After nearly a week off, the Kentucky women’s basketball team picked up where it left things inside Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.
Just hours after the Kentucky volleyball team put on a defensive clinic on its way to earning an outright SEC title, the Wildcats put in a quality defensive effort on the hardwood in a 74-52 victory over the La Salle Explorers of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
It was another home win for head coach Kyra Elzy’s team against an overmatched opponent. All four of UK’s wins this season have come at home and those wins have come by an average of 34.25 points.
Saturday’s contest was also a final tune-up chance for UK ahead of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Wednesday night against West Virginia.
The star: Dre’una Edwards had a double-double for the Wildcats with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The stats: Joining Edwards in double figures scoring for UK was Robyn Benton (17), Rhyne Howard (16) and Jada Walker (12). Benton was a perfect 3-for-3 on three-pointers.
The status: Kentucky improved to 4-1. La Salle fell to 3-3.
1. WILDCATS STRUGGLE TO REBOUND THE BALL.
While Kentucky always maintained a multiple-possession buffer over La Salle once it took the lead, a point of emphasis for Elzy in the lead-up to the West Virginia game will unquestionably come on the glass.
Kentucky and La Salle finished tied at 40 each in the rebounding battle.
“I thought La Salle beat us to some 50-50 balls. They were shooting threes so there was long rebounds, so our guards have to step in and help us rebound,” Elzy said. “In order for us to be our best team we have to rebound the ball better.”
Kentucky lost the rebounding battle, 40-30, in its lone loss of the season at Indiana.
The success on the glass enjoyed by the Explorers kept them in the game for an extended period, as the UK lead was cut to just nine points on several occasions in the second half.
An 18-5 scoring advantage for the Wildcats in the fourth quarter added some gloss to the final score, but the rebounding struggles will undoubtedly be a concern for Elzy with a power conference opponent on the horizon.
Also of note for the Wildcats entering Wednesday’s contest with West Virginia will be the health status of two players.
Elzy said postgame that Leveretter is back participating in practice.
Sophomore guard Treasure Hunt left the game early in the second half and didn’t return following what appeared to be a facial injury, and she was seen on the UK bench during the second half with an ice pack.
Elzy said postgame that Hunt is day-to-day with her injury.
2. DRE’UNA EDWARDS CONTINUES CONSISTENT SCORING ABILITY.
While Howard might get most of the headlines with her projection as a top pick in next year’s WNBA Draft and her stat-stuffing performances, like the triple-double she had last time out against Winthrop, Edwards has lived up to offseason expectations with her early-season showings.
Edwards has scored at least 20 points in four of Kentucky’s five games this season, including a 27-point output against North Alabama. Edwards had 22 points on Saturday night on 8-for-11 shooting from the field, along with 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 36 minutes.
It was the first double-double of the season for Edwards and the 12th of her college career.
“I thought she was efficient offensively. Some of the bunnies around the rim that she missed last year just due to fatigue, she’s starting to hit those,” Elzy said. “She just makes us different in transition offense. When she can get it off the glass, lead the break, she’s a great passer, but it’s a mismatch in transition.”
The 36 minutes played were a career-high for Edwards, who began her college career at Utah, where she earned 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors before tearing her ACL and then transferring to Kentucky.
During the preseason, Edwards was one of the players most often cited by Elzy as an important piece to this season’s Kentucky team, in part based on the way she transformed her conditioning and nutrition during the offseason.
Through five games — with the outlier being a seven-point showing at Indiana during which she battled foul trouble — Edwards has delivered on the preseason hype.
Edwards has now led UK in scoring three times this season.
3. UK READIES ITSELF FOR ANOTHER RESUME-BUILDING GAME.
Simply put, Kentucky’s wins this season have come against teams it should handle at home and Kentucky’s lone loss this season came by 21 points on the road against its only opponent of substance.
In between that road defeat at Indiana and now, UK has had a pair of “get right” opportunities against Winthrop and La Salle to work on everything from transition offense to defensive closeouts against three-point shooters.
“I thought we took a step forward defensively tonight,” Elzy said, noting the shot clock violations caused by the UK defense and the 17 turnovers forced by the Wildcats.
Elzy also added that halfcourt execution on offense is an area she still wants UK to improve in.
“We run a lot of four-out stuff, just a lot of movement,” said Robyn Benton, who had 17 points in Saturday’s win. “We just try to hit the open man.”
While there’s been a tangible final product from those efforts in the form of wins, the real fruits of UK’s labor will come Wednesday night.
Kentucky’s next game is against West Virginia in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 22 in The Associated Press Poll, although that might change after they lost to BYU on Saturday.
Regardless, the game will serve as Kentucky’s second résumé-building opportunity of the season, and the Wildcats will hope it goes better than the first.
“I thought we did really good on defense today. We’ve been honing in on that a lot this past week,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to be more intense on the defensive end and I think that’s definitely helped us out a lot and we’re going to be prepared for West Virginia.”
As UK seeks to build its résumé with an eye toward March, the Wildcats will hope to be part of an expanded NCAA Tournament field this season.
Earlier this month, the NCAA announced the expansion of the Division I women’s basketball tournament from 64 teams to 68 teams.
Elzy said that while UK hopes to be firmly in the tournament field, the expansion is a chance for more exposure for women’s college basketball.
“I think it will be a great asset,” Elzy said of the expansion.
After having a pair of games against lesser opponents in Winthrop and La Salle to recover from a 21-point loss at Indiana, Kentucky will get another crack at a power-conference opponent in West Virginia.
No. 22 West Virginia at No. 20 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Online: SEC Network Plus