Kentucky played a great game for the first three-and-a-half quarters before it all came crumbling down.
The No. 10 Wildcats Women’s Basketball Team fell in College Station to the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies by a final count of 77-60 on Thursday night. It was a tightly contested matchup early-on, with the score tied at 31 heading into the halftime break, but Texas A&M overpowered a tiring Wildcats down the stretch to remain undefeated on the season.
If you missed the full game recap, check that out here.
What we’re going to do here is briefly break down two key points from Kentucky’s second loss of the season that I believe contributed to the team’s eventual downfall.
Dre’Una Edwards in a funk
In the first half against Texas A&M, Dre’Una Edwards turned the ball over five times. Taking it a step further, she had four turnovers during her first four minutes of action.
In 18 minutes on Thursday night, Edwards finished with two points, zero rebounds, six turnovers, and two personal fouls. The versatile point forward we once saw in non-conference play has seemingly disappeared right at the beginning of the SEC schedule. The former Utah transfer has been caught traveling several times over the last three games, a problem that appears to have trickled down to the rest of her game. The following turnovers are something that Edwards was never called for during non-conference play, but are now a part of a new habit she has yet to kick.
Edwards is taking her two steps before she even puts the ball on the deck. It’s become a common trend for her–and a bad one, at that. The officials know it’s coming now. She walked into this exact same turnover on multiple occasions against Arkansas last Thursday. Perhaps this is something she’s been doing all season long and the referees (along with myself) are just now picking it up on it/making it a point of emphasis. Or maybe she’s simply playing too sped up against better competition, trying to make something happen quickly rather than playing at her own pace.
The turnovers against the Aggies proved to be an issue that affected her the rest of the night. Edwards played 11 second-half minutes, but attempted just one shot and was tagged with two personal fouls. After demanding the ball in the paint during the first 20 minutes, she was skittish in the following 20. The turnovers are either getting into her head or she’s still trying to find her fit as a good scorer amongst a talented roster–or maybe a little bit of both.
After foul trouble limited her in the season-opener, Edwards averaged 17.4 points per outing from the second game of the season up until the win over Wofford (seven total games). Since then, in three SEC games, her points per game has plummeted down to 4.3. She’s been in foul trouble rather consistently throughout the season, even though she hasn’t fouled out this season. However, she leads the team in personal fouls at 32, seven more than the next-highest Wildcat. Despite all of that, she typically finds a way to make an impact.
Even though she shot a combined 2-10 against Arkansas and Mississippi State, Edwards still hauled in 16 boards. But on Thursday night, she didn’t grab a single rebound in 18 minutes. Not counting the season-opener in which she played just six minutes, Edwards had recorded at least six rebounds in every game thus far, including five outings in double-digits. Granted, Texas A&M has some incredible size in the paint, but so did Mississippi State, and Edwards corraled 11 rebounds against the Bulldogs.
Without Edwards’ threat to score and rebound, it limits what Kentucky can do on offense. When she’s not aggressive, it makes life harder for Rhyne Howard to break down a defense. Which transitions perfectly into my next point…
Lack of aggression from supporting cast
This isn’t an overall indictment of how the team has performed all season by any means, but it’s also something that can’t be ignored after Thursday night’s loss. Outside of Howard and senior forward KeKe McKinney, it didn’t feel like any Kentucky player in the second half wanted to touch the ball.
Robyn Benton and Jazmine Massengill went from firing up outside shots and attacking the rim in the first half to deferring to Howard in the second. Blair Green faded after two solid performances against Arkansas and Mississippi State. Chasity Patterson, like Edwards, has watched her numbers decline to start SEC play after a brilliant start to the year. Luckily for the ‘Cats, her defense doesn’t take any possessions off, but there’s only so much she can do on that end at just 5-foot-5.
It was an all-around lack of aggression from the ‘Cats, who only made it to the free-throw line for seven attempts, making just four of them. Howard had four freebies herself, but shot a mere 1-4. Kentucky also attempted just 12 layups compared to 23 for A&M.
Chalk it up to tired legs or unusual travel plans due to COVID-19, but Kentucky simply ran out of gas down the stretch against Texas A&M, no one more so than Howard–the Aggies outscored UK 31-13 in the final 13.5 minutes of action. If you spent the entire game watching just her, you’d quickly understand why she was so tired, and it goes back to the supporting cast taking pressure off of its star player. She was fighting around screens all night long and facing traps whenever she had the ball in her hands.
“We just wanted to contain [Rhyne] Howard,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said after the game “Of course, we wanted to hold her to 19 points-or-less, and while we didn’t quite do that, we were able to tire her out. When you tire a player out, that keeps them away from the offensive boards.”
*Against the Aggies, Howard did not record an offensive rebound for just the second time this season*
Howard played 39 minutes on Thursday night after playing 37 in the overtime win over MSU and 36 against Arkansas. The reigning SEC Player of the Year was gasping for air during the closing minutes, at one point spreading her body on the hardwood and lying motionless for just a few seconds. She tweaked her ankle, as well, and was seen with a visible limp as Kentucky’s chances quickly slipped away. It was all a result of too much exertion on both ends of the floor.
With Edwards and Patterson struggling to get ahold of their shots, there weren’t many other scoring options other than Howard. But from the outside looking in, the gameplan once Kentucky fell down by six, eight, 10 points appeared to be letting Howard do whatever she pleased. To be fair, that worked against Mississippi State, but there wasn’t nearly as much structure against to the UK offense in the fourth quarter against A&M as there normally is.
It was a learning opportunity for a Kentucky team that still has plenty of untapped potential. A (hopeful) matchup against No. 5 South Carolina inside of Memorial Coliseum this Sunday could take away all the pain of Thursday’s road loss. Losing by 17 on the road is never an easy pill to swallow, but there is too much talent across the board for this to negatively affect the rest of the Wildcats season.