By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 08th, 2019 @ 5:30pm
An 0-16 shooting day from the three-point line ended Kentucky’s chances of moving on in the SEC Tournament as the fourth-seeded Wildcats fell to the fifth-seeded Missouri Tigers in overtime, 70-68.
Rhyne Howard scored 25 points for Kentucky on 11-18 shooting, but the Cats gave up 29 points to Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham. The Tigers as a team shot nearly 50 percent from the field, sending the Cats back to Lexington early. Despite forcing 26 Missouri turnovers, Kentucky shot only 32 percent from the field.
Starting forward KeKe McKinney was held out of the game as it was announced before tip-off that she is in the concussion protocol.
Missouri came out like they were still warmed up from the previous day’s win over the Florida Gators. A quick 7-0 run out of the gate put Kentucky in an immediate hole that would take until halfway through the second quarter to recover from.
The Cats would start the game 0-4 from the field while the Tigers were 4-8 and the lead quickly ballooned to an 11-2 advantage in favor of Mizzou, forcing Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell to burn a timeout.
The Cats defenses was nonexistent as the Tigers got any open look they wanted and controlled the early pace of the game. But after that timeout, the defensive energy shifted. Kentucky became much more aggressive and began to force Missouri into turnover after turnover.
The offense struggled the entire quarter, but six Tiger turnovers allowed Kentucky to stay close as they trailed 15-7 after the first 10 minutes. Heading into the second period, Kentucky had shot only 1-13 from the field while Missouri was a more efficient 5-13.
The offensive woes didn’t get too much better in the second quarter. A necessary 6-0 run from the Cats immediately got them back into the game and the defense was causing all sorts of issues with an onslaught of full-court pressing. A big shot inside the paint from Tatyana Wyatt tied the game for the first time since it was 0-0. After starting the game on 4-9 shooting, the Tigers went on a scoring drought where they converted on only one of its next nine shot attempts. But Missouri would soon rattle off a 10-0 run that put Kentucky back in a dangerous position.
At halftime, Kentucky trailed 27-19 and its trio of star players – Maci Morris, Taylor Murray, and Howard – were an abysmal 3-18 shooting from the field. Morris didn’t even score her first two points until she finally got to the free-throw line with under two minutes left in the half. Kentucky went 0-7 from three in the first two periods.
It wasn’t like the Cats were getting bad looks either, shots were just rolling around the rim and doing everything but finding the bottom of the net.
In the third quarter, the Wildcats were able to claw back into the game. Some big shots from Murray and Howard brought the Cats to within five halfway through the period, forcing a Missouri timeout. For what felt like the first time all game, Kentucky finally had the momentum on their side.
But a quick and-1 by the Tigers and a scary moment where Jaida Roper landed awkwardly on her ankle swung the tide back to Mizzou. Kentucky would then go through a couple of two-minute long scoring droughts and allowed a big triple from the Tigers right before the buzzer to push the lead back up to six heading into the final period.
Through three quarters, Missouri shot 15-32 (46 percent) from the field, compared to only 13-50 (26 percent) for Kentucky.
But the Wildcats saved its best shooting quarter for last, finally getting some shots to fall with the game on the line. Kentucky shot over 42 percent in the fourth period. Roper’s ankle wouldn’t keep her out long, either, as she started the final quarter.
The game went back-and-forth with Howard, Murray, Morris, and Wyatt hitting big shots down the stretch. A layup by Wyatt gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at 51-50. Cunningham was able to knock down some clutch free throws that ultimately sent the game into overtime after Howard missed a shot right before the buzzer to win the game.
The overtime period was a battle between stars, as Cunningham and Howard were exchanging points with the lead fluctuating throughout the extra five minutes. Wyatt hit a huge and-1 to put Kentucky down one with only eight seconds. But after fouling Cunningham – who would make only one of her two free throws on that trip – Mizzou pushed the lead back up to two before Howard missed the potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
Morris finished with eight points on 2-12 shooting while Murray and Wyatt combined for 25 points on 8-29 shooting.
Kentucky will now have to wait and see where the selection committee seeds them in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 08th, 2019 @ 5:06pm
Unfortunate news from Greenville, South Carolina, where the Kentucky women fell to Missouri 70-68 in overtime of the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
SEC Freshman of the Year Rhyne Howard scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds, her ninth 20-point game of the season, while Taylor Murray had 14 points and four assists. Unfortunately, Howard’s three at the end was no good, and the ladies will make their way back to Lexington to regroup for the NCAA Tournament.
Zack Geoghegan will be by in a bit with a full recap.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 08th, 2019 @ 12:00pm
Afternoon, folks. I’m in Greenville, South Carolina covering my first ever basketball tournament for KSR. I think we’re all hoping for a long weekend and it starts today as Kentucky kicks off its postseason schedule. Let’s get right into it.
The No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats received a double-bye for the SEC Tournament this year and will face the five-seeded Missouri Tigers in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament today at 2:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Wildcats snuck in as the four seed after beating the Georgia Bulldogs in its final regular season game of the year and should be well-rested against a Missouri team the Cats already beat back on Jan. 23 by a score of 52-41. It was the lowest point total Missouri has posted all season long.
Heading into today’s matchup, let’s see if we can get a better idea of who this Missouri team is and how it will fair against our Cats.
The Tigers come in with an overall record of 22-9 and a conference record of 10-6, good enough for the fifth-seed and just a game below the Wildcats. Despite the Tigers finishing with a considerably worse record (UK finished 24-6), some key wins over an elite Mississippi State team on the road ranked in the top five along with another win against a top-20 team in the Texas A&M Aggies have both come in the last month. With that, SEC Network currently has them projected as a five-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which is also where they project the Cats to be seeded.
Keep in mind, Kentucky was mopped by Mississippi State in early January and lost both games against the Aggies. But Kentucky has won seven of its last eight games while playing some of the best defensive basketball I’ve seen from them all season. The Tigers come in riding a three-game winning streak but are also coming into this game with less than 24 hours rest.
Missouri is led by 6-foot-1 senior guard, Sophie Cunningham. The Missouri native is averaging over 17 points and six rebounds per game while shooting over 47 percent from the field and slightly over 40 percent from three. She’s an incredibly versatile scorer who can give even the best defenses fits with her combination of size and scoring ability. Kentucky’s defense has been unbelievably stout that last few games, but Cunningham is a matchup nightmare for the undersized Kentucky frontcourt. It’ll be up to freshman star Rhyne Howard to try and give her fits throughout the game. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see Taylor Murray take a crack at defending her, too, or even a zone defense to stop penetration and hopefully limit her to the perimeter.
In the first matchup against the Cats, Cunningham was the only Missouri player to score in double-figures as she went for 17 points on 5-12 shooting (3-7 from three) while having to play all 40 minutes. She is without a doubt the main source of offense for her team, but she turns the ball over more than almost any player in the entire country (right at 3.0 turnovers per game). Kentucky – who ranks second in the SEC in forced turnovers per game – should have a field day as Cunningham is forced into creating shots. The Cats forced her into four miscues in the first matchup.
The Tigers have several shooters that can space the floor in Amber Smith (35.8 percent from three), Lauren Aldridge (40.5 percent), and Hannah Schuchts (41.0 percent), but they rely almost exclusively on Cunningham to put up points. Her usage rate of 26.6 percent ranks her in the 90th percentile among all NCAA players. She’s scored more than 20 points in 14 games this season, however, she only needed 13 points against an eight-win Florida team on Thursday as Missouri glided to a 31-point win. Florida obviously isn’t anywhere near as good as Kentucky, but I should note that it was only the sixth game of the year that Cunningham didn’t play at least 30 minutes. So she’ll likely be a bit more rested despite playing in a back-to-back.
One advantage Missouri has is that Kentucky is the worst rebounding team in the SEC, but the Tigers aren’t much better – ranking ninth out of 14 SEC teams in rebounds per game. The game likely won’t be won on the boards, however, and should be decided in transition. The Tigers don’t prefer to run like Kentucky does. They elect to try and slow things down and keep the number of possessions per game to a minimum. The Cats will do everything they can to press the backcourt and force the game into an up-and-down marathon. The Tigers have been prone to foul trouble, as well, and a fast pace could lead to frustration fouls and, ideally, poor passing decisions. Missouri coughed the ball up 20 times during the matchup in Lexington.
Outside of Cunningham, this just isn’t a good matchup for Missouri. The best chance the Tigers have is to slow the game down to a snail’s pace and make Kentucky beat them in the halfcourt, which the Wildcats have struggled to do throughout the year. Kentucky is at it’s best when Murray is creating havoc on ball-handlers while Howard and Maci Morris are popping open for quick looks. Howard and Morris (and even Murray, really) are good enough scorers on their own to win more often than not in isolation situations, but that won’t be sustainable for a full 40 minutes.
