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UK Hoops Barely Beats LSU

UK Hoops Barely Beats LSU

Your Women’s Basketball Team hit the road to take on those pesky Tigers down in Baton Rouge and squeezed out a close 64-60 win. But considering UK was without two of their top three scorers due to injuries, Rhyne Howard (leading scorer) and Taylor Murray, that’s a solid conference win on the road.

Just how close was the win? The game was tied at 56 with two minutes left, Jaida Roper scored a nice layup and pushed the Cats up by two. LSU came back and before I knew it it was tied at 60 with 30 seconds left. McKinney made a clutch three-pointer with about 20 seconds left, LSU missed a shot and that was pretty much game. I haven’t bitten my nails in two years, but the end of the game definitely made me think about it.

Maci Morris had a whopping 20 points and proved to be an unstoppable force for the Tigers. Looking at the box, you can see that it was pretty even all game long.

All in all, the Cats battled hard tonight and came out with a much-deserved win. The team has Sunday off but will be back in action at home against Mizzou next Thursday!

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

Takeaways From an Ugly UK Hoops Loss

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

The No. 16 ranked Kentucky Wildcats followed up their most impressive win of the season with a dud against an Ole Miss team sitting near the bottom of the SEC standings.

After beating No. 13 Tennesse and earning their first win in Knoxville since 2014, the Wildcats were outplayed from the opening tip by the Rebels as Maci Morris was forced to watch from the sideline as she dealt with knee pain.

Let’s take a quick dive into what we learned. Spoiler: Kentucky should just burn the tape and forget that this game ever happened.

No Maci Morris

While Taylor Murray’s status was up in the air coming into the game, she wasn’t the one who had to sit out with knee pain. Murray missed the entire second half against Tennessee after landing hard on her left knee and came off the bench before playing 35 minutes. She wore a padded compression sleeve around her leg.

Morris’ knee wasn’t as fortunate. Right before tip, she was ruled out with what would later be defined as “knee pain”.

“She practiced Friday and Saturday,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She was warming up before the game before she didn’t feel like she could go. She’s so tough so you know it was really bothering her for her not to play. I think the timing of it maybe affected our energy.”

Her absence was felt immediately.

One of the main reasons Kentucky was able to jump out to a massive lead against Tennessee was because of Morris’ hot shooting coming out of the gate. Without her, Kentucky looked stunned. It was as if they were learning to run an offense for the very first time.

Morris’ teammates didn’t even know she was going to sit out until tipoff.

“She told us right before we did the starting lineup that she wouldn’t be participating.” freshman guard Rhyne Howard said.

Killed by the zone

The zone defense that Ole Miss employed is really what gave Kentucky fits.

Throughout the entire 40 minute game, Kentucky could never once establish a rhythm. Their quick passes around the top of the key were ineffective with no one to create a shot or penetrate the paint. The Rebels packed everything in and forced UK to hit their outside looks, which they did not. The Cats shot 6-23 from deep for the game.

Give credit where credit is due. Ole Miss did an excellent job of sticking to their zone and making Kentucky work for every bucket. There was hardly an uncontested shot at the rim for Kentucky and more open misses from long range than one can count. The Cats scored a season-low 21 first-half points.

“I thought we got the ball in the right places,” Mitchell said. “We just couldn’t make shots today.

Kentucky ranks sixth in the SEC in field goal percentage with an average of 43.6 percent. Against Ole Miss, the Cats shot only 26.6 percent from the field and scored 30 points below their season average. 

“It’s not typical of what we’ve been doing, we’ve shot the ball really well this year. I just think mentally we were clearly not at the standard we’ve set as a team,” Mitchell said. “We couldn’t get anything going for us because we just couldn’t get out of the gate and play with effort and energy, so everything as far as what we were lacking today, it really starts and ends there. I think we missed a lot of layups, and just lacking focus and energy. Clearly, we have to do a better job.”

Perhaps the adrenaline rush of the Tennessee win was an overhanging factor, but there was no excuse for some of the layups the Cats missed from point-blank range.

Murray went 0-8 from the field as the knee injury was an obvious factor in her poor offensive performance. But she was optimistic coming off the defeat.

“It stings,” Murray said, in reference to the loss. “but we as a team just have to stick together and stay positive. We just have to come up with better energy and better hustle and we can’t allow a team to just come in and disrupt us of what we’re supposed to do. We have to just be Wildcats and continue what we need to do.”

Rhyne Howard had to take over

Freshman guard Rhyne Howard – who is second on the team in scoring behind Morris – was forced to take over most of the scoring duties. She did her best to penetrate and create the offense, but against a stout defense, she could hardly even find a crevice to attack. And even if she did pop open, there were times where she missed open shots she normally hits.

Howard still finished with 20 points – although on 7-20 shooting – and 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.

With the game still hanging in the balance late and Kentucky losing the lead for the first time since the first quarter, Howard was pressured into taking contested shots, but it was hard to blame her. It was clear that the half-court offense wasn’t going to run a productive play and Howard trying to make something out of nothing was out of necessity more than anything.

Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin hopped on the Howard hype train, too, praising Howard as other opposing coaches have time and time again this season.

“Oh she’s a stud,” McPhee-McCuin said. “When I saw USA Basketball, I told everybody I thought that kid [Howard] had a chance to be freshman of the year. I mean she has my vote and we got a lot more basketball. She understands the game, but she’s a freshman.”

Blair Green and KeKe McKinney

Some praise deserves to be directed towards freshman Blair Green and sophomore KeKe McKinney.

Green was a breath of fresh air for moments of this game, hitting a couple of her open looks and playing solid defense. She finished with nine points on 4-9 shooting and played 26 minutes, her highest since late November.

McKinney was a beast on the block, standing tall like a brick wall in the paint and scrapping for every loose ball. She pulled down eight rebounds, one off her season high and the most for her since the game against Lousiville. She also produced a 6-0 run by herself late in the third quarter that gave Kentucky one of their only cushions of the game.

