If the start of last season for the Kentucky women’s basketball team was frantic, then this season’s preparation has been focused.
The uncertainty of playing college basketball during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Kyra Elzy’s promotion to head coach less than two weeks before the start of last season, meant the Wildcats didn’t had no time to build cohesion and confidence before the 2020-21 season.
According to Elzy, this manifested itself in key moments.
“We didn’t really have time to freeze. So you’ve seen during the times of the season where we’ve encountered adversity, the trust factor, understanding each other in different ways, it really showed, ”Elzy said Monday inside Memorial Coliseum at the time. of the Kentucky Media Day ahead of the 2021-22 season. “So this summer, we made a commitment to make sure that we create team bonds on and off the pitch.
This team bond has taken different forms, from human noughts and crosses games and game nights, to a exhausting visit in Fort Campbell along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, with coaches and players cell phone free for 24 hours.
“It was an activity that required us to do our best physically and mentally,” Elzy said of the trip to Fort Campbell. “All year we have been talking about overcoming the bump. … There are going to happen to us things that could derail our psyche for a minute from which we will have to bounce (from).
“During that, nobody liked it,” said head guard Rhyne Howard of the Fort Campbell experience. “It really brought us together and it showed how resilient we can be and how we can fight together. It really helped me to be a better leader.
“Just knowing that we can support and depend on each other. They (my teammates) will pick me up when I fall and vice versa, ”said senior guard Jazmine Massengill of what she learned from Fort Campbell.
For a team with nine returning players from last season’s squad that finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have a significant number of strangers entering the Elzy’s second season as a head coach.
The Wildcats will have to use a whole new starting lineup this season following the departure of star goaltender Chasity Patterson, who started all 27 games a season ago.
The three frontline players listed on the UK roster – junior Redshirt striker Dre’una Edwards and center Olivia Owens and second-year striker Nyah Leveretter – have combined for just 16 starts in their UK careers and constitute a group of positions with increased roles required of all. three players following the departures of KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt.
New roles are also being asked of Massengill, whom Elzy calls the team’s playmaker, and senior Robyn Benton, who looks likely to start custody for the UK after playing 26 times last season. , all off the bench.
This is in addition to the continuity provided by Howard, the reigning SEC Player of the Year and possibly the top pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
In Sunday afternoon’s blue-white scrum at Memorial Coliseum, the Wildcats used what could be screened as a starting roster for this season from Massengill-Benton-Blair Green-Howard-Edwards.
To prepare British players for their new roles this season, Elzy said she has an honest two-way communication flow between coaches and players.
“We have these conversations all year round, not just at the start of the basketball season. … ‘These are the things I need, how do you think you can help this team?’ Elzy said, referring to the program’s ‘Commit To It’ slogan. “In order for us to be at our best, everyone must commit to their role.
This commitment is paramount given the defensive intensity and fast-paced basketball that Elzy wants the Wildcats to play this season.
“I want to play faster than we played last year. We play positionless basketball, we play fast. We’ve been talking all summer that our defensive intensity has to be there, ”Elzy said. “No matter where we go, our heart and intensity in defense and rebound must travel with us at all times… playing faster defensively, more disruptive and being able to run will really help us play the tempo we want to play.”
Elzy said on Monday that the UK women’s program had reached the 80% threshold for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“I feel comfortable with where we are at the moment. We’ve hit the 80% threshold, so we’re doing fine, ”Elzy said. “Our trainer Courtney Jones makes sure that we are really diligent and that we follow COVID protocols to stay safe. Our administration and Jim Madaleno do a phenomenal job of ensuring that we are educated and safe.
Hunt to practice
In Sunday’s blue-white scrum, 10 of the 11 players in the UK roster saw some playing time, with second-year goalkeeper Treasure Hunt being the only player not to have played.
Hunt spent most of the scrum on a stationary bike behind the British team’s bench.
When asked about Hunt’s absence from the fray on Monday, Elzy said Hunt was “not feeling better” because of an illness.
Hunt resumed training on Monday.
The madness of March
In late September, the NCAA announced that the women’s college basketball tournament would now also use the March Madness branding and marketing, which had just been used for the men’s tournament, starting with the 2022 event.
“We always want to move women’s football forward. We have talent and we want to make sure we get the same exposure, ”Elzy said Monday of the NCAA’s new branding for the women’s tournament. “Once people watch the women’s game, they usually fall in love with it… and it’s our job to make sure we put the product on the floor that people want to come and see.
Important dates to come in UK
November 4: Exhibition against Lee University, 7 p.m. (no TV)
November 9: Season opens vs. Presbyterian, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
This story was originally published October 26, 2021 7:57 am.