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.