Kentucky has been on a two-week hiatus due to COVID protocols set by the SEC. In normal times, the Wildcats would be two games into their conference schedule with matchups against Auburn and Mississippi State. Conference games are never easy by any stretch, but those two games were seen as somewhat of a tune-up to what the Wildcats now face over the next two weeks. For a team that has yet to beat a top tier opponent, Kyra Elzy and the staff are going to need a lot of focus and execution with the daunting tasks ahead.
January 6th vs #15 Georgia
Revenge will be on Kentucky's mind as the Bulldogs roll into Lexington after taking the Wildcats out of last season's SEC tournament. Georgia (12-2, 1-1 SEC) has had their fair share of tough matchups against power five opponents. The most impressive victory the Bulldogs have tallied came in their December 16th matchup against NC State. The Wolfpack, now ranked fifth, were the second ranked team in the country at the time and were unable to hold on as Georgia's Jenna Staiti turned in an impressive double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Speaking of Staiti, the Wildcats will have their hands full matching up with their star center who was a big reason why Kentucky's SEC tournament run came to an end last season with her 20 points and 12 rebounds. She is a double-double machine and for Kentucky to win, they will have to keep her contained in the post.
January 9th at #1 South Carolina
Don't let their loss to Missouri fool you, South Carolina (13-1, 1-1 SEC) is still without a doubt the best team in the country. Dawn Staley has built a juggernaut in Columbia and a win against the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena seems like a big stretch. Considering their recent loss to Missouri, Staley will have her team laser focused from this point forward and it's hard to see any SEC team competing with them for the top seed in the conference. With that said, Kentucky will be playing with house money in this game and when you have a player that is the caliber of Rhyne Howard, anything is possible.
January 13th vs Mississippi State
The degree of difficulty takes a slight step back when Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1 SEC) travels to Memorial Coliseum. The Bulldogs had a COVID pause within the last week and had to postpone their matchup against Florida. Since then, they have taken the court once against South Carolina which resulted in an 80-68 victory for the Gamecocks. Mississippi State is coming off of a disappointing 2020-21 campaign, and 2021-22 has not been any kinder to them. Like Kentucky, the Bulldogs have yet to tally a win against a power five opponent. For Kentucky to make the NCAA tournament and have the kind of season they would like to have, this is a must win game.
January 16th at #7 Tennessee
The Lady Vols (13-1, 2-0 SEC) seem to be back to their rightful place among the elites of women's college basketball. Tennessee is a game BBN wants to take every season and I anticipate the team feels the same way. Kentucky will without a doubt be running on fumes for this matchup with the ramp up in games played and the difficulty of those opponents. The Lady Vols are not quite on South Carolina's level, but they are probably the level right below. The Wildcats will have their hands full in what should be a rowdy Thompson Boling Arena. If Kentucky could pull off this game, it would be a huge resume builder in a season where the Cats have yet to tally any substantial victories.
Every game is tough in the SEC, but this stretch of games in particular stuck out to me when I was looking at the schedule. Kentucky was unable to pick up any quality wins in the non-conference games, which makes these next four games crucial for the Cats' season moving forward. If Rhyne Howard and the team can manage to split these four games at 2-2, then I would consider that a success. A record of 1-3 or 0-4 would put Kentucky at risk of being on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament rolls around.