Without these two (and Howard), the score would not have been as close as it was.

Kentucky has a shot for redemption, however, as they’ll take on 11-4 LSU on Thursday.

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

UK Hoops Falls at Home to Ole Miss 55-49

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

The No. 16 ranked Kentucky Wildcats (15-3) lost to the Ole Miss Rebels (7-11) by a score of 49-55 in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

Rhyne Howard led the Wildcats with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists as Maci Morris was sidelined right before tipoff with what was described as knee pain. Taylor Murray, who was listed as day-to-day after falling on her knee in Kentucky’s last game, did not start but played a team-high 35 minutes.

Kentucky shot an abysmal 26.6 percent from the field for the game and turned the ball over 16 times in the follow-up performance to their biggest win of the year over a ranked Tennessee squad on Thursday.

The first half was an offensive disaster – and that goes for both sides.

Kentucky shot a miserable 7-30 from the field in the first half while Ole Miss was just as depressing, shooting 7-26 through the first 20 minutes.

It wasn’t like they weren’t getting good shots, either. Kentucky just wasn’t knocking down their open looks. Several missed shots from all over the court prevented the Cats from finding any offensive rhythm.

Credit is due to Ole Miss’ zone defense. With Morris limited to the bench, Ole Miss packed in their zone and forced Kentucky to hit their outside shots. A 1-of-9 mark from deep in the first half is what killed the Cats more than anything. Without Morris patrolling the perimeter and curling around screens to pop open for quick jumpers, the offense was stagnant. Despite Murray running the show, the outside shot was hardly a threat, especially when Howard missed a couple open looks early.

Lazy passes were floated into the paint, quick actions at the top of the key hardly fooled the Rebels, there was simply no flow available to establish from the jump. Even with the first half advantage on the glass, Kentucky couldn’t capitalize on much of their second chance opportunities.

Thankfully, the Wildcats defense displayed their usual pressure, disrupting any potential half court set that the Rebels would try to run. Ole Miss had only one form of offense in the first half, which was to chuck the ball to the opposite end of the court in an attempt to break Kentucky’s stifling full-court press. It worked maybe one time.

This was the second game in a row that Ole Miss was held to only 15 points in the first half. Kentucky led by six at the break.

The second half got off to a similar start.

Kentucky continued to find open looks from deep but couldn’t get much of anything to fall. Even the layups weren’t guaranteed through the first few minutes.

KeKe McKinney played one of her best quarters of the season in the third and there was one instance where she went on a personal 6-0 run. Her defense was like a brick wall on the block and she was corralling every loose ball. She finished the game with six points and eight rebounds.

Aside from a couple of big threes from Blair Green and Howard, Kentucky could only muster up 13 points in the final quarter and Ole Miss started to hit their threes. It felt like the first team to hit 45 was going to win this game and as soon as the Rebels hit that threshold, they never looked back.

Once Ole Miss took the lead halfway through the fourth quarter, the entire dynamic of the game began to change. Kentucky was holding on by threads without Morris and an injured Murray. Four straight missed free throws by the Cats gave all the momentum to the Rebels.

Speaking of Murray, she was clearly not playing at full strength. She shot 0-for-8 from the field, hit only two free throws, and recorded zero assists. She still had five steals, but couldn’t get any lift on her shots and wasn’t her usual springy self. To make matters worse, she ran directly into a legally set screen that knocked her to the floor. She would get up under her own power but did not check back into the game.

Ole Miss hit their free throws down the stretch to pull off the upset.

Kentucky’s next game is against LSU on Thursday in Baton Rouge at 7 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

Takeaways From UK Hoops Huge Win Over Tennessee

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats defeated the No. 13 Tennesee Volunteers on Thursday night in Knoxville 73-71 as the Cats won their first game against the Vols on the road since Jan. 2014.

Despite some significant foul trouble and an injury to Taylor Murray that forced her to sit out the second half, Kentucky held off a relentless Tennessee team to earn their first statement win of the season. Let’s discuss how the Lady Cats were able to get it done.

Endless foul trouble

Kentucky’s top two scorers, senior Maci Morris and star freshman Rhyne Howard, struggled to stay on the floor due to constant fouling. Howard showed her youth after picking up her third and fourth fouls only a couple minutes into the second half. She had already missed a considerable amount of time once she picked up two fouls in the first half and played less than three total minutes in the second half before ultimately fouling out.

Morris, who was the Wildcats lone source of offense for the basically the entirety of the second half, was also trying to keep herself off the bench. She picked up her third foul not even a minute in the third quarter and made it all the way until there was under four minutes remaining in the game before fouling out.

The foul trouble was infectious, apparently, as both Tatyana Wyatt and Ogechi Anyagaligbo – who had her best game of the season – also finished with four fouls. Jaida Roper picked up three fouls herself.

Foul trouble was the reason Kentucky faced a massive early deficit against the Mississippi State Bulldogs earlier in the week. Against Tennessee, the Cats were much more prepared. An early 7-0 lead was eventually ballooned to a 22-5 advantage – thanks largely to Morris – giving Kentucky a comfortable cushion while sorting out their rotations amid foul trouble.

“We got off to a terrible start at Mississippi State,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “and that was something we talked about and that start tonight was what we needed.”

Surviving without the stars

The most important stretch of this game was the final four minutes after Morris fouled out with 27 points. Without Morris, Howard, Murray and only a four-point lead, the energy on the Kentucky bench drained. The offense struggled to find a rhythm and Tennessee was slowly chipping down the lead. Once Morris fouled out, I don’t think there was one Kentucky fan who believed they could pull out the win.

But some unbelievable resiliency and the biggest shot of Jaida Roper’s life willed the Cats to a win. While it wasn’t an ideal scenario, those late four minutes showed this team’s true colors. They don’t need their three best players to be competitive. Tennessee is a really really good team and they were outplayed and outmanaged by Kentucky’s bench. Roper and Anyagaligbo both deserve the game ball for how they kept their heads high and rose to the occasion. Losing this game would have been a major disappointment, even with how the game worked out towards the end because Kentucky practically controlled the game throughout.

It felt like Kentucky had to “hold on” to a late lead, but the players on the court weren’t playing to hold the lead, they were playing to win. Teams like Kentucky need that adversity to hit at the most inopportune times so they can prove just how legitimate they are. This was a statement win for a team coming off a demoralizing loss at the hands of a top-10 opponent. It can’t be emphasized enough how impressive it was for the Wildcats to lose by double-digits on the road to a ranked team and then beat a ranked team on the road without their three best players down the stretch.

Taylor Murray is listed as day-to-day

A quick update on Taylor Murray following her scary fall that sidelined her for the entire second half. According to head coach Matthew Mitchell, Murray did not suffer any ligament damage, which is fantastic news if you saw the injury live. I think a lot of us were expecting the worst, but she was able to walk off the court under her own power and watched the second half from the bench with an ice pack wrapped around her knee.

Maci Morris takes over games like no else does

With Rhyne Howard playing a season-low 14 minutes, Morris knew she had to take matters into her own hands. She reminded everyone just how good she is.

Morris was knocking down any and every shot she attempted. If the defender was right in her face, she’d fire anyways. If she curled around a screen for a contested jumper, she plopped it right into the basket. She drew charges and played smart defense despite dealing with foul trouble. She attacked the rim to open up the floor. There wasn’t a more impressive player on the court for either team.

She finished on 10-16 shooting from the field and was 4-6 from three. If she hadn’t fouled out, there is no doubt in my mind that she breaks 30 and probably pushes Kentucky to a double-digit win. She was simply unstoppable and that’s why her absence appeared to spell doom for the Cats.

Morris’ 27 points moved her into the top 10 scorers list in program history.

Rebounding is an issue

Even though Kentucky starts four players who are at least six-feet tall (Morris, Howard, Wyatt, and KeKe McKinney) they have been dominated on the boards over their last two games. Against Mississippi State and Tennessee, Kentucky was outrebounded by a combined total of 53 to 25 on the offensive glass and 45 to 31 on the defensive end. Those offensive rebounds translated to 45 total second-chance points for the opponent and 84 overall points in the paint.

Watching MSU or UT grab multiple offensive rebounds on one possession was incredibly frustrating, but something Kentucky sacrifices in favor of smaller, quicker lineups who can run you to death. That scheme was unsuccessful against a clearly better MSU team but proved capable against a more evenly matched UT team.

Only one Kentucky player ranks in the top-20 among SEC players in rebounds per game (Howard is 12th at 6.9 per game) and the team ranks second-to-last in the SEC with only 31.7 rebounds per game. For comparison, Tennessee is second at 40.1 and Mississippi State leads the conference at 42.1 per game. Interestingly enough though, Kentucky ranks third in the SEC in total offensive rebounds at 208, behind both MSU and UT.

Kentucky will face Vanderbilt in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

“Freebies” for this weekend: Rubber duckies, hard hats and world records

“Freebies” for this weekend: Rubber duckies, hard hats and world records

It’s gearing up to be another big weekend for UK athletics. The men’s basketball team takes on Vandy inside Rupp Arena Saturday night, while the women’s team will be inside Memorial Coliseum Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on Ole Miss. Of course, you could go for the basketball. Or, you could go for the freebies.

John Calipari, who has continuously stressed the idea of “building” this particular team over the past few weeks, announced fans will receive these hard hats, courtesy of the company that created the first hard hat.

According to Coach Cal’s tweet, the BBN will be attempting to etch their names in the Guinness Book of World Records. Maybe they’re going for “Largest gathering of people wearing helmets,” which is currently held by the Ministry of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to a quick google search, it looks like the record is 3,929 people. The record was set in 2016. Here’s a picture of the record-breaking occassion:


3,929 people? Rupp Arena can definitely beat that.

The women’s team will also have some goodies for fans coming to their SEC matchup – they’re looking to continue the positive momentum following Kentucky’s big win against the Lady Vols in Knoxville. The team is getting really into “National Rubber Duck Day.”

On a related note… Did anyone know there’s a National Rubber Duck Day?!


(Photo via

UK Hoops Holds on to Beat No. 13 Tennessee Despite Injuries and Foul Trouble

(Photo via

The No. 16 ranked Kentucky Wildcats (15-2) held off the No. 13 Tennessee Volunteers (12-3) by a score of 73-71 despite the Wildcats three best players watching the final minutes from the bench, giving UK their first win in Knoxville since 2014.

Even with Maci Morris and Rhyne Howard fouling out of the game and Taylor Murray missing the second half with a knee injury, Kentucky’s reserves were able to fend off a pesky Tennessee team.

Kentucky got off to one of their hottest starts of the year, a completely different opening than their most recent loss to No. 7 ranked Mississippi State. Through the first two minutes, the Wildcats were leading Tennessee 7-0 and built that impressive advantage up to 22-5 before the first quarter could even end.

Morris – who was playing with a compression sleeve around a sore right leg – was hitting shots from all over the court and a couple with defenders staring right into her eyes. The uniform adjustment didn’t seem to bother her. She closed the half with 14 points to lead both teams in the scoring department.

If it hadn’t been for two first-quarter fouls picked up by both Morris and Howard, Kentucky might have been able to extend that lead even higher. However, playing cautiously with foul trouble forced Kentucky into a more relaxed defensive pressure and Tennessee made sure to capitalize.

After knocking the lead down to 11 points by the end of the first period, the Lady Volunteers were able to chip it down to only a 38-28 Kentucky edge at the intermission.