If Kentucky can play the game they want to play – pushing the pace, pressing in the full-court, running the offense through Morris/Howard – then the Cats should be able to handle this game with ease as they did in Lexington. But if the game slows down and Kentucky is forced to run its offense mainly in the halfcourt, it could create an opportunity for the Tigers to break the flow of what has made Kentucky such a pesky team all season.
Remember, 2:30 p.m. EST on SEC Network. Don’t miss it.
(Statistics pulled from Her Hoop Stats)
Kentucky basketball shared a very short clip from the pregame practice down in Oxford today, and if you’re hoping for Reid Travis, you’re out of luck. Travis is noticeably absent in the video of the big men. It could be trolling, but it likely means Travis is out yet again.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 5, 2019
Sorry if this isn’t the updated you wanted.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 05th, 2019 @ 12:45pm
The Kentucky women’s basketball team hauled in several All-SEC awards, following the Wildcats’ 24-6 season.
We’ll start with head coach Matthew Mitchell, who was named Co-Coach of the Year in the league. It’s Mitchell’s second SEC Coach of the Year award and his first since 2010.
Superstar freshman Rhyne Howard took the league’s Freshman of the Year award, in addition to an All-SEC First Team selection and a spot on the All-Freshman team. Howard is UK’s third SEC Freshman of the Year, but the first to also make the All-SEC First Team.
Maci Morris also earned a spot on the All-SEC First Team, plus the conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. Morris, a senior, is averaging 15.1 points per game in her final season with Kentucky.
Then there is senior guard Tyler Murray on the All-Defensive Team, and freshman Blair Green joining Howard on the All-Freshman Team.
What a showing by the Cats…
2018-19 ALL-SEC AWARDS
Co-Coaches of the Year: Matthew Mitchell, UK and Vic Schaefer, MSU
Player of the Year: Teaira McCowan, MSU
Freshman of the Year: Rhyne Howard, UK
Defensive Player of the Year: Teaira McCowan, MSU
6th Woman of the Year: Cierra Porter, MIZ
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Maci Morris, UK
ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM
Sophie Cunningham, MIZ
Teaira McCowan, MSU
Chennedy Carter, TAMU
Caliya Robinson, UG
Anriel Howard, MSU
Rhyne Howard, UK
Ayana Mitchell, LSU
Maci Morris, UK
ALL-SEC SECOND TEAM
Tyasha Harris, SC
Chelsea Dungee, AR
Te’a Cooper, SC
Janiah McKay, AU
Rennia Davis, UT
Alexis Jennings, SC
Mariella Fasoula, VU
Crystal Allen, UM
Taylor Murray, UK
Teaira McCowan, MSU
Caliya Robinson , UG
Janiah McKay, AU
Jazzmun Holmes, MSU
Rhyne Howard, UK
Zaay Green, UT
Destanni Henderson, SC
Victaria Saxton, SC
Brinae Alexander, VU
Akira Levy, MIZ
Robyn Benton, AU
Blair Green, UK
Kentucky will begin SEC Tournament play on Friday at 2 p.m. after sitting out the first two rounds with a double-bye as one of the conference’s top four teams.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©March 03rd, 2019 @ 9:00pm
A massive win in Athens, Georgia to finish off a spectacular regular season has the Kentucky Wildcats (24-6) as a top-4 seed in the upcoming SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
After falling at home to the nationally-ranked Texas A&M Aggies this past Thursday, the Wildcats had to win against the Georgia Bulldogs to receive the double-bye and play its first game of the Tournament on Friday instead of Thursday.
The Bulldogs came into the game with a record of 18-10 and a win over the Cats could have pushed Kentucky into the fifth or sixth seed with only a single-bye, but a season-high 17 points from sophomore forward Tatyana Wyatt prevented the Wildcats from having to play that pesky extra game.
Kentucky was down five heading into the fourth quarter against Georgia – and hadn’t topped more than 12 points in the previous three periods – but did what they’ve been able to do since conference play began; close the game when it matters the most. A 24-point fourth quarter proved to be more than enough for the Cats to take down the Dogs.
