LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to turn a new page after a challenging schedule led to tough results in the regular season, the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team opens up postseason play in the second round of the 2018 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET against eighth-seeded Alabama at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Every game of the tournament will be televised nationally with the first three rounds on SEC Network, while the semifinals will be on ESPNU and the championship on ESPN. The Kentucky-Alabama game will be broadcast live on the SEC Network with Courtney Lyle, Tamika Catchings and Steffi Sorensen on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick, in his first year with the program, will be calling the game on the UK Sports Radio Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Headrick’s call on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
For the first time since 2012, the tournament is being played at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Two first-round games will begin the event Wednesday at Noon ET in 12th-seeded Vanderbilt vs. 13th-seeded Arkansas followed by 11th-seeded Florida vs. 14th-seeded Ole Miss. Four second-round games begin at 1 p.m. ET Thursday before four quarterfinal matchups begin at 1 p.m. ET Friday. Semifinal Saturday will begin at 5 p.m. ET while the championship will be played Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Kentucky, which earned the ninth-seed, is 34-38 all-time in the SEC Tournament and has won at least one game in the event in each of the last eight years. This is the second straight season that Kentucky and Alabama have met in the event with UK winning last season's battle in the quarterfinals, 65-55. The Wildcats are 5-0 all-time vs. Alabama in the tournament. This is only the second time in Mitchell's 11-year tenure that UK hasn't finished top four in the league.
The Wildcats have been paced this season by All-SEC Second Team honoree Maci Morris, who is averaging 17.2 points per game. The native of Pineville, Ky., has scored 20 or more points in six straight games and is the only player in the league to accomplish that honor in SEC action this season. Morris ranks fifth in the nation and second in the league in 3-point field-goal percentage this season at .469. Fellow junior guard Taylor Murray, who was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team, ranks second in scoring at 11.2 points per game and leads UK in steals and assists. Murray ranks top five in the league in assist-turnover ratio, assists, free-throw percentage, minutes played and steals.
Alabama enters the SEC Tournament with a 17-12 overall record. The Crimson Tide finished eighth in the league this season after going 7-9 in league play. Alabama went 10-3 in non-conference play. Since a four-game losing streak in late January and early February, the Crimson Tide have been playing excellent basketball with three straight wins over Ole Miss, then-No. 11 Tennessee and Auburn. Alabama dropped its final two games of the regular season both in overtime to top-25 ranked Georgia and LSU.
As a team, Alabama is averaging 67.7 points per game and hitting 39.6 percent from the field, including 29.6 percent from long range. The Crimson Tide have a +4.2 rebounding margin and +1.4 turnover margin. Senior guard Hannah Cook leads the team by averaging 11.4 points per game this season hitting a team-best 48 3-pointers. Senior forward Ashley Williams is averaging 11.0 points per game and leads the team with 7.0 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Jordan Lewis has a team-best 87 assists and is earning 9.8 points per game, while Junior guard Shaquera Wade is averaging 6.9 points with 43 steals.
Kentucky leads the all-time series against Alabama 29-17, including a 4-1 mark in neutral-site games. The Wildcats have won five straight games in the series, including seven of the last eight games. Alabama's last win in the series was a 57-55 victory on Jan. 23, 2014 inside Memorial Coliseum. Matthew Mitchell is 12-2 all-time against Alabama as a head coach.
UK used a 25-5 advantage in the fourth quarter to pull away from Alabama in the team's only meeting this season and earn a 79-54 victory inside Memorial Coliseum. UK shot 64.7 percent from the field, which was the second best field-goal percentage in a game in program history. UK had a 36-20 advantage in points in the paint and 28-10 advantage in points off turnovers. The Wildcats were paced by 20 points and 10 rebounds from Murray, who went 8-of-11 from the field. Morris scored 16 points and hit two 3s, while KeKe McKinney had 12 points and five rebounds, while Dorie Harrison had 15 points and five rebounds. Alabama shot 39.2 percent from the field and 5-of-18 from long range. Williams paced the Tide with 15 points, going 6-of-6 from the field, while Lewis and Wade each had seven points.