The Wildcats received some valuable minutes from Ogechi Anyagaligbo in the first half as she scored seven points on 3-3 shooting while providing some much-needed defense against Tennessee’s front line. With their massive size advantage, the Lady Volunteers were able to outrebound Kentucky 33-17. It was particularly lopsided on the offensive glass, with Tennessee winning that battle 19-6 at halftime. UT finished the first half with more offensive rebounds (19) than defensive (14).

Late in the second quarter, Taylor Murray broke away for a fastbreak layup that led to her being fouled hard on a shot attempt. The foul was by no means intentional, but Murray’s leg flailed in the air and appeared to slam right onto the hardwood. She was slow to get off the floor and was immediately helped to the locker room. She scored nine points before her injury and was a major key to Kentucky maintaining a lead with their two best scorers in foul trouble. Murray did not return to the game.

Despite Murray’s absence, the team rallied to inflate Kentucky’s double-digit halftime lead. Correction. Maci Morris inflated Kentucky’s halftime lead.

Morris poured in another 13 points in the second half before fouling out a little over halfway through the fourth quarter. Her scoring partner, Howard, picked up her third foul 11 seconds into the half. Shortly after, Morris picked up her third. Immediately after that, Howard picked her fourth foul and was relegated to the bench. That’s when Morris went to work.

Morris helped build the Kentucky lead to 15 points at one point in the third and was hitting tough shot after tough shot. Anyagaligbo continued her career day and came up huge whenever the Cats desperately needed a bucket. She finished with 13 points, her season-high and the first time this season she scored in double figures.

Tennessee would not let up on the boards as they expanded on their rebounding onslaught. The Lady Volunteers outrebounded Kentucky 28-14 throughout the game just on the offensive glass alone. But Kentucky continued to fight.

After Morris picked up her fourth foul early into the final quarter, Howard checked back into the game. She promptly fouled again, though, which ended her night. Howard played under three minutes in the second half and scored only six points for the game. After Anyagaligbo picked up her fourth personal foul with under five minutes remaining, Morris was tagged with her fifth not more than 10 seconds later and Kentucky found themselves without their three top scorers with four minutes still to go.

Without Morris, Howard, and Murray, Kentucky held a four-point lead that felt like anything but. Tennessee controlled the momentum and was slowly crawling back into the game.

Then Jaida Roper happened.

Despite their three best players watching from the sidelines, Kentucky was able to pull out the win thanks to Roper – who scored seven of Kentucky’s final eight points. She hit what will probably go down as the most important shot of her life and one of the biggest in the UK-UT rivalry with a long, contested three that rainbowed into the basket and gave Kentucky a five-point lead with under a minute remaining.

The reserves would hit their free throws and seal a 73-71 win for the Wildcats, the program’s first against Tennessee on the road since Jan. of 2014.

Roper finished with 10 points and three assists while Morris added 27 points on 10-16 shooting (4-6 from three) before fouling out. Kentucky forced 19 Tennessee turnovers.

The Wildcats next game will be at home in Memorial Coliseum as they take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Sunday at 1 p.m.

(Photo via UK Athletics Communications and Public Relations)

Rhyne Howard Named to Wooden Award Midseason Top 25

(Photo via UK Athletics Communications and Public Relations)

After snagging her school-record fifth SEC Freshman of the Week award just a few days ago, Kentucky freshman guard Rhyne Howard just can’t stay away from from the spotlight, as she was recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25.

The Wooden Award is given to the student-athlete perceived as the most outstanding player in the country and Howard is the only freshman to make the cut at the halfway points of the season.

We won’t find out until the NCAA Tournament begins if Howard will make it to the next round and the winner of the award will be announced on April 12, 2019, during the ESPN College Basketball Awards.

Howard is averaging 17.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, leading the Wildcats in both categories. She has recorded 45 assists, 38 steals, and 18 blocks through 16 games and has connected on 41.3 percent of her three-point attempts this season.

The Cleveland, Tennessee native has topped double-digit scoring numbers in 14 of her 16 games, including three double-doubles.

In the 15 years that the award has been handed out to women, only eight schools have produced a player worthy enough to win – five times going to a member of the Connecticut Huskies. A freshman has never won the award while a sophomore (Maya Moore in 2009) has won it only once. Former Kentucky star Anthony Davis is the only Wildcat to have ever won the award.

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

Rhyne Howard Named SEC Freshman of the Week for Fifth Time

(Photo via | UK Athletics)

Kentucky freshman guard Rhyne Howard has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the fifth time this year as the Wildcats cross into the second half of their regular season schedule.

Howard earned the award for her efforts against Vanderbilt and No. 7 Mississippi State, where she combined to score 31 points in addition to 11 assists, nine rebounds, seven steals, and three blocks. No. 16 Kentucky won at home against Vandy but fell on the road to an MSU squad with Final Four aspirations.

After winning this award for the fifth time, Howard is now the first player in program history to do so and the second in SEC history. Only Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham won the award more times (six), back in the 2015-16 season. Howard has a chance to break that record to the point where it never might be broken again.

Howard is averaging a team-high in both points (17.4) and rebounds (7.0) per game while shooting over 46 percent from the field and a blistering 41.3 percent on 92 attempted threes through 16 games. She also averages 2.8 assists and ranks fourth in the SEC in steals per game at 2.4.

If Vanderbilt’s head coach comparing Howard to ‘Candace Parker’ following her impressive performance in the SEC opener isn’t enough to ring home just how good she truly is, you’re just gonna have to witness it for yourself. She has the potential to be the best player in the entire conference starting next season. There is definite WNBA talent overflowing from her fingertips. She just plays the game at her own pace that forces her opponents to comply.

I can’t confidently compare her to any current/former female basketball player, but I can say that she reminds me a lot of Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic. Howard obviously doesn’t have the passing touch of Doncic – there are maybe five people in the entire world that do – but she controls the game in ways that are way too reminiscent of Doncic, especially with how she hunts for shots. Both are built like forwards but have the scoring/ball handling skills of a smaller guard.

Howard is a basketball spectacle and her name is going to be heard throughout Lexington for years to come. We are witnessing the early stages of one of the all-time greats to play basketball at Kentucky – man or woman. If you don’t know about Rhyne Howard by now, you will soon.

(Photo via

WBB: What We Learned From Kentucky’s Loss to Mississippi State

(Photo via

The Kentucky Wildcats ran into their biggest challenge of the season early into their SEC schedule when they visited the seventh-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville.

After falling 86-71, Kentucky showed they aren’t quite ready to compete with the top teams in the country. The Wildcats were behind by 10-15 points for the majority of the game and never once cut the lead to under double-digits in the second-half.

Here’s what we learned about the team and how they can improve going forward. They better adapt quickly, too, as they’ll stay on the road to take on No. 10 Tennessee this Thursday.

Keeping up with the pace

Kentucky’s mantra this season – as with most Matthew Mitchell coached Kentucky teams – is an emphasis on applying the full-court press. Termed the “40 minutes of dread”, Kentucky has become known for constantly putting pressure on ball handlers and pushing the pace to control the game. Against Mississippi State, Kentucky was beaten at their own game.

The Bulldogs countered Kentucky’s pressure with their own and clearly controlled the game from the opening tip. Once they built an early, double-digit first-quarter lead, all they had to do was stop any potential Kentucky scoring run. And that’s exactly what they did.

Whenever the Cats cut the lead down to 12 or 14 points, MSU would drop in four quick points of their own. If MSU wanted to run, then the game was fast-paced. If they want to slow it down for a couple possessions, Kentucky couldn’t do anything but abide by their rules. Foul trouble from key players and several forced shots surely didn’t help the Cats get back into the game.

Kentucky forced 24 Mississippi State turnovers – a season-high for the Bulldogs – but turned the ball over 22 times themselves, which was a season-high, as well.

Taylor Murray’s off day

Senior guard Taylor Murray played one of her worst games of the season. She finished the game with four points on 1-6 shooting and was a non-factor for the majority of the first-half. Murray did contribute four rebounds, four assists, and four steals, but wasn’t her regular self as the ball pressure from MSU had her off her game.

Some routine passes were flung into the first row early in the game and she missed a couple of bunny shots that she normally converts 10 times out of 10.

Murray was a team-worst minus-16 in 30 minutes played.

Mississippi State dominated the paint

Perhaps the two most telling statistics of the game came from the same area of the court. Points in the paint and rebounding. Kentucky was dominated in both aspects by a devastating margin.

On the season, the Wildcats have averaged 35.7 rebounds per game while holding their opponents to just under 35. MSU pulled down 48 rebounds, doubling UK’s total of 24. Rhyne Howard was the only Kentucky player to register at least five rebounds. Four Bulldogs finished with six or more rebounds.

Even more telling were points in the paint. MSU poured in 48 paint points while holding Kentucky to only 22. It didn’t even matter that Kentucky made four more threes than MSU when they were outscored by 26 around the basket.

Foul trouble all around

If it hadn’t been for the infinite number of foul calls, Kentucky might have been able to establish some rhythm. To be fair, the officiating wasn’t great for either side, but the calls were mostly ticky-tack fouls and prevented either team from truly doing what they do best. Which is run, run, run.

Mississippi State’s leading scorer, Teaira McCowan, sat out most of the first half and a huge chunk of the second with foul trouble. Standing at 6-foot-8 and averaging close to 17 points through her first 14 games on over 70 percent shooting from the field (yes, she was shooting over SEVENTY percent from the field all season coming into this matchup), she finished the game with 13 points on 5-10 shooting and four fouls.

But even when she was on the bench, Kentucky couldn’t take advantage of a more level playing field. They had their own foul trouble to deal with.

With McCowan on the pine, Kentucky’s bigs had to deal with their fouling problems. Tatyana Wyatt ended up fouling out and KeKe McKinney finished with four fouls. The two of them combined for only five rebounds.

Senior guard and Kentucky’s best shooter, Maci Morris, picked up two quick fouls early in the first quarter which put the Cats in quite a hole in regards to the scoring department and immediate pressure on Rhyne Howard to fill the void. Morris finished the game with four fouls but still played 30 minutes. The issue was she was trying to force the issue too much once she came back in during the second quarter with her team facing a double-digit deficit. She turned it around in the second half, scoring 16 of her 20 points and keeping her team in the game, but that was one of the lone bright spots.

With two veteran guards controlling the backcourt, losing composure in a high-profile against a top-10 ranked team was disappointing. But if we’re looking at this with the glass half-full, it was only the second conference game of the season against the team that was projected to win the SEC. The loss stings, but it was a great learning experience for a team still learning how to play together for a full 40 minutes. How they respond on Thursday against Tennessee in Knoxville will tell us a lot about their potential going forward.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

(Photo via

UK Hoops Falls to No. 7 Mississippi State in Starkville

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The No. 16 ranked Kentucky Wildcats fell to seventh-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in their first road SEC game on Sunday night in Starkville by a score of 86-71.

Senior Maci Morris led the Wildcats with 20 points and freshman Rhyne Howard was behind her with 15 points, but the Wildcats were down double-digits before the game could get going and were never able to recover.

Mississippi State came out of the gates looking to attack and put all the pressure they could on the Cats, opening up an early 19-6 lead through the first eight minutes. Anriel Howard – the Bulldogs second-leading scorer – knocked down five of her first six shots to bust out 11 quick points and a comfortable advantage.

As expected, the pace was high octane. Turnovers were the name of the game for both teams as they were constantly sprinting up and down the court, putting pressure on the ball no matter where it was. Both teams set season highs for turnovers (22 for UK and 24 for MSU).

After Morris picked up her second foul early in the first quarter, the Wildcats offense stalled. Kentucky would turn the ball over 12 total times in the first half – only one below their season average – and MSU converted those into 19 points.

While Kentucky did force 12 turnovers themselves, they shot only 9-27 from the field and were 3-8 from three. Morris played 12 minutes in the first half despite her early foul trouble, but it was out of necessity as the Cats offense was working with no rhythm. Unfortunately, she shot 1-7 in that frame for only four points and forced several shots with defenders right in her face. She was trying to find just an ounce of flow and Mississippi State’s defense did an excellent job of staying right on her.

To make matters worse, Taylor Murray was having one of “those” games where nothing was going right. If she wasn’t tossing the ball off the foot of her teammate, she was pushing the ball into a defensive brick wall with nowhere to go. It was one of her worst halves of basketball this season.

With little production from their two senior guards, Rhyne Howard was forced to take over. She failed to score in the first quarter, but played some great defense and added five points in the second to keep the Wildcats alive.

While the first quarter featured a lifeless Kentucky squad, the second quarter was much more intense. The defense picked up and they were able to actually set up some of their offense as a result, as opposed to early in the game where Kentucky was lucky to even run a play at all.

The Cats had a chance to cut the lead to 10 before halftime, but some late turnovers and poor recovery defense ballooned MSU’s lead to 41-27 at the intermission.

Teaira McCowan – the tallest player on the court at 6-foot-8 and MSU’s leading scorer – also dealt with early foul trouble that limited her to only six points.

The second half didn’t get much better for the blue and white.

Kentucky’s defense came alive early and caused a few quick turnovers as they controlled the pace for the first time in the game, but it was short-lived. There was even a point in the third quarter where Kentucky had hit six of seven shots, but could never trim the lead to under double-figures as they couldn’t prevent Mississippi State from scoring on the other end.

Despite McCowan being tagged with her fourth foul in the third quarter, Kentucky couldn’t take advantage. It also didn’t help that Kentucky had three of their own players with four fouls late in the game – one being Morris and the other two being the starting frontcourt of Tatyana Wyatt and KeKe McKinney. Murray had three fouls, as well. It was near impossible to establish any sort of rhythm. Wyatt would foul out before the game concluded.

Morris broke out of her first half shooting slump, scoring 16 of her 20 points after the midway mark. Rhyne Howard finished with 15 points on 6-14 shooting with five rebounds while Wyatt added nine points. Seven Kentucky players scored at least five points.

Kentucky was doubled up in the rebounding category, 48 to 24, and total points in the paint, 48 to 22. Those ended up being the two most important statistics of the game.

Mississippi State had two players finish with double-doubles as McCowan recorded 13 points and 10 rebounds while Anriel Howard led her team with 21 points and 12 rebounds. It was a dominant performance from one of the most dominant teams in the country. The Bulldogs thrived when the flow of the game got out of control.

The schedule doesn’t get any lighter for the Cats, as they’ll take on No. 10 Tennessee on the road this Thursday.

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UK Hoops Wins First SEC Game Over Vandy 77-55

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The 16th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (13-1) defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores (5-9) by a score of 77-55 in Memorial Coliseum in what was the first SEC game for either team.

Freshman Rhyne Howard led the way for the Cats with 16 points on 5-12 shooting while senior Maci Morris contributed 14 points on 5-10 shooting.

The win also marked head coach Matthew Mitchell’s 300th career victory.

The Wildcats got off to a blistering hot start, making six of their first seven shots, including 2-3 from three. Maci Morris broke out of the gate early for eight quick points on three made buckets. Morris and Howard were both running the pick-and-roll to perfection in the early minutes, establishing a quick lead and allowing Kentucky to get any and every look they wanted.

The full-court press was up to its usual business for Kentucky, forcing eight first-quarter turnovers and another eight in the second. This coming against a Commodore team that only averages 12.9 turnovers per game, one of the lowest marks in the nation.

Going up against two six-footers – Mariella Fasoula (6-foot-5) and Autumn Newby (6-foot-2) – Kentucky’s interior defense was struggling in the paint in the first quarter. Fasoula, who is the fourth leading scorer among SEC players at 17.6 points per game, started the first quarter shooting 3-3 for six points. It wasn’t until Ogechi Anyagaligbo stepped in due to some early foul trouble for Tatyana Wyatt that Vanderbilt’s frontcourt began to struggle.

After Anyagaligbo was put on Fasoula, she held her to 1-3 shooting before halftime with one turnover. That defense was contagious, as Vandy was held to 3-11 shooting in the second. Fasoula would finish the game with 12 points on 5-9 shooting.

The second quarter also marked the beginning of the Taylor Murray show.

Murray was wreaking havoc all across the floor for the entire second quarter. If she wasn’t swiping the ball out of the unsuspecting hands of the dribbler, she was immediately pushing the pace after a missed shot. Murray was the fuel behind Kentucky’s energetic quarter that gave them a healthy halftime lead. She was the fastest player on the court and it wasn’t even close.

That energy was pumped into Jaida Roper, as well. If Murray wasn’t sprinting in transition, Roper was doing her best impersonation, dishing out three first-half assists.

Although Kentucky was outrebounded in the first half 15-9, they scored only four fewer points in the paint despite being outscored 10-0 from that area in the first frame. The Cats would lead 40-24 at halftime before completely running away with the game in the second half.

Kentucky would outscore Vanderbilt 25-14 in the third quarter thanks to more dominant defense from Murray and some excellent minutes from Blair Green off the bench. Green would shoot a perfect 4-4 in the third for nine points, including an and-1 on a mid-range jump shot.