Heading into the SEC Tournament, Kentucky is riding a stretch where they’ve won seven of their previous eight games while playing some of its best basketball of the season. It hasn’t always been pretty over the last several weeks – sometimes the team will look unstoppable one quarter only to shoot under 20 percent from the field in the next – but you can’t argue against these girl’s will to win.
Aside from the loss on the road against Ole Miss – where Maci Morris was sidelined with a minor injury and Taylor Murray shot 0-8 from the field – Kentucky has beaten the teams they were supposed to beat and even some they weren’t. Four of the team’s five conference losses have come at the hands of Mississippi State (a top-5 team in the country), Texas A&M (twice), and South Carolina (season series split at 1-1). Those teams also happen to be the top-3 seeds in the SEC Tournament.
But there are some significant concerns as the postseason kicks off in less than a week.
Kentucky hasn’t broken the 60-point threshold over the last three games and hasn’t shot above 38 percent from the field in any of them. Granted, the Cats are 2-1 in those games, but the lone loss to Texas A&M – where Kentucky scored only seven points in the first frame and 11 in the fourth – highlights the offensive struggles that need to be identified and tackled as soon as possible.
The defense has played well-above average, keeping the Cats in games they often should have no business being in. A lot of that can be credited to Murray being able to flip a defensive intensity switch where she just decides she wants the ball more than anyone else on the court. It’s quite frightening, actually, to watch her shadow ball handlers like a hawk hovering over its prey. And even though Kentucky has scored to struggle as of late, they’re still undefeated (17-0 and 8-0 in SEC play) when they shoot a higher percentage from the field than its opponent. Holding opposing teams to only 56 points per game over the last six games is a huge reason why.
But against the Mississippi States and South Carolinas of the SEC world, Kentucky cannot afford to shoot as poorly as they did today against Georgia. Yes, the team shot 6-13 from three, but were 15-43 from everywhere else. The Cats still score at a rate above 72 points per game, but haven’t eclipsed that number since they dropped 78 points in a win against Auburn back on Feb. 7.
Rhyne Howard is good enough on her own to keep Kentucky in games, but even the stellar freshman has gone through spells this season where she can’t find a rhythm. Her constant foul trouble doesn’t help that, either. And I wouldn’t expect Morris to continue to shoot under 27 percent from the field as she has over her last five games combined. She’s way too good and experienced to let a bad stretch keep her from being aggressive. If she can return to being the 20-point scorer she was against Mississippi State, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas A&M earlier in the year, these low-scoring games won’t be as consistent.
Even without Morris scoring 15-plus per game, the bench has been able to help pick up some of the slack. Which isn’t something that we want to rely on constantly, but it should give us comfort knowing that Morris can have a bad game and players such as Jaida Roper, Amanda Paschal, and freshman Blair Green can come on and pour in a couple of buckets.
Kentucky’s first game of the SEC Tournament will be on Friday in Greenville, South Carolina. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and should tip off about 30 minutes after the first game of the day – which is expected to begin at noon. I’ll be down there covering the team for KSR (my first time doing so), so expect plenty of updates that will hopefully extend over the course of the entire weekend.
Kentucky will play the winner of Missouri-Florida/Ole Miss, who play on Thursday.
By Maggie Davis on ©March 03rd, 2019 @ 7:15pm
The SEC Tournament bracket has officially been set. Kentucky’s fourth-quarter rally over Georgia secured a No. 4 seed for the Wildcats, meaning they won’t hit the court in Greenville, South Carolina until the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon. Here’s a look at the complete bracket:
Kentucky will face the winner of Missouri vs. Ole Miss/Florida. Here’s how the Cats have stacked up against those teams so far this season
Ole Miss: Loss on Jan. 13, 55-49
Missouri: Win on. Jan. 24, 52-41
Florida: Win on Feb. 3, 62-51
If the Cats advance to the semifinals, they’ll likely face No. 1 Mississippi State. The Cats have only seen the Bulldogs once this season: Kentucky lost on Jan. 6 by a final score of 71-86.
On the season, Kentucky is 24-6, including an 11-5 SEC record. Excluding the Ole Miss loss, UK’s other four “L’s” this season have come at the hands of the top-rated teams in the league – twice at Texas A&M, at Mississippi State and at home against South Carolina.
Playing to the tune of a No. 4 seed.
It’s a good song. pic.twitter.com/eGRIvjxK1p
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) March 4, 2019
The Cats’ game is scheduled to start 25 minutes after the conclusion of Friday’s noon game, so get ready to flip to the SEC Network by 2:30 to cheer on the Wildcats.
