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RECAP: Kentucky WBB Can’t Overcome Mississippi State’s Size in SEC Semifinals

(UK Athletics)

(UK Athletics)

The first quarter was fun; the next three? Not so much…

The Kentucky Wildcats were outscored by 25 in the final three quarters as they fell to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the semifinals of the 2020 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament by a final score of 77-59.

The ‘Cats held a 22-12 lead after the first 10 minutes and were playing with the same type of energy that we saw from them on Friday in a blowout win over Tennessee. However, that intensity quickly drifted away as the game went on and MSU began to control both the tempo and the rebounding battle.

Rhyne Howard led Kentucky in scoring with 26 points, although she shot just 10-26 from the floor and was severely limited by the MSU defense in the second half. Howard scored just two points in a critical third quarter that saw the ‘Cats shoot just 5-16 overall. The freshly named SEC Player of the Year also added seven rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal to her stat line.

Chasity Patterson was the only other Kentucky player to finish in double-figures. The junior point guard recorded 13 points on a 5-10 clip to go along with two rebounds, one assist, and two steals.

Redshirt senior Sabrina Haines was helped off the court late in the second quarter after suffering an apparent knee injury. While she did not go back to the locker room, she did not return to the floor and was ruled out shortly after halftime.

Kentucky shot just 34.4 percent overall that included a 6-24 mark from deep. After the first quarter saw UK make 45 percent of its shots and four of eight from beyond the arc, they struggled to find any rhythm from then on.

Howard particularly was heating up early against MSU. She poured in the first seven points for the ‘Cats before the Bulldogs could even hit two buckets. A big three from KeKe McKinney put Kentucky up 10-4 not even three minutes into the game. But the droughts started to dry up the shooting.

Kentucky wouldn’t score another more for more than four minutes before Howard finally got a layup to fall. Mississippi State was struggling heavily to find their own offense and they couldn’t keep Kentucky off the boards. MSU led the rebounding 11-10 after the first 10 minutes, but the effort from every single Kentucky player was there. The Bulldogs turned it over seven times in the first 10 minutes and shot just 4-14 from the field as UK struck first.

A three from Patterson and a second-chance layup from Howard in the final two minutes of the first gave Kentucky a 22-12 lead heading into the second. From there, everything slowly began to fall apart for the ‘Cats.

MSU rattled off a quick 6-0 run that forced head coach Matthew Mitchell to take a timeout just three minutes into the second frame. Kentucky countered with two buckets from Howard and Jaida Roper that pushed the lead back to six points for UK, but MSU always had an answer. They were knocking on the door the entire second quarter and nearly took control heading into the intermission.

The Bulldogs took their first lead of the game, 32-30, with under two minutes left in the half thanks to a pair of free throws, but another pair of free throws from Howard and a clutch triple right before the halftime buzzer from Patterson allowed Kentucky to hold a slight, 35-32 lead after the first 20 minutes.

There was a moment with roughly four minutes left in the second quarter that saw both Roper and Haines go down with separate injuries at the same time. Roper hit her head on the hardwood trying to draw a charge and Haines came out of a play limping on her left knee. While Roper would come back to start the second half, Haines was ruled out. Her presence was desperately missed for the remainder of the game.

“It got us one guard down,” Head coach Matthew Mitchell said about Haines’ injury. “That was a tough situation to be in, such a dynamic team you’re playing that has such good guard play. I thought she [Haines] was a really solid defender for us. It certainly impacted our team.”

Redshirt senior Ogechi Anyagaligbo came out looking to spark her team in the opening minutes of the third period. Much like she did in the opening minutes against Tennessee, Anyagaligbo was going right at the MSU bigs and looking to score. She hit a tough hook shot and drew a charge in the first two minutes.

The remainder of the third quarter would go back-and-forth, with Mississippi State constantly on the brink of blowing this game wide-open. The offense for Kentucky went ice cold and the defense got lazy. There were at least three occasions where a Kentucky player either didn’t box out or didn’t watch the backdoor cutter that allowed uncontested layups for MSU.

Patterson swiped the ball away from an MSU guard in the backcourt that she converted into a fastbreak, and-1 layup, cutting the Bulldog lead down to just 49-47. However, Aliyah Matharu hit the only three of the evening for Mississippi State right before the third-quarter buzzer that gave her squad a 52-47 lead heading into the final 10 minutes.

From there, the route was on.

MSU whipped out another 6-0 run to start the fourth stanza that forced Mitchell into another early timeout. The Bulldogs would hold onto that double-digit lead nearly the rest of the way before coming away with the 18-point victory.

Freshman forward Rickea Jackson was special for Mississippi State. She finished with an insane 29 points on an 11-16 shooting clip to go along with her 10 rebounds. Three other Bulldogs hit double-figures in scoring as the team shot over 50 percent from the field for the game while turning the ball over just five times in the final 30 minutes.

Mississippi State ending up controlling the rebounding battle, winning that aspect 40-29. The Bulldogs also dropped a ridiculous 48 points in the paint compared to just 26 for Kentucky. The ‘Cats finished with just five total assists on 22 made baskets. Perhaps some of the issues were due to playing with such a short turnaround, but the same can be said about MSU. Kentucky just didn’t have enough in the tank when it mattered.

While MSU will prepare for their SEC Championship matchup against South Carolina on Sunday, Kentucky will now wait to know their fate for the NCAA Tournament. The 2020 Selection Show is on Monday, March 16.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR