Shortly after a 15-point loss to North Carolina State in the second round of the NCAA tournament ended the Kentucky women’s basketball team’s season, senior point guard Taylor Murray had not yet fully accepted that her college career was over.
“I haven’t really gotten over it yet,” Murray, an Odenton resident and Annapolis Area Christian graduate, said. “I think for the most part, it’s going to be something that I’m still going to think about because no one wants their career to end.”
That kind of self-analysis is not surprising, according to senior guard Maci Morris.
“She doesn’t show much emotion, but I think she’s going to miss it a lot once it hits her,” Morris said. “She’s the type of person that will think about things and analyze them for a long time.”
The 72-57 setback to the Wolfpack does not diminish the career that the 5-foot-6 Murray carved out for the Wildcats (25-8, 11-5 Southeastern Conference). In her final season, she set career highs in scoring (12.4 points per game), field goals made (145) and steals (103). She also led the team in assists (123) and ranked fourth in rebounds (3.6 per game).
For her career, Murray finished with 1,359 points, which ranks 17th in program history; 450 assists, which ranks fifth; and 287 steals, which ranks fourth. She is the first player in Kentucky women’s basketball history to compile at least 1,350 points, 450 assists and 280 steals.
Wildcats assistant coach Amber Smith said replacing Murray could be a difficult task next season.
“Those are big shoes to fill, and it’s our job to try to fill them, and we’ll try to do that,” she said. “But Taylor is definitely going to go down in the history books as one of the best PGs to come through Kentucky.”
Murray, who said she began bouncing a basketball when she was 5 years old, surfaced as a budding talent at Annapolis Area Christian. She became the first freshman to start for coach Jim Domoracki, who had started his daughter Samantha at point guard for three consecutive years before Murray’s arrival.
“I remember after two weeks of practice, she came to me and said, ‘OK, so what’s my new role?’ ” Domoracki recalled. “There was no doubt who the most gifted and talented player was. … We knew we were going to be a very good team, but having Taylor made us an unbelievable team.”
A Baltimore Sun All-Metro second-team pick as a sophomore and a first-team selection as a junior, Murray chose the Wildcats over Penn State and West Virginia. In her first two seasons in Lexington, Kentucky went a combined 47-19 and won three games in the NCAA tournament, including making an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2016.
But the team regressed in Murray’s junior year, limping to a 15-17 mark and spending March at home. If Murray was frustrated, she did not let that show.
“When things get tough, it’s easy to get negative, and everybody does sometimes,” Smith said. “But what Taylor did was, she continued to come in and just work hard. You could tell that we were having an underperforming season, but she came in every day and played hard and worked hard and demanded that from her teammates even when we weren’t doing well.”
This past season’s berth in the NCAA tournament and a first-round 82-77 win against Princeton was that much more rewarding for Murray and her teammates.
“At the end of the day, we had made a statement and we got to the second round, and that’s all I could ask for,” Murray said. “We made really huge improvements after not making it to the NCAA tournament last year. So I think it leaves me with some happiness for my teammates.”
Murray was renowned among her teammates for her speed. Morris said that Murray was so swift that she could begin a race seated on her backside and still catch her challengers from behind.
Morris also pointed out that Murray missed only four games in four seasons because of a variety of ailments, including a broken finger and a concussion.
“She’s one of the toughest people I’ve played with,” Morris said. “She’s had injuries, and you wouldn’t even know it because she plays through pain so well. … She’s extremely strong, and she doesn’t want to let anybody down.”
Smith said Murray was that rare player who excelled on offense and defense.
“Usually you see the most talented player on a team, and she’s skilled on offense and is going to score, but sometimes you might be able to go at her on the defensive end,” Smith said. “But with Taylor, we looked at her as our defensive stopper and put her on the best player. And we also put the ball in her hands to make plays for the team. I think the impact that she made, she’s that prototype point guard we were looking for at Kentucky.
“She’s going to be one of the point guards that goes down in history. When we go into a recruit’s house, we’re like, ‘What are we looking for in a point guard?’ and her picture would be there. She just played on both ends of the court, and she was just a dog and worked hard consistently. That’s the big thing that set her apart from everybody else.”
Murray, whose degree is in pre-public health, said her future plans include playing professionally either in the WNBA or overseas. She said that she’s slightly taken aback that she has reached this stage of her career.
“I started playing basketball when I was little,” she said. “So to look back on life and see all of the hard work and accomplishments that I have done just to get here and play in college for four years, I think it’s not just the end. I still have more to go with my basketball career.”