By Maggie Davis on ©March 03rd, 2019 @ 4:30pm
It was an odd afternoon for Kentucky’s women’s basketball team, but it all worked out in the end: the No. 11 Cats defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 56-51 in Athens. The win finished out UK’s regular-season schedule, giving them a final record of 11-5 in the SEC and a No. 4 finish in conference standings. Their fourth-place seed will also give the Wildcats a double-bye week for the SEC tournament.
The Cats found themselves with little output from the season’s three highest scorers: Rhyne Howard, Maci Morris and Taylor Murray finished with a combined 16 points. Howard had seven points, Morris had six and Murray had three. Without strong contributions from Kentucky’s typical offensive leaders, other Wildcats had to step up, starting with Tatyana Wyatt. The sophomore forward finished with a season-high 17 points. Amanda Paschal and Jaida Roper finished with eight points apiece, while Blair Green added five of her own.
On the game, Kentucky shot 37.5 percent from the field (21-56) and 46.2 percent (6-13) from deep. The Bulldogs had the advantage at the end of every quarter, excluding, of course, the final one. UK’s offense found its groove early in the fourth period, and a 9-0 run cut a five-point deficit into a four-point lead for the Wildcats.
But the Bulldogs didn’t go down without a fight – Georgia answered with a short 6-2 run and a three-pointer. But Kentucky’s Roper drained a three-pointer of her own to give the Cats a 55-51 lead with under a minute remaining. And even though she struggled offensively, Maci Morris once again showcased why she’s so special to this team: she’s absolutely clutch. She nailed her final two free throws, as did Wyatt, to give the Cats a ‘W’ in their final game of the regular season. In the fourth quarter, the Cats went 8-16 from the floor to outscore Georgia 23-14.
With the loss, Georgia falls to 18-11 on the season and 9-7 in the SEC. The Bulldogs were led by Gabby Connally, who finished just ahead of Wyatt for a game-high 18 points.
Here are the highlights:
Kentucky returns to action Friday for the SEC Tournament. Their opponent hasn’t been decided at this time, but tipoff is set for around 2:30 p.m. The matchup will take place in Greenville, South Carolina, and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©February 28th, 2019 @ 9:30pm
In the final home game of the regular season, the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats (23-6) fell to the No. 19 Texas A&M Aggies (22-6) by a score of 62-55.
After falling behind early, Kentucky was able to work themselves back into the game, but 24 points from Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter proved to be too much for the Wildcats down the stretch. Kentucky shot 36 percent from the field and hit only five of 22 three-point attempts.
Kentucky did not get off to the start they would have liked in their final game of the year at Memorial Coliseum.
The Aggies swung the first punch and jumped out to a massive early lead, ballooning its advantage all the way up to 16-4 with about two minutes left in the first frame. Head coach Matthew Mitchell was forced to burn two first-quarter timeouts because of multiple Texas A&M runs. The Cats were being outhustled and widely outrebounded – A&M had more first-quarter offensive (5) rebounds than Kentucky did total rebounds (4) – while forcing up early and contested jumpers that hit nothing but iron.
There wasn’t one Kentucky player who could find a rhythm, as evident by the team’s 0-for-7 start from three. The Cats finally picked up the press a bit to end the quarter but still trailed 19-7 after 10 minutes.
Kentucky shot only 3-13 from the field in the first quarter while Texas A&M went 8-16.
Then, the player Kentucky has been dependent on all season to pick up the slack, did just that. Taylor Murray took over to start the second quarter, energizing her team for the first time all game. Murray forced three early turnovers in a matter of seconds and Kentucky finally began to convert on some of its open looks. A big three from Rhyne Howard ended the Wildcats three-point drought and Jaida Roper hit another triple not long after.
Tatyana Wyatt was showing off her posts moves, Amanda Paschal played one of her best quarters of the season, and the overall team defense was relentless. Kentucky forced four Texas A&M turnovers in the first two minutes of the quarter and nine for the half. With suffocating full-court defense and shots finally finding their way into the bottom of the net, the Cats were able to trim the lead all way down to two, 26-28, at the intermission.
Kentucky even pulled in as many second-quarter rebounds as the Aggies with 11 apiece. They did all this without Maci Morris scoring a single point.
Murray kept up the defensive effort as the second-half got underway, changing the entire feel of the game from a halfcourt battle to an up-and-down marathon. The two teams would go back-and-forth throughout the period, but an 8-0 run from the Aggies to end the quarter came at the worst possible time for Kentucky.
Morris started to hit her shots, including a couple of big threes to keep Kentucky in the game, but the Cats had no answer for the Aggies in the paint. Ciera Johnson was scoring from all areas on the block and devouring any loose ball, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds (no Kentucky player recorded more than four rebounds).
Kentucky trailed 44-51 heading into the final quarter.
Rhyne Howard and Tatyana Wyatt both picked up their fourth fouls in the last period, but both hit some big shots to keep things close. However, a three-minute scoring drought near the end of the game and little resistance from the Wildcat frontcourt ultimately led to the Aggies winning this game by a score 62-55.
The bench scoring favored Kentucky by a sizable margin, 15-1, and all nine Wildcats who entered the game scored. But the game was decided by inside the three-point line as the Aggies dropped 31 paint points compared to only 14 for the Cats.
Kentucky’s final game of the regular season will be in Athens, GA as the Wildcats face the Georgia Bulldogs this Sunday at 1 p.m. on SEC Network.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©February 26th, 2019 @ 2:00pm
The No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats star freshman guard Rhyne Howard is probably going to need to upgrade her trophy case sometime soon. The SEC league office announced on Tuesday morning that Howard has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the third straight week. It is also the eighth time this season she has earned the award, extending her record for most by one freshman in a single season.
Howard passed Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham last week after she broke Cunningham’s 2015 record by winning her seventh overall award.
Last week, Howard scored 17 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists, and three steals in Kentucky’s win over No. 13 South Carolina. It was the first time that seniors Maci Morris and Taylor Murray have ever beaten the Gamecocks since they arrived in Lexington as freshmen. Howard then posted 12 points, five rebounds, and two steals in another Wildcats victory over the LSU Tigers on Senior Day at Memorial Coliseum.
Howard now moves up to the third spot on the all-time freshman scoring list at Kentucky. She is currently in the running to win several different “Player of the Year” awards, including the Cheryl Miller Award Top 10 List, given out to the nation’s top small forward.
Kentucky faces the No. 19 Texas A&M Aggies in Memorial Coliseum this coming Thursday at 7 p.m. on SEC Network+.
The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats made sure its seniors would be sent off with a win in Memorial Coliseum as they beat the LSU Tigers by a score of 57-52. Here are a few takeaways from the game.
Behind the two impact seniors, Maci Morris and Taylor Murray, the Wildcats managed to hold off a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback from the Tigers. Murray led the team with 18 points on 7-8 shooting with a clutch steal at the end of the game while Morris had moments of struggle – and didn’t even play in the second quarter – but still finished with 10 points, eight of them coming in the second half.
Senior LaShae Halsel was in the starting lineup for the first time this season and the Kentucky faithful made sure she knew just how important she is to the team. Halsel has only appeared in 10 games this season, but is a part of a feel-good story. After coming to Lexington as a walk-on, she earned a scholarship in the summer of 2018.
The fourth senior, Paige Poffenberger, (who is technically a junior) has been medically retired since the beginning of the season due to complications with her breathing that would not allow her to play Divison-I basketball. Despite her inability to play on the court, she – along with her three seniors – received a long standing ovation from a packed home crowd.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell had high praise for his two star seniors, Morris and Murray.
“It’s hard to describe in words adequately, I’m not sure I can put them into words, she’s meant a whole lot,” Mithcell said, in regards to what Morris has meant to Kentucky. “She’s just come in from day one and really worked. She doesn’t talk a lot, say a whole lot, she just lets her work ethic make a statement for her. She’s grown and developed as a player, she’s grown and developed her leadership and has been able to maintain a great attitude over the four years. Certainly has endeared herself to the fans. You heard in her comments after the game to recognize her folks back home. So just an incredible young woman and representative for our program and the University. So we’re real proud of Maci and happy she got a win on her senior day.”
He then spoke highly of Murray and her growth since arriving on campus.
“Really grown in so many ways, all four of the seniors have grown as people,” Mitchell said. “But, Taylor was very shy, very quiet coming in and is really running our team right now. She had it under control there in a strategic standpoint there in the fourth quarter. She and I were having great conversations. She was checking in with me and everything she was saying was right on point so she has a good grasp of what we’re trying to get done. She has grown so much with her ability to come out of her shell and just be a wonderful representative of our program. We’re real proud of her and she’s playing some awfully good ball right now.”
He’s damn right about that last line, too. It’s even gotten to the point where I’d rather Murray have the ball to ice/win a game over Morris and Howard. Which isn’t a knock against the team’s two top scorers, but man, Murray is just playing with incredible confidence right now. Just in time, too.
It’s been Kentucky’s “Achilles heel” all year long – they rank 13th in the SEC in rebounds per game – and the matchup against LSU was no different. The Tigers had two players who pulled in 11 and 13 rebounds, respectively, while Kentucky didn’t have any player grab more than six. Overall, the Cats were heavily outrebounded on both sides; 14-4 on the offensive glass and 29-23 on the defensive boards.
Typically, such a drastic difference in offensive rebounding numbers leads to a significant advantage in second-chance points, but that wasn’t the case. Kentucky didn’t have the size to deal with LSU’s bigs, but they had the next most important thing – discipline.
Despite 10 more offensive rebounds for LSU, the Wildcats held them to only six second-chance points. Whenever an LSU player got the ball off the glass, Kentucky didn’t panic. Instead, they stayed stiff and arms were shot straight into the air to avoid any possible whistle. And it worked. LSU could shoot over basically any Kentucky player, but having that hand right in-between the arms of the defender proved to be a beneficial tactic.
4th quarter drought
Kentucky maintained a 13-point lead throughout the majority of the game. The team defense was excellent – probably one of the better overall performances on that end of the court all year – and the offense was working through Murray just enough to keep the points flowing in.
But something happened in the fourth quarter that is going to have to be corrected as the SEC Tournament looms. The Cats shot just 2-11 from the field in the final period, scoring a game-low 12 points in the quarter. Kentucky missed its last nine field goal attempts, going without a made shot from the floor in over eight minutes. On the flip side, LSU played it’s best offensive quarter of the game.
The Tigers shot 8-14 in the fourth after shooting 7-12 in the third (the team as a whole shot 5-29 in the first two quarters). Luckily, Kentucky made seven of their eight free throw attempts to stay ahead, but the overall concerns are still alive. The defense definitely slipped up in transition, allowing more LSU made threes in the fourth quarter than in the first three combined, but they did force four turnovers.
Murray, Howard, and Morris did enough down the stretch to pull out the win, but blowing a 13-point lead and going over eight minutes without a field goal cannot happen against the top teams in the SEC. The first three quarters were great for UK, but they still need to learn to play a full 40 minutes if they want to make a run for the SEC Tournament Championship.
Morris and Murray reflected on what it’s meant to be a Kentucky Wildcat these past four years in the postgame press conference.
“I would just remember playing for my teammates while playing with each other,” Murray said. “You also have a great coaching staff that helps develop you both on and off the court. You work from June to now, but you also have the chance to develop great relationships.”
Morris agreed with the sentiment.
“Like Taylor said, you just meet so many people at Kentucky,” Morris said. “You build great relationships and you have both good times and bad times that you get to share with your peers. That’s how you build those strong relationships. Like Taylor said, your teammates, coaches, staff, other classmates, everybody has such a big impact on you and that is what I’m going to remember the most.”
When Howard was asked what she’s going to take away most from her two seniors, she answered pretty bluntly with “Do what the coaches say.”
But the seniors aren’t done quite yet with Memorial Coliseum. They still have one more home game against the Texas A&M Aggies this coming Thursday at 7 p.m.
If it hasn’t set in just yet that their Kentucky careers are coming to a close, Thursday surely will.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©February 24th, 2019 @ 6:30pm
Here are the highlights from the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats win over the LSU Tigers on Senior Day in Memorial Coliseum, courtesy of KyWildcatsTV. This was the second-to-last regular season game in Lexington for the four seniors.
— KYwildcatsTV (@KYwildcatsTV) February 24, 2019
By Zack Geoghegan on ©February 24th, 2019 @ 4:30pm
The N0. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (23-5) sent the seniors out in style with an impressive win over the LSU Tigers (16-10) in front of a packed Memorial Coliseum by a score of 57-52.
All four of Kentucky’s seniors – Maci Morris, Taylor Murray, LaShae Halsel, and Paige Poffenberger – were honored before the game, filling the center of the court with family members, flowers, and good wishes.
