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Jamie Vaught: UK women’s basketball team enjoying fine season, ranked among nation’s best at No. 15


With the COVID-19 regular season already halfway over, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team has struggled mightily.

But what about the UK women team? It has done exactly the opposite of its counterparts, ranking among the nation’s top teams with a very good mark of 11-4 going into this week’s action. The Wildcats, currently No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, have already beaten three ranked teams against Indiana, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Who are they? Well, if you are just a casual fan, you probably have heard of superstar Rhyne Howard and perhaps the new head coach by the name of Kyra Elzy, a Pat Summitt disciple.

Rhyne Howard is UK’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game, which is good for fourth place in the SEC. (UK photo)

While you may not be that familiar with the entire squad, the Wildcats – formerly called the Lady Kats (nickname was discontinued in 1995) – have grown in popularity in recent years with the help of the SEC Network. They are certainly a fun and talented group to watch on television. And they are good. Let’s take a quick look at the Wildcats (by class and alphabetical order).

SENIORS

–KeKe McKinney, a 6-foot-1 senior standout from Knoxville, is one of the vocal leaders for the Wildcats. While the all-around athlete may not have the most impressive stats, she is certainly a very valuable player. McKinney, who is a two-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, is averaging 31.4 minutes, just behind Howard’s 34.1 minutes, and 7.0 points. Before coming to Lexington, she considered Tennessee and Mississippi State.

–Chasity Patterson, a fast and explosive 5-6 senior from Houston, Texas, was ESPN.com’s top-ranked point guard in the class of 2017 and came to Texas where she was chosen the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year. But Patterson decided to come to Kentucky and she was named the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year last season after playing 19 games, averaging nearly 12 points.

Patterson is currently No. 2 in Kentucky’s scoring department with 13.1 points behind Rhyne Howard. She leads the SEC in steals with 60 steals for an average of 4.0, which is also good for No. 4 in NCAA. As for the Assist/Turnover ratio, she is No. 4 with 2.7 in the league (54 assists over 20 turnovers).

–Tatyana Wyatt, a 6-2 forward from Columbus, Georgia, is one of the more explosive and versatile players for the Wildcats. A key reserve, she has averaged around 11 minutes this season. She twice has been named to SEC Academic Honor Roll, majoring in psychology.

JUNIORS

–Robyn Benton, a former five-star recruit who was named as ESPN.com’s No. 17 overall player nationally, is an impact transfer from Auburn where she was chosen to All-SEC Freshman team. A 5-9 guard from Conyers, Georgia, she is an aggressive reserve, averaging 20.2 minutes and 9.1 points.

Benton’s brother Inky Johnson was a Vol standout who saw his football career end prematurely in 2006 with a severe arm injury. Now an acclaimed motivation speaker, Johnson spoke to the Tennessee football team this past summer about adversity and the COVID-19 challenges.

Chasity Patterson scored 30 points earlier this season as UK posted an 86-60 win over Murray State. (UK photo)

–Blair Green is a popular player from the southeast Kentucky mountains. Even though she was born in Knoxville, the so-called capital of the Big Orange County, Green bypassed the Vols as well as rival UofL to play for the Wildcats after leading the Harlan County High School Black Bears to the state tournament during her senior year. A three-time all-stater and a football homecoming queen, she was coached by her mother, Debbie Green, who once played at UK for one year.

Green, a 6-0 guard who has started all of UK’s 15 games, has the team’s second-best free throw shooting percentage while averaging 8.5 points. Against Vanderbilt last week, she hit a career-high 22 points, including 4-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.

Elzy likes Green’s work ethic. “She comes in before practice. She practices extremely hard. She comes in after practice. She watches film,” said the coach with a smile.

Green said she doesn’t have that many distractions outside of basketball and she is limiting her time on social media. She also has a puppy, Rupp, which is named after Rupp Arena.

–Rhyne Howard, a 6-2 guard from Cleveland, Tenn., is already a Kentucky legend who has captured numerous national awards, including being named Associated Press first-team All-American in 2020. Before coming to UK as a highly-touted recruit, she considered South Carolina and Purdue.

She has spent a couple of summers for Team USA in international games, winning gold titles both times. Her coach was Jeff Walz, whose Louisville Cardinals are currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Howard is currently Kentucky’s leading scorer with 19.3 points, which is good for fourth place in the SEC. In the rebounding department, she is second on the team with 6.6 rebounds.

–Jazmine Massengill is another key reserve who has helped the Wildcats with her playmaking skills, averaging nearly 20 minutes. The 6-foot guard spent the last two seasons at Tennessee where she was a starter during her sophomore year. She had planned to sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules. However, with blanket NCAA waiver which was passed in mid-December, Massengill became eligible.

Before coming to UT, Massengill was the No. 25 overall player by ESPN.com and No.11 overall by ProspectsNation.com.

Former UK coach Matthew Mitchell, who stepped down from his post in November due to health issues, said Massengill’s personality (off the court) “can light up a room” and added that he loves the energy that she brings to the program.

–Kameron Roach is another player from South Carolina where she was a four-star prospect. She once won her high school poetry contest in honor of Black History Month. A 5-6 junior guard who tore her Achilles at the end of the 2018-19 campaign and missed the following season, Roach made SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2018 and ’19. Her father ran track at Clemson.

SOPHOMORES

–Dre’una Edwards is a 6-2 redshirt sophomore from Las Vegas who has started most of the games this season, averaging a team-leading 7.3 rebounds and third-best 11.9 points. Before arriving at Lexington, the physical forward/center did very well at Utah where Edwards was 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

–Olivia Owens is another transfer who played 16 games as a freshman before sitting out last winter due to medical issues while at Maryland. A former five-star high school prospect, she has made an immediate impact for the Wildcats. The 6-4 center, who is from Albany, N.Y., is averaging nearly 15 minutes while earning five starts.

UK’s Olivia Owens attempts a jumper against Murray State earlier this season. (UK photo)

–Emma King, a 5-10 sophomore who starred at Lincoln County High in Stanford, is one of UK’s three players from the state of Kentucky with Green from Harlan County and Toller from Louisville. A shooting guard who has started a couple of games this season, King selected UK over Wisconsin, Florida, Dayton and Louisville.

FRESHMAN

–Treasure Hunt is a 6-1 guard who recently earned her first collegiate start against Vandy, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. A Chattanooga, Tenn., product was ranked as a Top 10 player in the 2020 class by All Star Girls Report. Hunt picked UK over Baylor, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn. She is very familiar with a couple of teammates – Howard and Massengill – as they all live within a 35-minute radius in Cleveland and Chattanooga in Tennessee.

Hunt has seen action in eight games, averaging 13.3 minutes. Asked about Hunt before the Vandy game, Elzy said, “Treasure (Hunt) continues to progress, and our freshmen are very talented, our future is extremely bright. But, it is a change of pace, coming from high school to college, learning to play at the intensity on both ends of the floor, the physicality of the game, and it is just a learning curve for everyone.

“So, they continue to progress. Treasure Hunt is skilled offensively, she’s still trying to learn our defensive system, which will come in time, but I am extremely happy with all of their progress.”

–Nyah Leveretter is a 6-3 athletic freshman from South Carolina where she was a four-star prospect, ranking as the 20th best forward in the 2020 class. She also was a star volleyball player in high school.

–Erin Toller is a 5-7 freshman guard who almost went to Tennessee after getting an offer while starring at Louisville Sacred Heart as a four-star prospect. Fortunately, she decided to stay close to home and play for the Wildcats. Toller hasn’t seen much action this season but she is a talented floor general who can cause problems.

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.


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