After four subpar games shooting the ball to open the season, the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (5-0) finally found its offensive rhythm in a 79-54 win over the Morehead State Eagles (2-3) in Memorial Colisuem on Thursday night.
Powered by 24 points from sophomore Rhyne Howard and another 14 from senior Sabrina Haines, Kentucky shot 39.7 percent from the field and a season-high 34.3 percent from deep on 32 attempts. The Wildcats forced MSU into 25 turnovers on the night and used that defensive energy to jump out to an early lead that the Eagles would not be able to overcome.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 22, 2019
Howard missed her first two shots to start the game and worries of another poor shooting night filled the crowd at Memorial. But four quick points from junior Tatyana Wyatt and a triple from senior Amanda Paschal kick-started a 10-2 opening run for the ‘Cats that was capped off by a Howard three.
Kentucky quickly established its ’40 minutes of dread’ with a deadly full-court press, forcing Morehead State into seven turnovers just halfway through the first quarter. Head coach Matthew Mitchell deployed both a man-to-man and zone defense in the first period, showing different looks that caused all sorts of issues for MSU.
A 10-0 run near the end of the first quarter that included two buckets from Howard and a three from senior Jaida Roper finished off Kentucky’s best 10-minute start to a game through five outings this year.
Morehead State shot just 2-9 from the field in the first quarter and committed 10 turnovers while Kentucky connected on four of its six attempts from beyond the perimeter. A 27-12 lead heading into the second period gave the ‘Cats a healthy advantage that they would continue to build on.
The next 10 minutes for Kentucky showcased why this team has a chance to be special.
Howard opened up the second quarter with a triple thanks to an assist from freshman Emma King that was followed by another shot from deep courtesy of Haines, forcing MSU head coach Greg Todd into an early timeout.
Despite a scoring drought that saw Kentucky miss six of its seven attempts at one point, the defense was the best it looked all year long. Players were battling for 50/50 balls, drawing several charges, and locking down ball handlers. The Wildcats ballooned the lead to as many as 24 points in the quarter.
The defense would continue to cause issues in the backcourt for Morehead State up until halftime, holding the Eagles to just 3-8 shooting in the second frame and another six team turnovers before the half.
At the intermission, Kentucky doubled-up Morehead State by a score of 48-24.
The second half would be a more evenly contested battle, but Kentucky’s offensive prowess in the first 20 minutes made a comeback attempt nearly impossible.
Even with Howard picking up an early third-quarter foul, the Kentucky offense more than held its own thanks to Roper and Haines. Wyatt hit her third turnaround mid-range jumper of the evening in the third on her way to a final stat line of 10 points and eight rebounds. Once Howard did return late in the period, she immediately canned two threes and Kentucky rolled into the fourth quarter with a 71-43 lead.
The ‘Cats did enough on defense to keep Morehead State from chipping at the lead despite UK posting just eight points in the fourth and final quarter. Kentucky had dropped at least 20 or more points in the first three periods.
A terrible shooting drought late in the game for Kentucky that saw the ‘Cats miss 12 straight shots and 14 out of 15 tanked what would have been a great shooting night on the stat sheet. UK finished the night shooting 29-73 from the field while holding MSU to just 16-47.
In the end, Kentucky came away with its fifth consecutive win to start the season as they’ll stay at home for another six straight games. It was the first game this year that the ‘Cats did not turn the ball over more than 10 times. They finished with just six miscues all night while scoring a season-high of 79 points.
Four Wildcats finished with double-digit scoring nights as sophomore Blair Green finally had some shots find the bottom of the net. She ended the game with 12 points on 3-9 shooting in addition to two rebounds and two steals.
The shots weren’t falling for Paschal, who finished with three points on 1-6 shooting, but she made up for it in several other areas. The senior registered seven rebounds and eight assists with only one turnover while playing elite-level defense throughout her team-high 29 minutes.
After turning her ankle in the previous win over Virginia, junior KeKe McKinney was in the starting lineup despite being an unknown heading into gameday. She added six points, two rebounds, and a team-high four blocks in 21 minutes. After the game, McKinney said she was feeling good and ready to go – a great sign for the ‘Cats going forward.
Kentucky was able to hold Morehead State’s two leading scorers, Ariel Kirkwood and Tomiyah Alford, to just 14 points on a combined 5-12 shooting. The ‘Cats did shoot just 10-19 from the charity stripe but made up for it with 35 points off of MSU turnovers.
The Wildcats will play host to Grambling State this Tuesday in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network+.