Besides their name, the University of Kentucky women's basketball team shares little in common with their male counterparts. Yes, they play their games in historic Memorial Coliseum, which still displays countless SEC and NCAA banners won by the men over the decades, and yes, Head Coach Bernadette Mattox was an assistant for men's Coach Rick Pitino from 1990-1994. But the consistently impressive W-L records, the national fame, the banners, the conference dominance are still only a dream for the women's team.
For the first four years of Coach Mattox's tenure as head coach of the women's team, the future looked pretty bright. Following consecutive 8-19 records (2-9 and 1-20 SEC) in her first two years, the Wildcats improved to 13-15 (5-9 SEC) in 1997-98, and then surprised the conference and the country with a 21-11 record, a tie for 5th in the SEC at 7-7 and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Prospects for 1999-2000 looked rosy, with a flock of talented seniors returning. The season began as expected, with Kentucky giving perennial national championship contenders Connecticut and Purdue all they could handle in early non-conference games. Following wins over Auburn and Florida, expectations were high as the Wildcats visited Memorial Gym. But the Wildcats lost in OT to a tenacious Vanderbilt team, and then inexplicably fell apart, finishing the season 15-14 (5-9 SEC) and declining even to participate in the post-season WNIT. In the aftermath, a team already hit hard by graduation lost several players to transfers, including their star Laura Meadows who transferred to Purdue.
As a result, last season, Coach Mattox was left with a massive rebuilding task. Then junior forward LaTonya McDole was the only one of the top 7 scorers returning. The result was that last year Kentucky played 7 freshmen, 2 sophomores, and 1 junior. Their inexperience showed, as the Wildcats finished with a 6-21 overall record and dead last in the SEC, both in terms of their record at 2-12 and in most statistical categories as well.
Returning Players: Everyone returns to the team this year. Kentucky will once again count on forward LaTonya McDole (12.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), point guard Rita Adams (9.1 ppg, 3.3 apg), 6-4 center SeSe Helm (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) who was named to the All-SEC Freshman team last year. The Wildcats toured Europe following the end of last season, and Helm tore up the French teams, averaging over 20 points per game. Adams averaged about 14 ppg, and in addition sophomore guards Stephanie Stoglin (7.0 ppg last year) and Kristin Connolly (5.0 ppg) contributed consistently during the tour.
Newcomers: Kentucky brings in two freshmen this year, Sara Potts, a 6-0 left-handed swing forward who averaged 23.3 points and 9.6 rebounds as a high school senior in Rochester, Michigan. Keiko Miller-Tate is a 6-2 forward from Clarksville, Maryland. In addition, Danyelle Payne, a 5'9 guard from Washington, DC, who averaged 26 points and 8 rebounds as a high school seniors, but who sat out last year as partial qualifier, will also be available.
Outlook: Kentucky still has a long way to go, but this year should be an improvement over last. With McDole and Helm, the frontcourt should be pretty solid. With a year's experience under her belt, Adams should do a decent job at the point. But Kentucky must have more scoring production from the perimeter to loosen up the defense for the post players. Last year, the entire Kentucky team hit fewer 3-point field goals (48) than Vandy's Jenni Bennifield (54) and Jillian Danker (58) did by themselves. If one of Kentucky's young shooting guards is ready to step up, Kentucky has a chance to make the post-season WNIT and to climb out of the SEC cellar. But that's probably the best this young team can hope for.