For the third consecutive season, the Kentucky women’s basketball team will be ranked to begin the season.
The preseason Associated Press poll was released Tuesday afternoon, with the Wildcats checking in at No. 13 in the country.
Last season, the Wildcats began the season ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP poll before going 18-9 overall and 9-6 in Southeastern Conference play, ultimately losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the 2019-20 season, the Wildcats began with the No. 13 ranking in the preseason AP poll before going 22-8 overall and 10-6 in SEC play. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Tuesday’s rankings release represents the third consecutive season Kentucky will start with a number next to its name, it’s the first time Kyra Elzy will lead a ranked team into the season as its official head coach.
Elzy served as Kentucky’s head coach for all 27 games last season after being named the team’s interim head coach less than two weeks before last season began. She was officially named head coach in December.
Kentucky is one of four SEC teams ranked in the preseason AP poll ahead of the 2021-22 season.
South Carolina is ranked No. 1, Tennessee is 15th and Texas A&M is 23rd.
Georgia, LSU and Arkansas were among those also receiving votes.
No. 2 Connecticut and No. 3 Stanford also received first-place votes.
In-state rival Louisville will open the season ranked sixth while Indiana, with former Sacred Heart standout Grace Berger as one of its stars, is eighth.
The ceremonial kickoff to both the Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball seasons occurred last Friday with Big Blue Madness in front of fans and recruits inside Rupp Arena.
Attending her first traditional Big Blue Madness as head coach — last year’s event was a television-only production inside Memorial Coliseum — Elzy made a signature entrance, rappelling down from the Rupp Arena ceiling.
The Wildcats also participated in several three-point shooting contests, with the individual competition won by Blair Green over Rhyne Howard, Emma King and Treasure Hunt.
UK also held a five-on-five scrimmage in front of fans during Big Blue Madness. The only UK player who didn’t take part in the scrimmage was freshman walk-on Kristen Crenshaw-Gill, who earned a roster spot during open tryouts in September and was formally announced as a member of the team last week.
Elzy’s stunning entrance to Big Blue Madness, as well as the general state of the UK women’s basketball program, was the subject of Elzy’s appearance Monday afternoon on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” the popular SEC sports-focused radio show with a television simulcast.
Finebaum also spoke with Elzy about her playing career at Tennessee. Elzy played for legendary coach Pat Summitt from 1996 to 2001, winning consecutive national championships in 1997 and 1998.
“It’s truly an honor,” Elzy said of being part of Summitt’s legacy. “You learned so many things from coach Summitt, but one of the things that she instilled in us is a toughness … a resilience, remaining humble, make sure we’re paying our blessings forward. I think that’s why you see a lot of former Lady Vols that are successful today, in large part due to coach Summitt.”
When asked by Finebaum about her team for the upcoming season, Elzy specified Green, Howard, Dre’una Edwards and Jazmine Massengill as key players on this Kentucky team.
“We have unfinished business, so it’s back to work and we are ready to go,” Elzy said.
Kentucky will hold a Blue-White scrimmage on Sunday inside Memorial Coliseum.
Admission to the scrimmage is free and fans must use the Lexington Avenue entrance to Memorial Coliseum.
Doors to Memorial Coliseum for the scrimmage will open at 1 p.m. with team introductions starting at around 1:30 p.m.
Howard was named the Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year by the league’s media, it was announced on Tuesday. It was the second straight season she has earned that honor.
The league’s coaches have named her the SEC Player of the Year at the end of the past two seasons, and she was chosen as a first-team All-American last year by the Associated Press, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and United States Basketball Writers Association.
South Carolina was the media’s pick to win the regular-season title, followed by Tennessee, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Alabama, Missouri, Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Preseason All-SEC selections in addition to Howard were LSU’s Khayla Pointer, Mississippi’s Shakira Austin and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke.