The No. 19 Kentucky women’s basketball team (19-5) beat the Auburn Tigers (17-6) by a score of 78-68 on Thursday night in Alabama behind 19 points from Rhyne Howard and another 17 from Taylor Murray to go along with her six steals.
Eight different Wildcats scored in this game, as Blair Green added 12 points – the most since her Kentucky debut – and senior star Maci Morris contributed eight points and five rebounds. The Cats shot 11-20 from three for the game and nearly 52 percent from the field.
Both teams started this game playing as if the ball was on fire. Two teams notorious for pushing the pace and creating havoc with their presses and trapping defense were going right at each other. The ball was constantly being whipped from side to side with shots going up by the bunches. It was one big game of hot potato.
Kentucky was able to beat Auburn’s press for the most part – and vice versa – but they were dominated once again in the paint in the early portions of this game. The Tigers held a 12-2 advantage in paint points through the first quarter but Kentucky did a bit better in the second to cut the Auburn edge to only 16-8.
What Kentucky did do was hit all eight of their three-point attempts to open the game, not missing a single look until halfway through the second quarter. Morris, Green, and Howard were all the culprits of the white-hot shooting start. Green specifically posted her best half of basketball as a Wildcat, scoring 12 points on 4-4 shooting (2-2 from three) and pulling down three rebounds in the process. She hit a pull-up, no hesitation corner three right in the face of the defender that made an already quiet arena go silent, tossing their hands in the air with stares of hopelessness.
Leading 22-18 after the first 10 minutes, Kentucky went on a perfectly executed 14-0 run in the second fueled by several three-pointers and some excellent all-around team defense. The game slowed down a bit which allowed the Cats to pick apart Auburn in the half-court. There was a string of three possessions in a row where Taylor Murray ripped the ball handler, leading to a score for the Cats every time. At the intermission, Kentucky had ballooned the lead to 44-28.
*An interesting side note: The top five SEC players in steals per game play for Kentucky (Murray and Howard) and Auburn (McKay, Alexander, and Primm). Murray leads the SEC by a solid margin with 3.3 steals per game.*
Kentucky – the second-best three-point shooting team in the SEC – shot a blistering 6-6 from deep in the first quarter and 9-12 for the entire half. Auburn was held to under 38 percent overall shooting from the field through the first 20 minutes.
Howard registered nine points, two rebounds, and five assists in just the first half.
In the third quarter, Kentucky did a beautiful job of keeping Auburn in its rearview mirror. Anytime the Tigers hit a shot, the Cats would immediately counter. The lead fluctuated between 12-18 points for the entire period with Kentucky controlling all momentum and pace. The Cats couldn’t build on their lead and push it 20-plus, but it never felt like they were vulnerable to give it away.
After the third quarter, behind a combined 15 points from Murray and Howard, Kentucky held a 64-48 lead.
Entering the fourth quarter, Kentucky was playing some of it’s best basketball since SEC play began. But Auburn wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The Tigers finally cut the lead to under 10 points around the four-minute mark, but Howard quickly hit a three to bump the lead back to double-digits. Kentucky would not let its lead get that low again, finishing off Auburn by a score of 78-68. It was the outing in which the Cats scored over 77 points since beating Murray State on Dec. 21.
Kentucky’s next game will be on Monday at 7 p.m. against Alabama in Tuscaloosa on the SEC Network.