Tired legs cost Kentucky down the stretch.
The No. 10 Wildcats Women’s Basketball Team was locked in during the first 20 minutes of play, but collapsed in the second half against the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies, losing by a final count of 77-60.
At the half, the two sides were tied at 31, but a 17-point second-half advantage for the Aggies pushed them ahead and into the win. Kentucky was coming off victories over No. 10 Arkansas and No. 12 Mississippi State last week, earning them Team of the Week honors by the USBWA, but ran out of gas against Texas A&M in what was the third ranked opponent in a row for UK.
It was a tightly contested game until about midway through the third quarter, when Texas A&M began to pounce on what was becoming a quickly exhausted Kentucky squad. Rhyne Howard, in particular, was completely tapped out by the fourth quarter as the Aggie defense did everything in its power to wear her down. The reigning SEC Player of the Year still produced insane numbers, dropping 22 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but slightly twisted her ankle in the closing minutes and went 1-4 from the free-throw line.
Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said after the game that the gameplan from the beginning was to tire out Howard as quickly as possible. And even though it took until the second half for that tactic to pan out, it ultimately worked perfectly in the Aggies’ favor. Coming out of the gate, Kentucky was controlling the pace early.
Both sides were flowing in their offense, especially Texas A&M guard Jordan Nixon. After Kentucky got off to a quick 5-0 lead, the sophomore scored the first 11 points for the Aggies, connecting on all five of her shot attempts. The game was tied at 11 all by the first media timeout, with Howard getting to the hoop often and UK shooting 5-6.
Junior guard Robyn Benton came in to hit a 3-point shot that she was fouled on, eventually converting on the four-point play that gave Kentucky a 15-13 lead a little over halfway through the period. Benton hit another jump shot a few possessions later, but the offensive momentum on both sides began to wane from there. Four quick points in the final 40 seconds of the first quarter for Kentucky allowed them to snag a 21-18 lead heading into the second frame.
Nixon finally came down to earth a bit, but still contributed on 15 of the Aggies’ 18 first-quarter points. The ‘Cats had her number from then on, as she went just 2-8 from the field to finish the night.
Howard came out firing in the second quarter, hitting a jumper just 10 seconds into the period before extending Kentucky’s lead to 27-20 after a tough layup that had no business of going in.
I don't know how the hell she made this nonsense. https://t.co/7mj3JEr4dg
— Zack Geoghegan ? (@ZGeogheganKSR) January 8, 2021
The seven-point advantage was the largest of the game for the ‘Cats, but it would be the last time they’d hold such a lead. Texas A&M outscored Kentucky 11-4 over the final seven minutes of the second quarter, tying the game up at 31 as we went into the halftime break.
Howard was up to a team-high 12 first-half points at the intermission, as Kentucky was shooting over 45 percent from the field. However, they turned the ball over nine times and only attempted one free-throw through the first 20 minutes. Overall, the ‘Cats outplayed A&M in the first half, holding the Aggies to just 37.5 percent shooting and a 1-5 clip from beyond the arc, but could never separate themselves.
The offense would pick back up once both sides returned from the locker room, as Texas A&M quickly bolted to a 41-39 lead with 7:23 left in the third quarter. Howard was hitting tough shots for the ‘Cats, but watched helplessly as the inside presence for the Aggies began to make its mark. Ciera Johnson began to feast against a smaller Wildcat frontline, dropping eight third-quarter points.
Kentucky eventually fell into a 45-39 deficit, but quickly crawled out of it with an 8-0 run that saw them take the lead back, 47-45, at the midway point of the quarter. But that’s when the tides began to shift and exhaustion set in for the ‘Cats.
Texas A&M immediately went ahead, taking a commanding 53-47 lead heading into the final frame. After starting the third period off on a hot 7-8 shooting streak, Kentucky missed its final three shots of the quarter and did not score over the course of the final 4:31 of playing time.
With the Wildcats vulnerable and the Aggies in a groove, Texas A&M’s lead quickly grew to double-figures and never got under single-digits in the last seven minutes of action. Kentucky was flat out gassed, Howard especially, as she was working hard and sprinting around screens all night long in order to fight for just an inch of space. Even when she got it, the scoring opportunities were not easy ones.
Thanks to a 24-13 fourth-quarter edge, Texas A&M remains undefeated with the 77-60 victory.
Outside of Howard, KeKe McKinney was the lone Wildcat who finished with double-figures, posting 12 points and five rebounds in 39 minutes (Howard also played 39 minutes). The senior forward shot 5-10 from the floor and 2-4 from deep. Chasity Patterson was the next-highest scorer for Kentucky, adding eight points and four steals. Dre’Una Edwards was off her game all night long, turning the ball over six times (mostly off of happy feet turnovers) while scoring just two points in 18 minutes.
For the Aggies, Nixon led the way with 19 points while N’dea Jones added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Johnson dropped in 14 points and eight rebounds while senior guard Aaliyah Wilson poured in 18 points and four assists.
Texas A&M won the rebounding battle, 35-26, but gave up more second-chance and bench points compared to Kentucky. An 18-19 clip from the free-throw line for the Aggies proved to be a major factor in the 17-point loss.
Kentucky will now look ahead to its fourth consecutive game against a top 12 opponent when they’ll play host to the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks this Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN.