There were plenty of storylines to go around in this game, but not one that Kentucky would have expected.
Despite Rhyne Howard making a surprise return to the starting lineup and a career-high 32 points from Chasity Patterson, the No. 15 Wildcats gave up triple-digits for the first time all season, falling to No. 25 Arkansas 103-85.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) February 9, 2020
Howard finished the game with 20 points on 7-21 shooting to go along with three rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three turnovers. She shot 1-6 from three and dealt with foul trouble throughout the afternoon, ending the day with four fouls.
Patterson, who recently posted a career-high of 25 points against Florida just two games ago, went for a new personal best of 32 points. As a team, Kentucky shot 45.6 percent from the floor and a respectable 36.7 percent from deep. It was a vast improvement considering they had shot just 27 percent from deep combined over the last three games. The ‘Cats also knocked down 12 of its 16 free-throw attempts and turned the ball over just seven times, yet they lost by 18. How, you might ask? Kentucky played its worst defensive game of the season by a country mile.
Arkansas shot 59.3 percent from the floor and an even better 66.7 percent (14-21) from beyond the arc. Their 14 made threes were the most UK has allowed all year. Out of 22 free-throw attempts, they missed just three of them. But this game wasn’t lopsided all game. The first half was actually quite close.
The game started out with both teams running at a high pace and trading buckets. Howard was doing everything she could early to get to the rim and make an impact. Before the game clock could even run off two minutes, the score was tied 7-7. KeKe McKinney would drill a three a few moments later to give UK a 10-7 lead, however, Howard started the game shooting 0-4.
The offense continued to cook for the ‘Cats and the defense was forcing Arkansas into several early turnovers. Six of the Razorbacks 14 total turnovers came in the first quarter, but Kentucky could not convert them into any points. UK led 14-13 after the first media timeout but Arkansas quickly responded with back-to-back triples that gave them a five-point advantage.
Then the ‘Cats went on their own run. Jaida Roper found a cutting Tatyana Wyatt for an easy two which Roper then followed up with a rainbow three a few moments later. Patterson dropped in two more points after some great defense from KeKe McKinney that gave UK a 21-19 lead after the first quarter. It was the best stretch Kentucky would play the rest of the day.
Arkansas didn’t have a serious size advantage over Kentucky, but they sure did act like it. The Hogs were attacking the offensive glass and creating second-chance opportunities. The scoring stalled a bit on both sides to open the second quarter but Arkansas managed to take a 24-23 lead with six minutes left in the half. That’s when the game took a turn for the worse.
The Razorbacks went on an 11-2 run and took a commanding 30-23 lead before Chelsea Dungee drilled a big three to push the lead to 10 with just over three minutes until the intermission. Dungee came into the game on a poor-shooting streak but amended that against Kentucky. Dungee had 10 points on 4-6 shooting in the first half and the team shot 6-11 from deep.
Kentucky was on the brink of being blown out following Dungee’s triple, but Kentucky rattled off six points in under a minute to keep themselves in the mix. Roper hit a beautiful floater in the lane right before the halftime buzzer that put Kentucky down just 38-35.
38 points were the second-most allowed by Kentucky in a first-half all season.
Howard was just 2-9 from the floor in the first half, but all nine Wildcats that played scored the ball. Kentucky wasn’t shooting up to their standards (3-12 from deep in the first half) and was being outrebounded 19-13. Arkansas did have 10 turnovers (they average just 11 per game on the year) but the ‘Cats were lucky to be down only three.
The second-half saw two completely different teams on both ends of the court.
Howard calmly opened the half with a mid-range jumper that Arkansas immediately answered with four quick points of their own. After a pair of Dungee free throws gave the Razorbacks a seven-point lead, Howard picked up her third foul and was forced to the bench. Trailing 47-40 at the time, Kentucky started to fall apart.
Arkansas’ sharp-shooting guard, Alexis Tolefree, was the main reason why. She poured in 13 points in the third period alone, drilling three triples and punishing a Kentucky defense that didn’t even attempt to put a hand in her face. Even with Dungee also picking up her third foul, the Arkansas lead continued to balloon. Amanda Paschal and Patterson hit back-to-back shots from deep for UK, but the Hogs always had an answer. If Kentucky cut the lead with a two, Arkansas would respond with a three. That’s pretty much how the final 15 minutes of this game went down.
The final four minutes of the third were all about the Razorbacks. They pushed the lead up to 18 points on two separate occasions before taking a 71-54 lead into the final frame. Arkansas scored 33 points in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was just as frustrating. Kentucky opened up the period with five quick points that cut the lead down to 10, but as they did all game, Arkansas had answers. But it wasn’t like these were tough responses. Kentucky simply didn’t want to guard on the perimeter and they were especially bad when stopping the Razorbacks in transition.
Patterson exploded for 21 of her 32 in that fourth frame, keeping Kentucky within striking distance. The lead would be cut to as few as eight points with under four minutes left but Tolefree went on a personal 5-0 run that put the game away for good. Arkansas would hit the 100-point mark with 1:11 left in the game before securing a 103-85 win.
Dungee finished with 24 points and five rebounds on 8-12 shooting while Tolefree went off for 30 points on a 5-10 clip from beyond the arc.
Second-chance and fastbreak points proved to be a massive key for Arkansas, as they won both categories 14-5 and 19-4, respectively. Two other Arkansas players added nine points while Amber Ramirez contributed eight points. Arkansas shot 8-10 from three in the second half and outrebounded the ‘Cats by a final tally of 37-23. After forcing six turnovers in the first 10 minutes, Kentucky only caused Arkansas into eight through the final 30 minutes.
For Kentucky, Roper registered nine points, three rebounds, and six assists while McKinney hauled in four rebounds and swatted four shots. Outside of Howard, Patterson, and Roper, no other Wildcat recorded more than six points.
Kentucky’s next game will be a week from today when they host No. 8 Mississippi State in Memorial Coliseum at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.