The No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats nearly executed a double-digit comeback thanks to a brilliant fourth quarter from Maci Morris, but couldn’t pull it out in the end as they fell to the No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies by a score of 71-73.
Morris and freshman Rhyne Howard were the two engines behind Kentucky’s late efforts, but couldn’t slow down the Texas A&M trio of Chennedy Carter, Kayla Wells, and Ciera Johnson, who combined for 59 of their team’s points.
The first 10 minutes of this game felt eerily similar to the slow start that plagued the Cats in the first half of their most recent win over Missouri. Kentucky had to claw back from a poor shooting half in that game and was ultimately saved by an explosive second half from Taylor Murray.
On Sunday, things had a familiar vibe, but with a welcome twist. It wasn’t Murray who brought the Wildcats back, but the struggling freshman, Howard.
Kentucky shot an abysmal 4-16 in the first quarter against the Aggies and trailed 11-19, but rallied in the second quarter thanks to Howard’s sharp shooting. She shot 4-7 from the field through the first two quarters (all four makes were threes) for 12 points, three rebounds, and three impressive steals.
Howard had been struggling through the first several SEC games, so it was refreshing to see her come out and looking to attack. The energy she provided was injected straight into her teammates. Maci Morris quickly hit two threes. Blair Green hit a three herself and was aggressive every moment on the court. KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt were fearlessly attacking the boards. Murray was a ball hound on defense and looking close to 100 percent.
The Wildcats may have trailed by a score of 31-33 at halftime, but it was apparent that the tides were slowly shifting into the favor of the blue and white. Kentucky shot over 43 percent in the second quarter while holding A&M to slightly under 36 percent shooting.
It was an inside versus outside battle through the first 20 minutes, as Kentucky hit seven of their 15 three-point attempts while Texas A&M dominated in the paint, outscoring the Cats 18-8 in that area.
In the third quarter, Texas A&M quickly turned the tables. The Aggies started the quarter a perfect 6-6 from the field, including three of those makes coming from beyond the perimeter. The lead eventually ballooned to 10 points before A&M began to cool down. They would go on to miss their next five shots and their star player, Chennedy Carter, picked up her fourth foul thanks to a Jaida Roper charge.
Kentucky would trim the lead down to six points heading into the fourth quarter, but Morris quickly picked up both her third and fourth fouls not even 30 seconds into the frame. It wasn’t until she checked back in midway through the fourth that Kentucky began to fight back. Well, to be more specific, Morris was the one who fought back.
After rattling off 12 straight points for her Wildcats, Morris hit KeKe McKinney with a beautiful slip pass into the paint for a quick layup. All of the sudden, a lead that had swelled back up into double-digits was cut down to just three with under two minutes left. Morris had an opportunity to tie the game with under 30 seconds left but missed a contested 25-foot three-pointer that would ultimately cost the Cats the game and their comeback efforts.
Morris finished the game with a team-high 22 points on 8-15 shooting while Howard had her best game in weeks, posting 21 points on 7-15 shooting and four steals. Kentucky won the rebounding battle, 34-31, behind eight rebounds from Howard, seven from McKinney, and six from Wyatt, but was pushed around in the paint and outscored by a total of 32-20. The Cats shot 11-29 from three compared to 6-8 from the Aggies.
Kentucky’s tough schedule doesn’t end here, though. After splitting games against the No. 25 and No. 24 ranked teams in the country, the Cats will take on No. 19 South Carolina in Memorial Coliseum on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network.
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