Coming off arguably its most disappointing loss of the season, the No. 15 Kentucky women’s basketball team (17-4) will look to bounce back against the Alabam Crimson Tide (13-9) on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum on the SEC Netowrk+.
The ladies fell at home to the Florida Gators this past Sunday, blowing a 10-point halftime lead and playing a deflated second-half of basketball in the team’s second game without Rhyne Howard.
While it was just the Wildcats’ fourth loss of the season, it comes on the brink of a hellacious upcoming schedule that includes matchups against Arkansas (No. 25), Mississippi State (No. 8), and South Carolina (No. 1) in three of the next five outings. Howard should be back before the ‘Cats host the Gamecocks on Feb. 23, but nothing can be said for sure. Until she comes back, Kentucky is going to have to find a win to gut out some neccessary wins.
The ‘Cats have already taken down this ‘Bama team earlier in the season, winning in Tuscaloosa by a final score of 81-71 behind a career-high 43 points from Howard. In that game, Kentucky made over 45 percent of its shot attempts and was an efficient 16-31 from beyond the arc – those 16 made triples are still a season-high. UK used a 28-9 second-quarter run in that game to push them ahead for good.
Kentucky won’t have Howard on Thursday night, but they will have KeKe McKinney, who missed the first meeting in what was the beginning of severe migraines that held her out for four games. Despite McKinney’s absence in the first matchup, Kentucky still held their own on the glass, being outrebounded by just three, 35-32. The ‘Cats forced Alabama into 17 turnovers and should be able to repeat that defensive effort even without Howard. You can read the preview from the first game by clicking the link here or read the full recap from Howard’s 43-point outing by clicking here.
With no Howard in the fold for the rematch, scoring is going to have to come from somewhere else and the likely candidate will be Chasity Patterson, who poured in a career-high 25 points in the most recent loss to Florida. The junior point guard has assumed the role of the team’s go-to scorer without Howard and has combined to post 37 points over the last two games. She’ll need to replicate similar numbers if Kentucky wants a chance to avoid another upset.
Since these two teams last met, Alabama has gone 3-3 with all three losses coming against ranked opponents (Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas A&M). They’ll get to Lexington coming off a tight, 57-56 win over the SEC’s last-place team, the Ole Miss Rebels, who have still yet to win a conference game (0-9).
The Crimson Tide is one of the SEC’s best scoring teams, averaging over 72 points per game while shooting 43 percent from the floor and a respectable 33.8 percent from three. Jordan Lewis is still the team’s leading scorer, averaging just under 13 points per game to go along with a team-high 79 assists. Lewis was held to just five points on a miserable 1-12 shooting night against Ole Miss. That likely won’t happen against Kentucky, even though the ‘Cats have a top-ranked defense in the country.
But even if Lewis does have another off-night, her teammates know how to pick up the slack. ‘Bama is the SEC’s top bench scoring team at over 31 points per game. They run about nine, sometimes 10 players deep. The bench accounts for over 43 percent of their overall scoring. Seven players average over 6.5 points per game for the Crimson Tide. They can put up points no matter who is on the floor.
Kentucky will have its hands full once again. If the team that limited Florida’s leading scorer to zero first-half points on Sunday shows up, they’ll be in good shape. If it’s the team we saw casually cough up a 10-point halftime lead in the second half, it could be a long night.