The Wildcats ultimately lost the fourth quarter, but after forcing a total of 29 turnovers throughout the game, they won handily in the end. Vandy would finish the game with a turnover percentage of 41.2, meaning they turned the ball over on more than 40 percent of their total possessions.

The stat that stood out the most was that even though Vandy (55.6 percent) shot a better percentage from the field than Kentucky (49.2 percent), their points per possession (.786 PPP) was far below Kentucky’s (1.069 PPP).

Murray added seven points, five rebounds, and five steals for the Cats while Green finished with nine points on 4-5 shooting.

Kentucky will take on seventh-ranked Mississippi State on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Starkville in what will be one of their biggest games of the season.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

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What to Expect From UK Hoops Heading Into Conference Play

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After undergoing his most difficult season as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team last year, Matthew Mitchell has the 2018-19 version of his squad looking dangerous and well-prepared heading into the SEC conference play this Thursday.

The 18th ranked Wildcats are 13-1 on the season, with the lone blemish coming on the road against the currently third-ranked Lousiville Cardinals. They’ve beaten their fair share of obviously inferior opponents but wins over a ranked South Florida team, North Carolina, and in overtime against UCLA – including the utter domination of quality teams such as Murray State and Virginia – have proven that this team has the talent and coaching to potentially make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

But before they can dream that far ahead, there is a monster of a conference schedule the lies in their way. Including Kentucky, five SEC teams are ranked in the top 25 – Tennessee (10), Mississippi State (8), Texas A&M (23), and South Carolina (25) – and an unranked Auburn team with only one loss (although the Tigers schedule thus far is cluttered with colleges I still don’t believe exist). So how can expect this Kentucky team to perform as we hit the halfway point of the season? Let’s dive a bit deeper into it.

The senior guards

The team begins and ends with the two senior guards Maci Morris and Taylor Murray. They are number two and three, respectively, on the team in scoring as Morris averages 16.1 points per game while Murray averages 14.1. I can’t speak for every team in the country, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more complementary backcourt than these two ladies.

Morris, the Kentucky native, has been a scoring fiend this year. She’s already up to number 15 on the Kentucky all-time scoring list and has been filling it up from deep this season. She’s shot 45.1 percent this season on a team-high 82 three-point attempts and is knocking down just a hair below 89 percent of her free throws. There has never been a question of who the leader of this team is, it always has been and always will be the girl from Bell County.

Murray is the ice to Morris’ fire. When Morris is lighting teams up for six or eight points in a matter of seconds, Murray is on the other end causing a level of havoc that makes opposing head coaches rip their hair out. At five-foot-six, Murray does not hesitate to get right up in the grill of the ball handler and follow their every move, most of the time staying two or three steps ahead. She’s an instinctual defender, one who always seems to come up with the ball when things start to break down. She averages 3.62 steals per game – 13th in the nation – and is the leading force behind Kentucky ranking 10th in the country in steals per game at 12.7. Murray is the most cold-blooded player on this team.

They both spearhead the devastating full-court press that Kentucky has wielded this season. Morris isn’t as quick as Murray – and that might find her in some trouble against quick SEC guards – but makes up for it with incredibly shifty feet and even quicker hands. Morris has mastered the ability to slide her feet in of the defender no matter how much faster they are than her. For Murray, she is always the fastest player on the court.

This segues perfectly into my next topic…

The full court press

The full court press has been the staple of this Kentucky team. Littered with quality backcourt defenders who can sprint up and down the court that know how/when to trap, Kentucky has demoralized teams with how fierce their press can be when it’s at it’s best. Kentucky forces 23.9 turnovers per game, good enough for fifth in the country. The majority of those steals come in the back half of the court courtesy of Murray.

But Murray isn’t the only one who plays the full court press to perfection. As mentioned earlier, Morris has done an excellent job this season of using her length and feet to force turnovers. What really makes the press so effective is being able to bring two more quality backcourt players off the bench. Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal are the perfect duo to replace Morris and Murray. All four are versatile and interchangeable, so coach Mitchell has no problem having to decide who pairs best with who. We’ll get more into Roper’s impact in a minute, but it’s important to stress how vital she and Paschal are to the press.

If teams do manage to beat the guards up the court, they have to stare down KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt as they head towards the basket. Both standing over six-feet tall, they deter smaller guards from penetrating the paint and have done a great job this season of not over fouling in those situations. Against SEC competition is where the press is going to meet it’s most talented challenge.

Kentucky is holding opponents to 55.4 points per game this season, 31st in the country. The SEC is going to put that number to the test immediately.

In several games this season, Kentucky has been able to crush teams by simply beating them with talent. The multiple 40-plus point victories we saw earlier in the year will be few and far between as the Wildcats will face a quality opponent almost every single night. Teams that have studied them longer than anyone else up to that point and know their tendencies on both sides of the court. I don’t expect this to discourage coach Mitchell from running the press – it’s what makes them a dangerous unit and there aren’t many teams across the country that can keep up with them for a full 40 minutes – but I do think there will be times that it will become ineffective and more of a liability, especially when teams like Tennessee and Mississippi State are on the menu.

*Side note: Kentucky plays Mississippi State in seven days and Tennessee in 11.*

Kentucky is going to live or die by pressing and they seem content with that strategy. My fear is that it might be exploited against superior teams to the point that it takes them out of their game, but there are going to be much more games where it’s the main reason they got the win.

The importance of the two freshman

It’s somewhat criminal that it’s taken me until now to mention Rhyne Howard, considering she’s the team’s leading scorer (17.6 points per game) and rebounder (7.4 per game), but it’s for good reason. Howard deserves her own section. She is without a doubt the best player on this Kentucky team. While the seniors Murray and Morris are more *essential* to the team, the freshman from Tennessee is far and away the most talented of the group.

She’s six-foot-two and plays like a point forward. She has the most advanced scoring profile of any of her teammates. There isn’t a single spot on the floor that she can’t knock down a shot from. Howard has hit the 20-point mark on five separate occasions this season, including a 25-point, 10-rebound performance against in-state rival Louisville. She’s knocked down 44.7 percent of her 76 attempted three-pointers this season and has gotten to the free-throw line more than any of her teammates. Her and Morris have been a constant problem for defenses when they curl around screens to pop open for quick jumpers. Howard can get her shot off over just about anyone. There’s an almost casual and listless feel to her game. Not in the sense that it doesn’t look like she’s trying hard, but in the sense that she just makes it look so damn easy. As if she doesn’t need to exert any effort to drop 20 points.

And it’s a frightening spectacle to watch.

If Kentucky wants to pull off some of these upsets over the top teams in the SEC, Howard is going to need at least another five more 20-point outings, if not 10 of them. But if there is one player on this team capable of taking over a game on a moments notice, it’s Howard.

Another key piece to this team is freshman Blair Green. The Harlan County product doesn’t have the stats that Howard produces, but she’s vitally important to the second unit. Green has a great faceup game and, like Howard, can knock down jumpers from any spot on the court. She’s hit seven of her 19 three-point attempts this season and has scored eight or more points in seven games this season – including two straight. She knows how to play the press and provides a scoring spark off the bench.

The emergence of Jaida Roper

Roper might be my personal favorite player to watch on this team right now. While it is undeniably fun to watch Rhyne Howard and Maci Morris pile on points by the truckload or Taylor Murray rip the soul right out from the inside of a ball handler, Roper has been the constant sparkplug off the bench.

The junior is having her best statistical season by a considerable margin, averaging 9.0 points and 2.8 assists in 21 minutes per game. She’s recorded at least six assists in three straight games now and has been – by my eagle eyes – the best passer on this team. Murray leads the team with 61 assists, but Roper has been right behind her, doing an amazing job of penetrating and kicking the ball out to a shooter. Her rainbow three-point jumper puts fans in a trance as the ball seems to never want to come back to earth before hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. She’s hit nearly 46 percent of her threes this season and leads the team in that category.

Her intensity on defense, especially in the press, has been essential to maintaining the pace the Cats want to play. She’s become a vocal leader on the court and is making an impact every night she steps on the court. She is what you might call the “X-Factor”.

This Kentucky team has a legitimate shot at making their fourth Elite Eight run under Matthew Mitchell. They have an experienced, elite level backcourt, a scoring freshman phenom, pesky defenders, size in the paint, and shooters spread all across the floor. It’s no accident they’ve cracked into the top 25 rankings after starting the season way under the radar. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes as one of the best in Mitchell’s tenure.

SEC play kicks off against Vanderbilt in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan

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UK Hoops Easily Takes Down Sacred Heart 71-43

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The 18th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (13-1) defeated the Sacred Heart Pioneers (4-7) by a score of 71-43 early on Saturday in a busy Memorial Coliseum.

After a rough start to the game, the backcourt combination of seniors Taylor Murray and Maci Morris along with junior Jaida Roper spurred the Wildcats to victory after a week off to celebrate Christmas.

Kentucky came out struggling in this one. Whether it was the week off, the holiday fever getting to them, or the early tipoff, something had the Cats looking flat and a bit off beat.

The Wildcats were constantly beat with backdoor cuts, long passes out of the fullcourt press, and at times were walking to rebounds. They shot only 12-39 from the field in the first half and forced only five Sacred Heart turnovers. Their deadly full-court press looked anything but as Sacred Heart had little issue pushing the ball across midcourt.

Kentucky’s leading scorer Rhyne Howard especially couldn’t find her rhythm. She started the game 0-8 before taking the ball to the rack for an easy lay-in with under four minutes left in the second quarter. She would finish the half shooting 1-10 and missed a few point-blank layups. Howard would only make one more shot throughout, finishing the game with seven points on 2-15 shooting. She did make up for her absent scoring, though, grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds.

Her teammates, however, helped pick up the slack on offense.

Maci Morris and Jaida Roper were the two bright spots in a dull first half of basketball. Morris hit three triples and drove for a layup to lead the team with 13 points at the break. Roper was demonstrating her excellent playmaking abilities, dishing out four assists in the first half to go along with her four points.

The one thing the team did well as a whole in the first half was demolish Sacred Heart on the offensive glass. Kentucky outrebounded SHU 13-4 on that end and held the overall rebounding edge 33-19. Kentucky won the rebounding battle at the final buzzer, pulling down 57 rebounds compared to 35 for Sacred Heart.

After holding only a four-point lead after the first frame, Kentucky broke free for a 13-point lead at halftime to give themselves some breathing room amid one of their poorest shooting halves of the season. They held SHU to seven points on 1-16 shooting from the field in the second quarter and 24.1 percent shooting for the entire half.

In the second half, the two senior guards began to assert themselves. Murray scored nine points including two assists in the third quarter while Morris added four points, two assists, and a block.

There was a bit more urgency from Kentucky to start the quarter and the defensive intensity finally picked up. I counted five separate occasions in the first two and a half quarters where the Wildcats full-court press were beaten because of a long pass to the opposite end of the court. Once the Cats adjusted and made sure someone was always spying the far end of the court, those passes ceased.

Kentucky improved their shooting clip, going 9-20 in the third while forcing four turnovers and holding SHU to only two points in the first five minutes. The Cats outscored the Pioneers 23-13 in the third quarter and did everything they needed to do to put this game out of reach.

Roper was ultra-aggressive, providing the most energy of any of her teammates. She also might have established herself as the best passer on this team. She finished the game with one of her best overall performances, contributing 12 points, three rebounds, and five assists. It was her third straight game with at least 12 points and five assists.

Kentucky won the fourth quarter 15-10 and finished off Sacred Heart for their fourth straight win.

The Wildcats play next on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum to kick off conference play as they take on Vanderbilt at 7 p.m.