In November, Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy was asked about expanding the Division I women’s basketball tournament this season from 64 to 68 teams, aligning the year-end women’s varsity tournament with the version male.
Elzy hailed the change, calling it a “great asset” to women’s college basketball.
But before that praise came a qualifier, something Elzy said with a smile on her face and a chuckle.
“We better not grind in the tournament, that’s right,” Elzy said playfully on Nov. 18.
Now, as of mid-January, Elzy’s Kentucky team is nowhere near firmly within the projected 68-team field.
In the latest NCAA Tournament bracket published by ESPN’s Charlie Creme on Friday morning, the UK was projected as the No. 9 seed in the tournament after being projected as the No. 3 seed in the pre-match bracket. season.
In last Friday’s update, Kentucky was listed as one of the last four teams to receive a first-round bye and the UK was placed in the “on the bubble” category, which means the Wildcats are dangerously close to missing the tournament entirely.
That showing came ahead of Sunday afternoon’s lopsided loss by Kentucky to Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee, which dropped the Wildcats to 8-5 overall and 1-2 in the youngster. SEC season.
UK are 0-4 in road games. However, it’s important to note that all four of Kentucky’s road contests were against teams ranked in the top six in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Kentucky’s only home loss – which came at Rupp Arena to DePaul – came when an integral part of the British team, junior forward Dre’una Edwards, did not play while she was serving a team suspension.
In 13 games, Kentucky is 1-5 against teams projected by Creme to make the NCAA Tournament, with an eight-point home win over Georgia the only victory.
The five losses resulted in an average margin of 16.4 points, led by Sunday’s 26-point loss to the Lady Volunteers.
It all adds up to a disappointing NCAA tournament recap for Kentucky with less than two months remaining in the regular season.
“As always, you’re learning and growing,” Elzy said after the loss to Tennessee, which was ranked No. 5 in last week’s AP poll. “We can’t go anywhere but from here. We go back to the drawing board, back to work. A match does not define us.
The good news for Elzy and his team is that there are plenty of opportunities for the UK to bolster their resume with 13 games remaining against teams in a stacked SEC, a conference which Creme is slated to send 10 of their 14 teams in the NCAA Tournament. The UK will also have some quality winning opportunities at the season-ending SEC tournament in early March in Nashville.
But the Wildcats’ margin of error against teams that shouldn’t be in the top tier of the SEC, like the UK’s next game Thursday night at home against Florida (13-5, 3-2), shrinks itself.
Elzy has repeatedly reaffirmed his faith in this year’s Kentucky squad, saying the UK “have had enough” despite only nine scholarship players being available to play following Achilles’ injury late in the season. season suffered by senior guard Blair Green during the preseason.
Three Wildcats — senior guards Rhyne Howard and Jazmine Massengill, along with Edwards — have averaged more than 30 minutes per game.
Howard is at the heart of any talk about the UK needing to make the most of this 2021-22 season.
This is the senior guard star’s final season at Lexington, and she is still widely projected as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s WNBA Draft.
In Howard’s previous three seasons at Kentucky, the Wildcats only advanced to the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The 2020 edition of the tournament was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the difficulties encountered in games against Louisville and South Carolina, Howard remains the indispensable offensive catalyst, a player who propelled Great Britain to victory over Georgia and helped Kentucky quickly take the lead. leads in Tennessee.
“Obviously she’s an integral part of our offense, but you have to have a balanced score so they can’t take on (Howard) defensively,” Elzy said Sunday. “At the end of the day, you need three or four double-digit people (score) and we just didn’t hit that today.”
Kentucky will need the players around Howard to make a meaningful contribution to keeping the Wildcats safe in the NCAA Tournament, but the UK’s leeway in what is considered the best conference in the country is less now than it wasn’t before.
No. 19 Kentucky vs. Florida
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
TV: SEC Network
Tennessee 17-1 (6-0)
South Carolina 17-1 (5-1)
USS 17-2 (5-1)
Ole Miss 15-2 (3-1)
Florida 13-5 (3-2)
Georgia 13-3 (2-2)
Missouri 13-4 (2-2)
Mississippi State 11-5 (2-2)
Kentucky 8-5 (1-2)
Arkansas 11-6 (1-3)
Vanderbilt 10-8 (1-3)
Texas A&M 11-6 (1-4)
Alabama 10-7 (1-5)
Auburn 8-8 (0-5)
This story was originally published January 17, 2022 8:44 a.m.