It wasn’t easy, but the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team (18-4) gutted out a tough win against the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-10) by a final score of 66-62 on Thursday night in Memorial Colisuem.
It was Kentucky’s third game without star guard Rhyne Howard, who is still about a week away from returning from a pinky injury. In her absence, the entire team stepped up.
ROLL CATS. ??????
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) February 7, 2020
Led by 14 points from senior Sabrina Haines to go along with her six rebounds and five assists, the ‘Cats put on a defensive clinic to avoid an upset by ‘Bama. It was the team’s best overall outing since Howard’s injury.
All eight Kentucky players that saw the floor put up at least two points. Haines was joined by Chasity Patterson and Jaida Roper as the other two Wildcats to hit double-digits in scoring. Patterson finished with 11 points, three rebounds, and four assists while Roper contributed 10 points, four rebounds, and five assists while shooting 7-8 from the charity stripe.
As a team, UK shot just 37.7 percent from the field but made life rough for Alabama on the other end. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over 17 times, which Kentucky was able to convert into 21 points. Both teams made 23 field goals each.
To start the game, Alabama opened up in a zone defense that they would employ for almost the entire game. It took Kentucky roughly two quarters to find their rhythm in the open spaces and it cost them momentum. They were working the ball around the perimeter, but couldn’t penetrate the zone successfully.
‘Bama jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead but could hardly hold onto the ball. They had already racked up six turnovers halfway through the first quarter. Kentucky opened the night 1-11 from the floor while ‘Bama was just 2-3. At one point, UK missed 10 consecutive shots.
Haines drilled two massive three-pointers with the quarter running down that gave Kentucky a 14-10 lead after the first 10 minutes. The ‘Cats shot 4-17 in that frame compared to 4-9 for Alabama.
Roper picked up her second foul not even 30 seconds into the second quarter and was forced to the bench for the remainder of the half. Without one of their most reliable ball handlers and offensive initiators, the offense continued to struggle.
Kentucky missed a couple of good looks from deep to begin the second quarter and Alabama took advantage. It seemed like every time the ‘Cats were on the verge of blowing this game wide-open, the Crimson Tide would respond with four or five quick points.
Despite shooting 11-31 in the first half, Kentucky’s activity on the glass kept them ahead. The ‘Cats outrebounded ‘Bama 11-7 in the first quarter and held a 19-12 edge at the intermission. Nine of those 19 rebounds were on the offensive glass. Alabama went into halftime with 10 turnovers and just two points from their leading scorer, Jordan Lewis.
Coming out of the break, Kentucky ran a set play to perfection that freed up Ogechi Anyagaligbo down low thanks to a perfectly-placed pass from KeKe McKinney. The ‘Cats ran this play successfully on three separate occasions, where the guard drops it to McKinney at the free throw who then dumped a touch-pass to the forward on the block for an uncontested layup.
Kentucky went on a 6-2 run to open the period that forced Alabama into a timeout, but the ‘Cats couldn’t keep their foot on the gas. The Crimson Tide responded with a 5-0 run of its own that trimmed the lead down to just 39-34 in favor of the ‘Cats. Patterson came back with a nice jumper and Roper knocked in two free throws to push the lead back to nine but another 5-0 run from Alabama made it a 43-39 UK advantage with 2:31 left in the third quarter.
Tatyana Wyatt picked up her third foul shortly after and a layup by Jasmine Walker put Alabama down two points with under a minute left. But as she’s done all season long, Haines came in clutch again, getting a lucky bounce on a corner three at the buzzer. Her shot gave UK a 48-43 lead as we went into the fourth quarter.
The final period was energized by a fantastic spurt from Blair Green, who played great defense to force a turnover and then flicked a beautiful pass to Haines for another three in the corner that barely fell in. Haines tried to go for three in a row the next trip down, but her shot just missed, leading to an immediate three from Alabama on the other end.
A massive triple from Roper with 3:31 left gave the ‘Cats an eight-point lead. She slipped in a sneaky pass to Wyatt for an and-one opportunity that fired up the entire Memorial crowd shortly after that. But as they did all night, ‘Bama always had an answer. A big three from Walker cut the UK lead down to just 64-60 with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.
Both teams exchanged some free throws down the stretch, but Roper’s two were clutch with 21 seconds left and gave Kentucky a four-point lead that they would not relinquish, winning 66-62.
McKinney posted nine points for Kentucky, recording six rebounds and five blocks in the process. Anyagliagbo played one of her best games of the whole season, finishing with seven points and six rebounds in 16 important minutes.
As a team, Kentucky did not shoot well from beyond the arc. A 7-23 mark on the night puts them at 14-49 over the last three games from three, or under 29 percent. They also ended up losing the rebounding battle, 40-35, but forced enough turnovers and missed shots to get the job done in the end. 18 of Kentucky’s 23 made field goals came off an assist.
Lewis ended the night with five points on 2-9 shooting for Alabama. Walker led the team with 17 points.
It took an overall team effort on Thursday to earn a tough win, but they’ll take it. Kentucky’s next game is on the road against No. 25 Arkansas this Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.