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Takeaways from Kentucky women’s basketball’s 88-71 exhibition win over Kentucky State

Travis Fannon
Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy walks onto the court before the Kentucky vs. ETSU womens basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at the Clive M. Beck Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 74-66 Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Kentucky women’s basketball got the better of Kentucky State in its first and only exhibition, beating the Thoroughbreds 88-71 inside Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats left little to no doubt as they led the Thoroughbreds all the way to the final whistle, though it was by no means a perfect performance across the board.

With the buzzer sounding and both teams heading back to their locker rooms, there was plenty of room to look further into some of the bigger talking points and takeaways of the exhibition, with four such takeaways being more evident than others.

GIBSON: Saniah Tyler seems to have taken a massive step forward

Coming out of high school Saniah Tyler was a highly-touted four-star recruit, but she had an underwhelming freshman season at Kentucky.

Heading into the offseason, Tyler was eager to regain her confidence according to head coach Kyra Elzy.

“I was like, ‘Go back to work, get in the gym, put some shots up,’” Elzy said. “She did that, to her credit. (She is) playing with so much more confidence now.”

Her work in the offseason began to show on the court, with Tyler going 4-9 from the field to add 12 points to the scoreboard for the Wildcats.

On top of that, in last season’s opening exhibition Tyler saw three minutes of play time compared to nearly 25 minutes against Kentucky State. She was even in the starting lineup and is likely to stay there given her newfound confidence at the Division-I level.  

JOHNSON: Ajae Petty could be an issue for opponents this season

Heading into their first and only exhibition the Wildcats expected big things from senior Ajae Petty, with Elzy awarding Petty the preseason MVP award.

“She’s just a different player this year,” Elzy said. “She’s committed to getting in shape, she’s changed her mindset to be open to coaching and it’s really paying off.”

Petty would validate those expectations early in the Wildcats’ exhibition against Kentucky State, scoring 15 of the 24 first quarter points for the Cats, grabbing six rebounds in the process.

She would eventually slow down in the scoring column, but Petty would finish the game with a double-double, leading the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding and taking advantage of her size while doing so.

While Petty proved to be too much for the Thoroughbreds, the tallest defender she faced in the exhibition was six feet tall, with the lack of size from Kentucky State leaving post play wide open.

There is no doubt that Petty’s competition down low will only improve as the Cats enter the regular season, but with senior Nyah Leveretter’s return still uncertain, the Wildcats will look to her to step up in her absence.

GIBSON: Turnovers could be a potential problem

Kentucky committed 530 turnovers just a season ago, the fourth most in the SEC.

On top of that, the Wildcats averaged 17.1 turnovers per game, the second highest in the conference.

Due to last season’s struggles in the turnover battle, protecting the rock is something fans were looking for the Wildcats to put an emphasis on heading into the year.

In Wednesday’s exhibition the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers, slightly more than Elzy wanted to see against a Division-II school.

“We had 15 Today, our goal is 12,” Elzy said following the match up.

Elzy said her team needed to make smarter passes, while Tennessee transfer Brooklynn Miles hinted communication was the problem against KSU.

“Well, communication obviously plays a big part in the way we play,” she said.

The rowdy crowd full of elementary schoolers for “Education Day” made communicating with each other tough at times.

“At least two or three timeouts, I couldn’t hear myself speaking out loud,” Elzy said.

It was loud enough to the point where Elzy was forced to write the game plan on her board for her players to know what to do.

Although the Cats’ slightly cut back on the turnovers for the opening exhibition, it still needs to be a point of emphasis moving forward.

JOHNSON: Brooklynn Miles’ return home will fill holes left by last season’s departures

Kentucky women’s basketball found itself on the business end of meaningful departures in its backcourt this past season, with Robyn Benton graduating and point guard Jada Walker transferring to Baylor.

The pair were first and second in points-per-game for Kentucky last season, and in their absence, BBN was left to wonder who would step up alongside senior Maddie Scherr to amplify guard play in the Bluegrass.

Miles, a junior Kentucky native and former Kentucky Miss Basketball, will look to be the answer to many questions for the Cats after earning the starting point guard spot for their bout against Kentucky State.

Miles landed in Lexington after entering the transfer portal at the conclusion of last season, appearing in 56 games over two seasons for the Wildcats’ rivals: the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

In her Wildcat debut Miles would record nine points and five assists, saying after the game that she enjoys being a floor general for Kentucky.

“That’s basically my role,” she said. “I like seeing my teammates succeed, I’m not really worried about myself as much, I like giving the ball to other people.”

Fans can expect the former Lady Vol to play a key role on Kentucky’s team and limit the impact felt by Walker’s and Benton’s departures.

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Colton Johnson, Assistant Broadcast/Podcast Editor

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