By LARRY VAUGHT
Is Ashton Hagans the best defensive guard at Kentucky?
Before you answer, don’t just think about Hagans’ UK teammates Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson. Instead, factor in senior Taylor Murray of the UK women’s team.
“She’s just so quick isn’t she? She is quick, quick hands, high basketball IQ, relentless, pursues the ball so well, she doesn’t seem to get fatigued too much,” said Missouri coach Robin Pingeton after Taylor helped dismantle her team in a UK comeback win.
“She is just a great, experienced player and she makes it a long night for anyone and is able to wear on them throughout the game. Everybody in the league has a ton of respect for Taylor. We all understand what a great player she is. She is really good at her craft and she just makes it hard night in and night out.”
Pingeton had her team pay attention to what Murray does and how she gets steals before Missouri played Kentucky. It didn’t help. She had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, four steals, four rebounds and two assists in 38 minutes.
“She is just relentless in her pursuit. If it’s not the full court, it’s the half court and as soon as you get loose with your handles it’s going to be a pick and two points on the other end,” Pingeton said.
I asked Taylor’s teammates Maci Morris and Tatyana if they thought Hagans or Murray was the better defender. They both quickly picked Murray — and Wyatt noted she was also a better shooter.
“Taylor is really fast, so it’s hard for me to guard her,” Wyatt said.
“She gave us a real big spark. She was doing it on both the defensive and offensive end. She was getting steals and finishing on the other end, just making plays. Layups, jump shots, whatever,” Morris said after Taylor sparked the win over Missouri.
No wonder Pingeton congratulated Murray on a “wonderful” career but said she was looking forward to not having to face her again.
Murray, who was named to the all-SEC defensive team last year, is one of 15 players named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Midseason Watch List. She already has a team-high 69 steals this year — two more than she had all of last year — to increase her career steals to 253. She also leads the team with 75 assists. Murray is averaging 12.5 points per game — third best on the team — and shooting a team-best 84.5 percent at the foul line.
She has had three or more steals in 14 of 20 games this year, a feat she has pulled off in 45 career games. She has led UK in steals in 67 of the 115 games during her career.
Murray ranks 21st all-time at UK in points scored with 1,211 (four more points will put her into the top 20) and ninth in career assists with 402. She needs 19 more steals to move into the top five on UK’s all-time list.
So as good as Hagans has been for John Calipari’s team, don’t overlook all that Murray has done to help the revival of the UK women’s team this year – especially when it comes to being a defensive disruptor that few teams can counter.