LEXINGTON, Ky. – The sixth-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team opens its 35th season of Southeastern Conference play when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Thursday, Jan. 2 to meet the Alabama Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET.
This marks the fifth time in seven seasons under Matthew Mitchell the Wildcats have opened conference play on the road. Since women’s basketball first came under the auspices of the SEC in the 1982-83 season, the Cats are 15-16 in SEC openers and 5-12 in SEC openers on the road. UK is 3-3 in league openers under Matthew Mitchell, 1-3 on the road. UK has won its last two SEC openers, both vs. Florida. The last time UK and Alabama met in an SEC opener was in 2005 under Mickie DeMoss. The Tide won at home, 69-63, in overtime. This marks the third straight season UK has met Alabama on the road.
“We are thanking God we’re at Kentucky and ready for another SEC season and really excited about it,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our first game will be a big challenge against a very tough Alabama team that has been a place we’ve had to go to the last two years and play. They have proven to be tough games our last two years. We have a lot of veterans on our team and they understand the challenge that is ahead of them. We had a very good practice yesterday and we’ll have to practice well today to get ready for a tough Alabama team. There are some good athletes on that team. They push the tempo, so we definitely need to do a good job in transition defense against them. They have really explosive guards. Shafontaye Myers has the second-best 3-point field goal percentage in our league and Daisha Simmons is really pushing the pace as their point guard. We have a big preparation day today to try and get ready for a good Alabama team and try to see if we can get a victory down there.”
Thursday will mark the 40th meeting in the all-time series with Alabama. The Wildcats lead the overall series 23-16, but trail 10-8 when the game is played in Tuscaloosa. UK has won eight of the last nine matchups, including last season’s meeting, 87-70, in Foster Auditorium.
The Wildcats finished their nonconference season at 12-1, just the seventh one-loss conference season in 40 years of varsity basketball. The only setback was vs. No. 2 Duke in Rupp Arena on Dec. 22. In 13 nonconference games, UK finished 7-1 at home, 5-0 on the road and 2-1 vs. ranked opponents.
UK currently ranks in the top 25 nationally in seven different statistical categories, including third in scoring offense (94.5 ppg) and steals per game (13.3), sixth in turnover margin (8.62), ninth in won-lost percentage (92.3), 10th in scoring margin (26.9), 23rd in field goal percentage (46.3) and 24th in rebounding margin (10.3).
Overall this season, senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.), who has missed the last four games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Dec. 18, leads a very balanced scoring attack this season as one of six players in double-digit scoring. She averages a team-high 14.2 points per game, while junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) follows with 12.6 points per game. Senior forward Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) and sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) are averaging 11.5 and 11.0 points per game, respectively, while junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) and senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) round out the double-digit scorers with 10.5 and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Walker is the team’s leading rebounder with 9.3 rebounds per game, while 6-foot-3 center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) has swatted a team-high 16 blocks this season.
The Crimson Tide, under the direction of first-year head coach Kristy Curry, enter the contest at 7-6 on the season after wins vs. Wisconsin (70-62), Alabama A&M (60-32), Cal State Fullerton (69-54), Houston (51-44), Jacksonville (75-62), Troy (113-105 OT) and Coppin State (82-60) and losses to Chattanooga (82-70), No. 15/12 Nebraska (62-48), No. 2 Duke (92-57), Saint Mary’s (86-76), UT Martin (75-57) and Princeton (79-59).
Senior guard Shafontaye Myers leads the Tide in scoring at 14.7 points per contest. Junior guard Daisha Simmons, who led the team last season in points and rebounds, follows with 14.1 points. She is grabbing a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game again this season. Freshman forward Ashley Williams averages 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.