If you were hoping for a happy ending to the Kentucky Women’s Basketball team’s season, I have some bad news for you.
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats were dismantled by the Iowa Hawkeyes in a painful 86-72 loss. The loss against Iowa will be Kentucky’s last outing of the season and finalizes their 2020-2021 record at 18-9.
All afternoon, Kentucky struggled to find a way to contain Iowa’s high-powered offense. More specifically, Kentucky failed to find any counter to Iowa’s freshman star, Caitlin Clark. Clark lit up the Wildcats for 35 points, seven rebounds and six assists. In turn, Rhyne Howard recorded 28 points on 8/21 shooting. What was expected to be a highly contested battle ended up as a deafening defeat for the Wildcats.
That's a wrap.
Kentucky ends a unique season 18-9. pic.twitter.com/CzIuLgoPnZ
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) March 23, 2021
As fired up as the Wildcats may have been coming into the game, they started the contest freezing cold. Iowa began the game on an 11-0 run. Nearly five minutes had passed before Blair Green was able to find the first basket for the ‘Cats.
Once Kentucky got on the board, the scoring didn’t stop. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Iowa didn’t slow down either. The Hawkeyes continued to build upon their lead and finished the first period leading 23-11.
Caitlin Clark was decimating the Wildcats’ defense. The star freshman dropped 11 points in just the first quarter. Meanwhile, Howard only scored two points in the first 10 minutes. Howard wasn’t losing in the clash of the titans, she was getting embarrassed.
Things only got worse for the ‘Cats in the second period. Iowa began the quarter on a 7-0 run. Not only were the Hawkeyes dismantling Kentucky defensively, but on the offensive end too.
Against the worst defensive team in the country, Kentucky only scored 22 points in the half. Iowa’s average opponent scores 80 points per game. Howard was the only player on Kentucky to score more than five points in the first half.
Furthermore, she continued to defer to Clark. Instead of stepping up and defending the human-inferno we call Caitlin Clark, she allowed other teammates to attempt to guard her. Keyword being attempt.
Iowa's Caitlin Clark is outscoring No. 4 Kentucky’s starting lineup ?
Clark: 33 PTS, 6-11 3PM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 23, 2021
I realize that conserving energy is important, but March is win or go home time and at the rate the Wildcats were moving, they were going home.
Iowa headed into the half leading 49-22. Clark single-handedly outscored the Wildcats, dropping 24 points through the first two quarters. In fairness to Kentucky, it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
The fast-paced contest led to the Wildcats getting up 37 shot attempts in the first two frames. However, they only made eight of them. The Wildcats couldn’t hit the ocean if they were standing on the beach.
Despite being all over the offensive glass with 12 offensive boards in the first half, the Wildcats were failing to capitalize on second chances. Quite frankly, there wasn’t much good to say about the Wildcats after the first two periods.
Kentucky came out hungry in the third period. The Wildcats went on an 11-0 run early in the quarter, but still only cut Iowa’s lead to 18. As hard as the Wildcats tried to continue to narrow the lead, it seemed like Iowa had all the answers.
The press from UK was causing issues for Iowa, but occasionally led to wide-open looks for the Hawkeyes. The fourth quarter was going to be less about the score and more about pride. The ‘Cats headed into the final frame down 70-46.
Kentucky kept on battling throughout the fourth period, but they may as well have been throwing buckets of water on a forest fire. Iowa’s lead had spread out of control and there was no stopping it.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) March 23, 2021
To pile on, Clark’s endless barrage of buckets wasn’t going away. The six-foot guard broke the record for most points ever by an Iowa player in the NCAA Tournament and dropped the most points by a player in the 2021 NCAA tournament yet.
Kentucky fought valiantly in the second half, but their fate had been decided in the first few minutes. If there was one thing people had said could not happen against Iowa, it was the ‘Cats having a slow start. Kentucky obviously failed to avoid this pitfall.
When the dust had settled from Iowa’s nuclear explosion, Kentucky had been defeated 86-72. Although Iowa had played undoubtedly well, the ‘Cats had nobody to blame but themselves.
On the game, Kentucky shot 35% from the field and 26% from deep. When examining the statistics, it becomes clear the game simply came down to scoring. The Wildcats had fewer turnovers, more offensive rebounds, more free throws, and more second-chance points than Iowa. But, it’s impossible to win without putting the ball in the basket.
With many key players returning to the ‘Cats next season, all the team can do now is use the upsetting loss as a learning experience. The team failed all year to be consistent, to rebound and stop star opponents. These will all need to be points of emphasis during the offseason to avoid repeating history.
The players aren’t the only ones who will need to use this year as a springboard. Coach Elzy’s first season is complete. Although the team was successful, there was certainly room for improvement. The Wildcats will have plenty of time to let the pain soak in as they watch the rest of the tournament play out from the sidelines. Iowa will advance to play the winner of UConn and Syracuse in the Sweet 16.