

Kentucky’s most recent defeat to Ole Miss inside Rupp Arena saw just seven Wildcats eligible to play, with Edwards remaining suspended and absent while Benton, Kristen Crenshaw-Gill and Blair Green were all out injured.

While the Cats lost by a mere nine points, they once again failed to lead their opponent for the entirety of the game.

“The margin of error is so small,” Elzy said. “I thought we did some things we needed to do, but we came up short today. There are free throws we’ve got to be able to knock down, there are some layups we have to be able to hit, and we have to be able to knock them down. We have to figure out a way to get the job done.”

While UK was able to bounce back, getting its first road win of the season on Tuesday, Jan. 25, defeating Auburn 67-55, the win does little to bolster the Cats’ resume, as the Tigers find themselves in last place in the SEC standings with an 0-7 conference record. Edwards and Benton were once again unable to take the court with the former not traveling with the team.

UK does have the benefit of playing another bottom three SEC team in its next game, but the 1-4 road record and questions surrounding the roster add question marks to every game, even the ones that seem easier on paper.  Kentucky currently stands in 10th out of 14 teams in the SEC standings, having gone 2-4 in conference play.

Elzy has confidence that the team will be able to right the ship, but with her hesitancy to comment on whether or not Edwards will be with the team for their upcoming road games, as well as constant questions regarding player injuries, many do not share her confidence.

Kentucky’s performance against Vanderbilt on Thursday, Jan. 27, that will likely not be enough to get the Cats back into the rankings. With only two ranked games currently left on their schedule, including a rematch against No. 1 South Carolina, questions remain as to whether it’s even a possibility for the UK to create an at-large resume to enter the Big Dance.

While there’s plenty of basketball left to be played, it’s a reasonable fear that it may simply be too late for Elzy’s Wildcats this season.