(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Matthew Mitchell’s retirement announcement earlier this month took everyone by surprise. The all-time winningest coach in UK Women’s Basketball history was poised for another run at an elusive Final Four. Rhyne Howard, together with a whole host of talented newcomers, was going to finally take Mitchell to the coveted Promised Land.
With Mitchell’s abrupt retirement, in steps interim coach Kyra Elzy. Talk about pressure. Not only did the Pat Summitt protege inherit the mantle of high expectations, but she also found herself without two starters in her college head coaching debut.
Shortly before tipoff, UK announced that senior forward Tatyana Wyatt had been suspended for three games for violation of team rules and that junior guard Rhyne Howard had also been suspended for two games for not upholding the standards of the program.
Here’s what Elzy had to say afterwards about the suspensions.
“Both of these young ladies are great people, they made a bad mistake, and they are taking responsibility and holding themselves accountable. I am a hundred percent confident that they will be intentional about making better decisions moving forward, and I am confident that they will be ready to help this team move forward to achieve the goals that we have set out.”
“At the end of the day my job as the leader of this program and our staff is to make sure that our players are held accountable and they are responsible and they are ready for the real world,” Elzy continued. “And there are consequences for every decision that is not the right one. We love them enough, I love them enough, not to turn my head when mistakes are made.”
“I’m not going to go into details,” Elzy said when pressed for specific reasons for the suspensions. “It’s internal and we will keep it inside the family. They know exactly where I stand and the standards and the expectations of this program. It was not Covid [related].”
Fortunately for Kentucky, Howard and Wyatt were barely missed. Kentucky, behind Chasity Patterson’s 30-pt performance, rolled over Murray State 86 – 60. Patterson started the game with a 9-point barrage, and the Wildcats never looked back. A 51 – 26 halftime lead ended mercifully with Kentucky playing out the string in the second half.
Elzy wanted defensive pressure to become the identity of this team. Statistics wise, her team did not disappoint. Kentucky forced 32 Murray State turnovers and generated a whopping 19 steals before a sparsely attended Covid-capped Memorial Coliseum crowd. Fast hands on the perimeter and big bodies inside can quickly become a lethal combination.
It’s hard to glean too much from a season-opening blowout win with two of your best veteran players on the floor suspended for whatever reasons. But one thing’s for sure. The Kyra Elzy era starts off with high expectations still wholly intact.