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RECAP: Offensive Struggles Plague UK Hoops in Loss to LSU

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It was the worst three-quarters of the season for the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats, but the fourth quarter almost wiped it all away.

Kentucky rallied from down 18 entering the fourth quarter to nearly bring themselves all the way on the road against the LSU Tigers. Had the offense not sputtered through the first 30 minutes, they might not have needed to battle as hard as they did in the end. LSU held off the ‘Cats to secure a 65-59 victory.

Rhyne Howard had an off day from the floor but still finished with 26 points and 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter. She had to take 22 shots to get that many points, hitting just seven of her shots and going 4-14 from three. Howard grabbed 12 rebounds for her second consecutive double-double and fourth of the season. She also recorded five steals, two assists, and one block. It was her eighth straight game with at least 20 points.

Sabrina Haines added 11 points while Jaida Roper dropped in 10, but those two shot a combined 4-19 from the field.

Overall, the ‘Cats shot a horrendous 23.3 percent from the floor (14-60) – a season-low – and 23.1 percent from three (6-26). While they were able to keep themselves in the game thanks to solid free-throw shooting (25-34) and a favorable defensive effort (forcing LSU into 20 turnovers), the hole they were dug into was way too deep to climb out of.

The Tigers opened the game up on a quick 5-0 run and the recent trend of Kentucky struggling to find it’s offensive rhythm early in games began to peek out from the shadows. LSU took advantage of their size, attacking the paint on every possession and trying to force Kentucky into foul trouble.

Before the game could even get going, Kentucky was 1-7 from the floor while LSU was 3-4. The Tigers had already pulled in five rebounds before the ‘Cats could get one. There was nothing the Wildcats could do one-on-one against the taller LSU bigs.

Almost all of LSU points in the first quarter came exclusively at the rim or the free-throw line. Outside of one long two-pointer, they hardly sniffed the perimeter. After the first 10 minutes, Kentucky trailed 16-9, shooting just 3-13 from the field and missing all four attempts from deep.

Lately, the second quarter has been where the ladies respond. They broke out a game-changing run in the second quarter against Texas A&M that spurred them to the win despite Howard on the bench with foul trouble. Sunday’s game did not provide that kind of turnaround.

Kentucky quickly fell into a three-minute scoring drought while giving up multiple second-chance opportunities on back-to-back possessions for LSU. Even though the ‘Cats were forcing the Tigers into turnovers – already eight of them halfway through the second quarter – they couldn’t hit anything on their end.

As the quarter went on, Kentucky’s scoring drought extended. They eventually missed six straight shots before Howard hit the first three of the game for either team with roughly three minutes left until halftime. The Tigers continued to dominate the boards, outrebounding them 24-9 through the first 20 minutes.

Noticing the pressure his frontline was feeling against the LSU bigs, head coach Matthew Mitchell switched to a zone defense – something Kentucky has hardly played this season – to help trap the Tiger frontcourt. UK ultimately forced LSU into 12 first-half turnovers, but still trailed 28-16 at the intermission.

The ‘Cats failed to post double-digits in the first and second quarter for the first time all season.

Coming out of the break, Kentucky showed some passion for the first time all game. They forced LSU into misses on four straight possessions and cut the lead down to eight points. However, Howard picked up her third foul with seven minutes left in the third and had to take a seat on the bench.

With the best player in the building on the bench, LSU tried to stretch the lead. They hit their first three of the game, part of a quick 5-0 run that pushed the lead back to double-digits. This is when the offense for UK went into a disastrous lull.

Kentucky would miss 10 consecutive shots in the third quarter and missed 24 of out 26 shots at one point. The field goal drought would even continue into the fourth quarter and topped 10 minutes before a three by Haines finally put an end to the bleeding.

The ‘Cats shot just 1-12 in the third and trailed 45-27 heading into the final period of action. Then they finally woke up.

It started with the Haines by three, ending a massive drought that was then followed by buckets from Chasity Patterson, Howard, and Amanda Paschal. Kentucky would rattle off a quick 7-0 stretch in just over a minute to cut the lead down to 11.

The defense then went small, with Howard playing the five surrounded by five shorter guards, and it worked to near perfection. The Tigers only attempted four shots all quarter, making two of them and turning the ball over six times. Howard started to get rolling on offense and suddenly Kentucky was right back in the game after being so far out of it all afternoon.

An 11-1 run over the course of three minutes brought the LSU crowd to a stunned silence. The Tigers could hardly get the ball to their side of the court without meeting some sort of issue brought upon by a Kentucky defender. The ‘Cats would continue to slowly chip away at the lead, shrinking it down to eight, then seven, then five, and eventually all the way down to four.

Unfortunately, they ran out of time in the end and LSU knocked down clutch free-throws to ice the game away despite 32 points from the ‘Cats in the fourth. Kentucky ultimately lost for the first time in four games, 65-59.

The Tigers were powered by five players scoring in double-figures as they shot 47.5 percent from the field as a team while knocking down 26 free throws. They led the entire game.

Kentucky will head back home and take an eight-day break before they face Auburn in Lexington on Jan. 27.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR