Wildcats and Racers will tip at 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network+ and 630AM WLAP
LEXINGTON – November 24, 2020
At long last, the 2020-21 University of Kentucky women’s basketball season is set to begin as the No. 11 Wildcats will host in-state rival Murray State on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET inside historic Memorial Coliseum.
With attendance limited to 15% of normal arena capacity, the majority of tickets have been sold as full-season packages for women’s basketball and UK does not expect any general public ticket sales at this time. Fans are encouraged to check Ticketmaster.com for any ticket allotments that are returned and released closer to game days, as well as for verified resale tickets.
The game vs. Murray State will be streamed on SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro and Christi Thomas on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick will have the call on the UK Sports Network on 630AM WLAP in Lexington. Live stats and free live audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Entering its first season under interim head coach Kyra Elzy, Kentucky returns a large portion of its production for 2020-21 even with the departure of five 2020 seniors due to graduation. UK will bring back its top two scorers, while also returning its top two rebounders. Kentucky will also add Maryland transfer Olivia Owens, Auburn transfer Robyn Benton, 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Dre’una Edwards and a top-15 recruiting class in true freshmen Treasure Hunt, Nyah Leveretter and Erin Toller.
Rhyne Howard is the leading returner for the Wildcats after a long list of accomplishments and honors last season and this preseason. So far this preseason, she has been named the Southeastern Conference Preseason Player of the Year by league coaches and league media, became the first Associated Press Preseason All-American in program history and is on the Cheryl Miller Award Preseason Watch List, WBCA Wade Trophy Preseason Watch List and Naismith Trophy Preseason Watch List. The 2020 SEC Player of the Year finished second nationally in scoring last season with 23.4 points per game while she hit a school-record 84 3-pointers during the year.
Also returning will be the 2020 SEC 6th Woman of the Year in Chasity Patterson, who averaged 11.5 points in 19 games last season. In the post, UK returns KeKe McKinney, who averaged 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, and Tatyana Wyatt, who averaged 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds. Kentucky natives Blair Green and Emma King will also be back for the Wildcats and hope to build on promising 2019-20 seasons. Several players will return to the team but did not see time last year due to injury or NCAA transfer rules. Edwards headlines that list after impressing during her freshman year at Utah along with guard Kameron Roach, who is healthy after she tore her Achilles at the end of her sophomore season and used last year to rehab and regain strength.
Kentucky welcomes six newcomers to the 2020-21 team, including talented rookies in Hunt, Leveretter and Toller, along with Owens, Benton and Jazmine Massengill. All are expected to provide significant depth to the Wildcats this season with the exception of Massengill, who will sit out the 2020-21 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Owens and Benton were given waivers from the NCAA to be eligible immediately.
Hunt was the MaxPreps Tennessee Player of the Year last year while Toller and Leveretter were all-state honorees. Hunt, Toller and Leveretter signed National Letters of Intent to play at Kentucky back in November and make up a top-15 recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN.com. Hunt was picked to play in the exclusive Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All-American Game, while Leveretter and Toller were both honored as nominees for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Owens, who was a five-star prospect and one of the best centers in the nation coming out of high school in 2018, joined the Kentucky program in June after transferring from Maryland. Owens played 16 games her freshman season at Maryland after sitting out last season due to medical issues. She hit 55 percent from the field as a rookie at Maryland with her best performance coming in the Big 10 Championship game where she played six minutes with four points and four rebounds.
Benton, who was an All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team selection at Auburn before averaging double-digit points as a sophomore for the Tigers, transferred to Kentucky in April. She played in 52 career games at Auburn and upped her numbers last season from 2018-19 after missing the first nine games due to injury. Last year, she played in 20 games with 14 starts averaging 10.1 points per game with 27 3s, 56 steals and 28 assists.
Wednesday’s season opener will be the 15th all-time meeting between Kentucky and Murray State in women’s basketball. The Wildcats hold the all-time series record 14-0, including a 6-0 mark in games played in Lexington. This will be only the third meeting between the two teams since 1994. This is the first time the two have met for a season opener. The last meeting was Dec. 21, 2018 inside Memorial Coliseum when the Wildcats claimed a 88-49 victory. Howard scored 25 points in that game with five 3s, adding four rebounds, while McKinney, Wyatt, Green and Roach also played in the game.
Murray State is entering its fourth season under head coach Rachelle Turner, who has a 38-52 record at the school. Last season, the Racers went 14-16, including 7-11 in the OVC. Murray State battled injuries late in the season to several key players but still qualified for the OVC Tournament before falling to UT Martin in the quarterfinals. The Racers return eight letterwinners from last season, including all five starters. MSU also adds six newcomers. In all, Murray State returns 79.5 percent of its scoring and 78.4 percent of its rebounding from last season. Junior guard Macey Turley is the leading returner for the Racers after averaging 16.6 points per game last season before a season-ending injury late in the season. Seniors Lex Mayes and Laci Hawthrone also return as both averaged 10.1 points per game last season, while junior Alexis Burpo averaged 10.3. Sophomore forward Macie Gibson is the fifth starter returning after averaging 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last year.
UK is 38-8 all-time in season openers, including winning 11 in a row. Last season, UK defeated Mount St. Mary’s 67-44 in its season opener at Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats are 42-4 all-time in home openers and have won 11 in a row as well.
Kentucky Women’s Basketball
Pre-Murray State News Conference
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Joe Craft Center – Lexington, Ky.
Interim Head Coach Kyra Elzy
“Thank you, guys, so much for being here. We are extremely excited about getting the season rolling tomorrow. This team is so excited, nervous, anxious and every other emotion that you can feel right now, but we look forward to hitting the floor against Murray State tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. Murray is a great team. They will be a great test for us early, as they return four starters form last year that are averaging in double figures. They are really going to put our transition defense to the test, as they like to run in transition and shoot 3s. It will be a great test for our offensive execution, as they play multiple junk defenses. So, excited to get it rolling, and we are looking forward to putting a Kentucky team on the floor that you all will be proud of.”
On pre-game breakfast and Kentucky’s inside presence…
“We will miss the Wheeler’s breakfast. Coach (Nyah) Butts is very saddened. I told them I don’t want to drop the ball on them, so maybe for the first game I will order in breakfast to bring to the staff so they do not feel like I have totally let them down. We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to play inside-out. We have a post-presence with Oliva Owens, Nyah Leveretter, Dre’una Edwards, so we truly can play inside-out this year, which really keeps the defense honest. We relied a lot last year on our outside shots, but to really be able to have a post-presence that can score consistently, I think that will help our overall efficiency.”
On coaching a team with this much talent and depth…
“Well, I’ve actually played on a team with this much talent and this much depth, but I am very excited to coach a team like this. Our rotations, I mean, there are so many possibilities that we can put on the floor, but one thing that I have been talking to the players about, along with the staff, there is one basketball, there is 40 minutes and five positions. We’ve had role meetings all week, and it is vital that each player buys into their role and we celebrate each player’s success. One night, it might be your night and one night it might not be, but our job as a staff is to put five players on the floor that can put us in positions to win, and that is part of the price that you have to pay when you have this much talent and depth, but it is a great problem to have. I can sleep well at night as a coach for having it.”
On how you deal with COVID over our heads from an emotional standpoint…
“Well, I am using my college coach, the icon, the legend herself (Pat Summitt), left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat. So, evert moment that I start feeling overwhelmed, I play that over in my head. I take a deep breath, and I just try to put my left foot forward, my right foot forward, breathe and repeat that – a lot of times over the course of the day. But, also, just to be surrounded by a staff that loves Kentucky, that is invested in our players, that I trust, and their commitment to helping our program move forward, that does ease my mind.”
On what you are telling the team about creating internal energy since there may not be larger crowds…
“There won’t be, but I think our marketing staff and our facilities personnel, they have done a great job of trying to keep our game-day atmosphere as close to what we are accustom to. Last Saturday during the Blue-White scrimmage, we did practice with crowd noise, which was a bit different to get use to for myself, staff and players, but at the end of the day, when we take the floor, whether there are two people in Memorial or 500 people in Memorial, there are people watching. We have a responsibility, there is a job that we have to do, and there is a Kentucky team that people are accustom to seeing, and there is a job that we have to do night in and night out.”
On if you think this is one of Kentucky’s most talented teams ever, and how do you handle that challenge…
“I totally agree, this is a very talented team. We’re very fortunate that we have a group of young ladies that believe in Kentucky and our vision, and our biggest goal is to win, and that’s what they came here for, along with all of the off-court attributions that they will receive here under our guidance. But, everyone has pressure, every coach, whether you are talented or not talented, it is taking a team to the floor and really buying into the vision of winning as a team. That is what we are preaching, and for me, I talk to our players, you earn your time on the practice floor, I love you all, but at the end of the day, the job is to put five players on the floor that can help us win. They know their roles, it is very clear, so, if they do not like their roles, I am happy to let them work in order for them to evolve and change, but at the end of the day, it is team first and we are going to use the talent to our advantage to achieve the goals that they want to achieve over the course of this season.”
On what you are looking for during these first two games….
“Well, besides winning, we really want to hang our hat on our defense. Everyone could be nervous, the offense could be helter-skelter early, let’s hope the ball goes in the basket early, that always helps settle some nerves, but really we have challenged the players, let’s play our heart out on the offensive end, let’s make hustle plays, energy plays, taking charges, trying to get on the floor. We have worked extremely hard this preseason in our offensive execution, so we want to play team basketball on that end, not just take a good shot, but let’s take great shots, move the ball and good things will happen.”
On what you expect to see out of Rhyne Howard out of the gate…
“Well, as we all know, Rhyne is extremely gifted on the basketball floor. She is a woman on a mission, she has a chip on her shoulder, she is out to prove to everyone that she is the best player in college basketball, so I think her work ethic has followed suit to the goals that she is trying to achieve. I think having a talented team, other people on the floor that can score, has really taken some pressure off of her this year, and I feel like she just wants to go out and play, and obviously this offense does revolve around her, but having other talent does help. The biggest step forward for me and this staff is she has become a vocal leader, she has demanded greatness not only from herself, but from everyone around her.”
On what impact Robyn Benton will have on the backcourt this year…
“Yes, we are so excited that Robyn is now eligible to play. She gives us another athletic guard in the rotation. I love Robyn, she is aggressive offensively, she can shoot the ball, and defensively, she can make plays, but what we love most about her, she is willing to step up. She wants to be the defensive stopper, whether we say to pr not in practice, she always runs to Rhyne Howard and tries to guard her, so I love that she is willing to step up to the challenge and she will make us different on both sides of the basketball.”
On what you are thankful for this holiday season…
“I am thankful for friends, family, the opportunity to be the interim head coach at the University of Kentucky. I mean, truly blessed.”