Coming off the most impressive five-game scoring stretch in program history, superstar sophomore Rhyne Howard was held in check early during a Sunday noon game on the road.
Despite the slow start, the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (14-2) were able to overcome a terrible shooting performance thanks to excellent defense as they cruised to a 65-45 win over the Florida Gators (11-6).
Kentucky scored 31 points off Florida's 25 turnovers. ?
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 12, 2020
Howard finished the day with 22 points, six rebounds, one steal, and two blocks while shooting 8-14 from the floor, but did not look like her usual self through the first 20 minutes of the game. Thankfully, Chasity Patterson picked up the scoring slack, adding 13 first-half points while Howard was dealing with some slight foul trouble and later a minor injury.
The biggest difference for Kentucky was the battle in the turnover department, which they won 25-6. Six turnovers are tied for the fewest this season by the ‘Cats. They turned the ball over just six times back in November against Morehead State.
Kentucky converted those Florida miscues into 31 points – 15 of them coming in transition. The pressure defense applied by the ‘Cats in the backcourt and in a halfcourt setting forced the Gators into all sorts of issues early on. They struggled to get the ball past the Kentucky three-point line and looked frightened whenever they had to dribble against a UK defender.
The ‘Cats shot 11.5 percent worse from the field than the Gators but were able to overcome that thanks to a stingy front line. Kentucky won by 20 despite making just four more field goals than Florida (and attempting 28 more… 28!).
The start of the game felt eerily similar to the most recent road win over Alabama. Kentucky was cold from the field and couldn’t make anything ranging from three-point jumpers to wide-open layups.
Kentucky started the game a horrendous 2-11 from the field while Florida was 3-6. The defense employed by the Gators focused solely on keeping the ball out of Howard’s hands, which they executed with relative success. Howard was held to just two points in the first 10 minutes on only one shot attempt.
Seven first-quarter turnovers for UF saw them slide into a minor hole, as they trailed the ‘Cats 13-12 after the first period despite making six of their first 10 attempts. Florida was getting good looks when they found them, but the Kentucky defense made those opportunities few and far between.
Unlike the Alabama game – where Kentucky found its rhythm in the second quarter – the ‘Cats didn’t break out of the scoring drought as the game went on. Howard didn’t hit her first field goal until a couple of minutes into the second period, ending a string of eight consecutive misses from the team. Kentucky started the quarter 1-10 and was 2-12 overall from beyond the arc.
When it finally looked like Howard might pop off and go on a personal scoring run, she picked up two quick fouls that forced her to the bench. Patterson drilled two critical three-pointers with the first-half running low to keep the offense moving. Her eight second-quarter points kept the ‘Cats ahead.
Blair Green was an uncharacteristic 0-7 from the floor in the first half with most of her looks coming without a defender in her vicinity. She was thrust into extended minutes due to the McKinney injury and didn’t show any fear letting it fly, it just wasn’t her day. She received her second start of the season in McKinney’s absence.
Despite UK going 1-14 from the field at one point in the second quarter, they held onto a 28-23 lead at the intermission.
The third quarter started off just like the first two. Kentucky quickly missed its first six shots before Haines and Howard mustered up some points for the blue-and-white. Haines opened up the quarter with a mid-range jumper before Howard pushed the lead to double-digits with her efforts getting to the rim.
There was a scary scene for a brief moment in the third, when Howard fell hard to the court and landing awkwardly on her side. She came up with a slight limp in her right knee and was helped to the sideline. The good news is that Howard would wrap up the knee with a compression sleeve and was back in the game a few minutes later.
With Howard not at her best, the Kentucky defense continued to step up, specifically from Haines. Florida went nearly five minutes without a made field goal in the third and pushed the Gators into 16 turnovers at that point. A two-minute run from UF that saw them go on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 37-32 was the closest they would get the rest of the afternoon.
The fourth quarter was all Kentucky, as they scored a game-high of 23 points on 9-20 shooting. Howard and Patterson were able to wiggle free more consistently for shot opportunities and Florida’s ball handlers were exhausted. Howard dropped 11 in the final period to bring her total to 22 points, just shy of her new season average.
The ‘Cats maintained a double-digit lead throughout the final 10 minutes as they cruised to a 20-point road win.
Patterson finished the day with a career-high 20 points on 7-14 shooting which she propped up with five rebounds, two assists, and four steals. Haines added 12 points of her own and was 4-6 from the field. She also contributed four rebounds and three steals while playing the best defense of any Kentucky player all game long.
Green and Tatyana Wyatt would finish the game on a combined 1-20 shooting clip from the field, although they did collaborate for 11 rebounds and zero turnovers. Kentucky’s starting backcourt of Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal contributed just eight points on a 1-12 shooting mark.
Florida’s star freshman and leading scorer, Lavender Briggs, was held to a mere two points on 1-8 shooting. The Gators were led by 16 points and five rebounds from Kiara Smith.
Kentucky’s next game will be at home on Jan. 16 inside Memorial Coliseum when the ‘Cats host the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.