Murray led the Wildcats to its sixth straight win with 18 points on 7-8 shooting to go along with three assists and two steals. Morris finished one of her final games in Lexington with 10 points while Rhyne Howard and Tatyana Wyatt both added 12 points apiece.
Halsel got the start for the first time this season, playing what will likely be her last game in Memorial Coliseum. She was in for only the first few moments of the game, but the applause she received from the Wildcat faithful as she checked out was massive.
Kentucky opened up the game in a zone defense and it proved to be effective early and often. LSU struggled to shoot from the floor through the entire first half because of it, converting on only two of their 14 field goal attempts in the first quarter and only three of 15 in the second period.
Early in the game, the Cats were running all over the Tigers in transition, with Murray pushing the ball and finding a plethora of open looks for both herself and her teammates. Kentucky didn’t shoot much better as a team – only 10-27 in the first half from the field – but made up for it with lockdown defense.
The Tigers were dominating on both sides of the glass and inhaled 11 first-half offensive rebounds, but could hardly get any of their second chance looks to go. Only four second-chance points came the Tigers way through the first 20 minutes. LSU had the size advantage over Kentucky, but the Wildcats stayed disciplined and went straight up on defense, contesting every shot without fouling nearly as often as they could have.
LSU still got to the line 12 times in the first half but made only five of those attempts to cancel out any production they were earning on the boards. The Cats were able to hold LSU to only 15 first-half points, shooting a mere 17 percent on all field goal attempts. Morris didn’t even play a single minute in the second quarter, but Kentucky didn’t need her. The defensive brilliance from Murray, Howard, and company was more than enough to give the Cats a healthy halftime lead at 28-15.
But as the third quarter got underway, LSU finally began to knock down some of those contested shots over the shorter arms of the Kentucky defense, slowly chipping away at a double-digit UK lead. In fact, both teams finally decided that it was time to put up some points.
LSU more than doubled its entire first-half production with 17 third-quarter points while Kentucky put up 17 of their own. A running layup from Howard right before the buzzer maintained a 13-point Wildcat lead heading into the final period. The free throw woes continued for the Tigers, as well, as they made only two of six attempts in the third frame.
Facing a significant deficit, LSU went on a scoring rampage in the fourth quarter, knocking down outside shots and force-feeding the ball inside against an undersized Kentucky frontline. The formula worked, and brought the Tigers back into the game. A 12-4 run midway through the quarter trimmed the UK lead down to four before the Cats would ice the game away with solid defense and some Murray free throws.
Kentucky shot a horrendous 2-11 in the final period while LSU was 8-14 to make things close down the stretch. A steal by Murray with under 20 seconds left in the game finished the Tigers off for good and sent the seniors home with a win as their time in Memorial Coliseum draws to a close.
Kentucky’s final regular season game at Memorial Coliseum will be against the Texas A&M Aggies on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network+.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 24th, 2019 @ 12:45pm
A special senior class will be honored inside Memorial Coliseum Sunday afternoon, as Matthew Mitchell’s four seniors will be celebrated before tip-off. Maci Morris, Taylor Murray, Paige Poffenberger and LaShae Halsel will be honored. The ceremony is slated to begin at approximately 1:40 p.m.
In addition to the Senior Day activities, there are plenty of other reasons to attend. Pediatric patients from the UK Children’s Hospital will be going through the starting lineup with UK’s players; there will be a “Kid Zone” with games and a poster-making station; one UK student who checks in on the BBN Rewards app will win $10,000.
But the most important reason, of course, is to cheer on these four women as they take on LSU. While all four deserve to be celebrated, it’s impossible to ignore the impact Morris and Murray have had on this team – not only this season, but throughout their four years in Lexington. Morris is averaging 15.8 points per game this year with a team-best 65 3-pointers, while Murray is averaging 12.7 points per game while leading UK in assists and steals.
“I would really like to invite all of the Big Blue Nation to make every effort to be in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday,” Coach Mitchell said. “This is such a special group for us and they have done so much for us. We would love for a sellout crowd to attend and be there to honor them. Be in your seat early at 1:40 p.m. and hope you can come out and celebrate what has been some remarkable accomplishments from this group.”
General admission tickets are available for $8 for adults or $5 for children. If you can’t make the trip, the game can be seen on the SEC Network, and we’ll have plenty of postgame coverage right here on Kentucky-Sports-Radio-dot-com.