The 16th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (13-1) defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores (5-9) by a score of 77-55 in Memorial Coliseum in what was the first SEC game for either team.
Freshman Rhyne Howard led the way for the Cats with 16 points on 5-12 shooting while senior Maci Morris contributed 14 points on 5-10 shooting.
The win also marked head coach Matthew Mitchell’s 300th career victory.
The Wildcats got off to a blistering hot start, making six of their first seven shots, including 2-3 from three. Maci Morris broke out of the gate early for eight quick points on three made buckets. Morris and Howard were both running the pick-and-roll to perfection in the early minutes, establishing a quick lead and allowing Kentucky to get any and every look they wanted.
The full-court press was up to its usual business for Kentucky, forcing eight first-quarter turnovers and another eight in the second. This coming against a Commodore team that only averages 12.9 turnovers per game, one of the lowest marks in the nation.
Going up against two six-footers – Mariella Fasoula (6-foot-5) and Autumn Newby (6-foot-2) – Kentucky’s interior defense was struggling in the paint in the first quarter. Fasoula, who is the fourth leading scorer among SEC players at 17.6 points per game, started the first quarter shooting 3-3 for six points. It wasn’t until Ogechi Anyagaligbo stepped in due to some early foul trouble for Tatyana Wyatt that Vanderbilt’s frontcourt began to struggle.
After Anyagaligbo was put on Fasoula, she held her to 1-3 shooting before halftime with one turnover. That defense was contagious, as Vandy was held to 3-11 shooting in the second. Fasoula would finish the game with 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
The second quarter also marked the beginning of the Taylor Murray show.
Murray was wreaking havoc all across the floor for the entire second quarter. If she wasn’t swiping the ball out of the unsuspecting hands of the dribbler, she was immediately pushing the pace after a missed shot. Murray was the fuel behind Kentucky’s energetic quarter that gave them a healthy halftime lead. She was the fastest player on the court and it wasn’t even close.
That energy was pumped into Jaida Roper, as well. If Murray wasn’t sprinting in transition, Roper was doing her best impersonation, dishing out three first-half assists.
Although Kentucky was outrebounded in the first half 15-9, they scored only four fewer points in the paint despite being outscored 10-0 from that area in the first frame. The Cats would lead 40-24 at halftime before completely running away with the game in the second half.
Kentucky would outscore Vanderbilt 25-14 in the third quarter thanks to more dominant defense from Murray and some excellent minutes from Blair Green off the bench. Green would shoot a perfect 4-4 in the third for nine points, including an and-1 on a mid-range jump shot.
The Wildcats ultimately lost the fourth quarter, but after forcing a total of 29 turnovers throughout the game, they won handily in the end. Vandy would finish the game with a turnover percentage of 41.2, meaning they turned the ball over on more than 40 percent of their total possessions.
The stat that stood out the most was that even though Vandy (55.6 percent) shot a better percentage from the field than Kentucky (49.2 percent), their points per possession (.786 PPP) was far below Kentucky’s (1.069 PPP).
Murray added seven points, five rebounds, and five steals for the Cats while Green finished with nine points on 4-5 shooting.
Kentucky will take on seventh-ranked Mississippi State on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Starkville in what will be one of their biggest games of the season.
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