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+.