Preview: No. 9 Kentucky takes on No. 24 DePaul

NCAA Women’s Basketball: Indiana Hoosiers at Kentucky Wildcats
Rhyne Howard (with ball) and Kentucky, with one signature win this season, are looking for more. | Courier Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK

Without the interim label, Kyra Elzy is officially the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, who hope that Rhyne Howard can lead them to another ranked win when they face the DePaul Blue Demons on Wednesday.

The No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats face their second ranked opponent in the No. 24 DePaul Blue Demons on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. in Chicago. It will be Kyra Elzy’s first game as the official head coach of the Wildcats now that the interim tag has been removed.

Elzy took over as interim head coach of the program after Matthew Mitchell retired two weeks before the start of the season due to workload concerns following brain surgery.

The Wildcats have rallied around Elzy and gotten off to a 6-0 start, which includes their signature win over the No. 15 Indiana Hoosiers on Dec. 6, a game in which Elzy did not coach due to a non-COVID-related health issue. Associate head coach Niya Butts got the win in that one, but Elzy did lead them to a victory over a team that was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 in the Kansas State Wildcats on Dec. 3.

With Elzy becoming its head coach, officially, Kentucky has a chance to rally some more and continue its hot start. The only team ahead of Kentucky in the rankings that has also gone through at least six contests unscathed is the No. 4 NC State Wolfpack (6-0).

DePaul, on the other hand, could us some inspiration of its own. It followed up a 41-point loss to the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals on Dec. 4 with a struggle against the Loyola Chicago Ramblers on Dec. 13. The Ramblers were up six entering the fourth quarter before the Blue Demons came back to win by nine.

DePaul needs to clean up a few things in order to get back on track. The biggest thing that stands out is its opponent field goal percentage, which is 51.6 percent. In the Blue Demons’ two losses it allowed the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies and Louisville to shoot over 60 percent.

DePaul is allowing 85.5 points per game on the young season, while Kentucky is allowing just 54.3. DePaul has put up far more points per game than Kentucky, but that isn’t as concerning for Kentucky, which has one of the best offensive players in the county in Rhyne Howard, as the defensive woes are for DePaul.

One really big bright spot for the Blue Demons’ defense is that it has forced 25.3 turnovers per game. That tells you just how impactful the hot shooting of their opponents has been. Texas A&M and Louisville both turned the ball over more than 20 times and still won.

Game Information

No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats (6-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. No. 24 DePaul Blue Demons (2-2, 0-0 Big East)

When: Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL

How to watch/listen: DePaul Livestream/UK Sports Network

Key to the matchup: Points in the paint. DePaul allowed 74 points in the paint in its now well-documented blowout loss to Louisville. The Blue Demons also lost the points in the paint battle 54-38 against Texas A&M on Nov. 28 and 34-30 against Loyola Chicago. They need to do a better job in that department and on Wednesday will be tasked with keeping superstar driver Rhyne Howard out of the paint. From Kentucky’s perspective, it doesn’t need to force up 3-point shots if things are coming easy in the paint. Howard is the only Wildcat player who has been taking a lot of threes with seven attempts per game in her four contests. As long as she looks for twos first, Kentucky should be able to take advantage of points in the paint against DePaul like other teams have.

Reason to watch: Kentucky has seemed like a unified bunch in spite of suspensions to Rhyne Howard and Tatyana Wyatt earlier in the season. Can the Wildcats keep the good vibes going? Or will DePaul redeem itself against No. 9 after getting blown out by Louisville in its last ranked matchup?

Highlights: Kentucky makes it look easy against the Samford Bulldogs in its highest-scoring game of the season