The No. 16 ranked Kentucky Wildcats (15-3) lost to the Ole Miss Rebels (7-11) by a score of 49-55 in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
Rhyne Howard led the Wildcats with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists as Maci Morris was sidelined right before tipoff with what was described as knee pain. Taylor Murray, who was listed as day-to-day after falling on her knee in Kentucky’s last game, did not start but played a team-high 35 minutes.
Kentucky shot an abysmal 26.6 percent from the field for the game and turned the ball over 16 times in the follow-up performance to their biggest win of the year over a ranked Tennessee squad on Thursday.
The first half was an offensive disaster – and that goes for both sides.
Kentucky shot a miserable 7-30 from the field in the first half while Ole Miss was just as depressing, shooting 7-26 through the first 20 minutes.
It wasn’t like they weren’t getting good shots, either. Kentucky just wasn’t knocking down their open looks. Several missed shots from all over the court prevented the Cats from finding any offensive rhythm.
Credit is due to Ole Miss’ zone defense. With Morris limited to the bench, Ole Miss packed in their zone and forced Kentucky to hit their outside shots. A 1-of-9 mark from deep in the first half is what killed the Cats more than anything. Without Morris patrolling the perimeter and curling around screens to pop open for quick jumpers, the offense was stagnant. Despite Murray running the show, the outside shot was hardly a threat, especially when Howard missed a couple open looks early.
Lazy passes were floated into the paint, quick actions at the top of the key hardly fooled the Rebels, there was simply no flow available to establish from the jump. Even with the first half advantage on the glass, Kentucky couldn’t capitalize on much of their second chance opportunities.
Thankfully, the Wildcats defense displayed their usual pressure, disrupting any potential half court set that the Rebels would try to run. Ole Miss had only one form of offense in the first half, which was to chuck the ball to the opposite end of the court in an attempt to break Kentucky’s stifling full-court press. It worked maybe one time.
This was the second game in a row that Ole Miss was held to only 15 points in the first half. Kentucky led by six at the break.
The second half got off to a similar start.
Kentucky continued to find open looks from deep but couldn’t get much of anything to fall. Even the layups weren’t guaranteed through the first few minutes.
KeKe McKinney played one of her best quarters of the season in the third and there was one instance where she went on a personal 6-0 run. Her defense was like a brick wall on the block and she was corralling every loose ball. She finished the game with six points and eight rebounds.
Aside from a couple of big threes from Blair Green and Howard, Kentucky could only muster up 13 points in the final quarter and Ole Miss started to hit their threes. It felt like the first team to hit 45 was going to win this game and as soon as the Rebels hit that threshold, they never looked back.
Once Ole Miss took the lead halfway through the fourth quarter, the entire dynamic of the game began to change. Kentucky was holding on by threads without Morris and an injured Murray. Four straight missed free throws by the Cats gave all the momentum to the Rebels.
Speaking of Murray, she was clearly not playing at full strength. She shot 0-for-8 from the field, hit only two free throws, and recorded zero assists. She still had five steals, but couldn’t get any lift on her shots and wasn’t her usual springy self. To make matters worse, she ran directly into a legally set screen that knocked her to the floor. She would get up under her own power but did not check back into the game.
Ole Miss hit their free throws down the stretch to pull off the upset.
Kentucky’s next game is against LSU on Thursday in Baton Rouge at 7 p.m.
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