While women's roundball fans around the nation focus on the Baylor-UConn clash at 8PM CST, the SEC regular season conference crown is on the line in the warmup act. #9 AP/#7 USA Today Kentucky comes into Reed arena for a 6PM CST rematch against the Fightin' Texas Aggie Women's Bouncy Ballers (ESPN2 for those who can't make it to Reed). The #11/13 Ags need extend an 8-game winning streak to keep up with the Tennessee Lady Vols, whose win vs Vanderbilt in a battle of the injury-depleted put the Ags a half game back going into the annual Play for Kay BTHO Breast Cancer game.
The big question for the Ags is whether they are better prepared for the "40 minutes of hell" style than they were for a close loss on January 10. Kelsey Bone and Kristi Bellock ruled the paint in that game, but the WildCat D forced 20 turnovers to come back in the second half and then hold on. It's interesting to compare UK's rise in recent years to the way our own Gary Blair and ex-associate coach Vic Schaeffer built the Ags into a national power through pressure D. The danger for UK is similar to the Achilles heel of our pre-championship teams: it's a lot of fun to watch, but really hard to sustain over the length of a season and into the big Dance. Are Kentucky's losses to Georgia and South Carolina since they last saw the Ags signs of hitting the wall?
My "obvious keys are obvious" keys to the game:
- What does Matt Mitchell cook up to stop Kelsey Bone. The Ags can struggle vs. a zone, as illustrated by how Florida neutralized a fast first half start on Valentine's Day. But I get the sense that Kentucky dialing up a zone would be as shocking as seeing a zone from Coach Vic... like the one we used against Baylor in the 2011 Elite 8 came in Dallas. My bet is that he's not ready to go there yet.
- Turnovers. Taking care of the ball is always important, but even more so vs. pressure like UK brings. The Kentucky leads the SEC in turnover margin. The Ags lead in A/TO. Adrienne Pratcher is one of the top point guards in the nation in A/TO, but UK got 8 turnovers from 2 of our super fish, Courtney Walker and Jordan Jones. We need CWalk and JJ to play well tonight.
- Transition and 3-pt defense.UK is averaging 6.9 made treys per game and hit 9/17 in the first game. We can hope that the Ags respond to that the way we did when Mizzou brought their league-leading 3 pt shooting into Reed, but UK plays 3-pt D too well to expect that.
- Karla Gilbert. Coach Blair got some criticism for letting Bone wear out in the Jan 10 game. Karla only played 3 minutes, all in the first half. The Ags also didn't even try the twin towers lineup with Gilbert and Bone playing together.
- Jennifer O'Neill. UK's 2 guard, A'dia Mathies is their biggest star and will draw our best defender, but the point guard position could be decisive. O'Neill had a great game in the Cats comeback win vs S. Carolina, but had some inopportune turnovers in their loss to Georgia.
The Ags are a better team than the one that fell just short in Lexington, and I like our chances for payback. Those chances would benefit from a good turnout from the 12th man.
BTHO Breast Cancer!