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.