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ANALYSIS: What Kentucky women’s basketball’s recent results suggest about the team going forward

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy coaches her team during the Kentucky vs. Missouri women’s basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 76-71. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

The past week has seen Kentucky women’s basketball (9-11, 2-4) both win and lose a conference game.

After beating Missouri 76-71 on Sunday inside Rupp Arena the Cats proceeded to head down to Bud Walton Arena where they suffered an 88-61 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In both contests there were highlights and shortcomings that reared their heads in critical moments, many of which could have major implications as Kentucky continues to navigate its way through its conference schedule.

Amongst said implications, two takeaways became the most apparent:

Eniya Russell should not only be starting, but should be the go-to option

Thursday marked the second consecutive game in which senior Eniya Russell led the Wildcats in the scoring column, with the Baltimore native netting 20 points in Kentucky’s last two bouts.

Russell has primarily come off the bench this season, but in multiple instances has been head coach Kyra Elzy’s main option down the stretch with her sinking her second game-winning bucket of the season against Missouri.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Eniya Russell (4) drives to the basket during the Kentucky vs. No. 1 South Carolina womens basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. South Carolina won 95-66. Photo by Olivia Hall | Staff (Olivia Hall)

The first came in the Cats’ 83-81 win over Boston College back in November, with both occurring while senior Maddie Scherr was not on the floor due to either injury or fouling out.

“That’s the Eniya Russell that we need,” Elzy said after the Missouri game. “She has greatness in her and we just need it consistently.”

Kentucky’s starting five has switched on multiple occasions this season and with each game going forward being increasingly more important – and Russell producing significantly more than most starters – an increased role should be all but inevitable.

Lack of front court depth will continue to haunt Kentucky

Ajae Petty has been the far-and-away most outstanding player for the Wildcats this season, leading the Wildcats in points and rebounds while being third in the SEC in rebounds per game.

While Petty has been the culprit of numerous defensive lapses, she solidifies the Cats down low and with the recent dismissal of sophomore forward Zennia Thomas, it seems all the weight has shifted on to her shoulders.

Kentucky forward Ajae Petty shoots over a defender during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt women’s basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 95-73. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff (Sydney Yonker)

As of now Kentucky has two active forwards on its roster: Petty and freshman Janae Walker. While Walker will have the remainder of her college career to hone her craft, she is often targeted when on the floor.

Senior Nyah Leveretter is still recovering from an ACL tear she suffered last season and it goes without saying that Kentucky cannot afford to lose more of its height to injury in any capacity.

This nightmare scenario became a short-term reality for the Cats in the third quarter of their win over Missouri when Petty suffered an apparent lower leg injury that earned her a visit with the Kentucky training staff.

Elzy opted to put five guards on the floor following Petty’s injury, a decision that Missouri would exploit immediately, forcing Elzy to put Walker in the game.

Missouri would continue to attack the post relentlessly despite Walker’s presence and it wasn’t until Petty’s return several minutes later that Kentucky would be able to regain control of the contest.

Put simply, you can’t teach height and Kentucky has a limited supply of it. In a brutal SEC, it may continue costing the Cats results on more occasions than one.

The Wildcats will be looking to earn their third conference win of the season on Sunday, January 28, when they’ll take on the Alabama Crimson Tide inside Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at 5 p.m. ET.

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    Roy PhillipsMar 7, 2024 at 8:21 pm

    UK needs a new coach; one who can bring in quality players who can make the team competitive. The coach would also need to create an atmosphere that would encourage its current players to stay on instead of looking for greener pastures elsewhere. It took a lot of work to get UK to the level it was enjoying only a couple of years back. Hoping for improvement won’t get this team where everyone wants it to be. Three miserable seasons could prove too much to ever overcome. Think about it.