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Lexington, KY 1-29-23
It’s been a L-O-N-G season for the Kentucky Women’s basketball team. The ‘Cats entered Sunday afternoons matchup winning just 1 of their first 8 conference games, and collecting just 2 wins in their last 12 games. Missouri, on the other hand, entered Lexington with a long losing streak of their own, falling in their last 5 conference games after starting SEC play 3-0. The average margin of defeat in those 5 consecutive losses for the Tigers is 17.4 PPG, so the Tigers are not accustomed to playing in close games as of late. Sunday marked the second matchup of the season between these two teams, as both teams started conference play against each other on December 29th in Columbia. In the first matchup, the ‘Cats fell to the Tigers 74-71. In that game, Benton led the Wildcats in scoring with 22-points, while Walker mixed in 15-points and collected 6-assists. The Tigers were led by Frank who scored a team-high 20-points in the game, with Hansen adding in 18-points to push the Tigers to victory. The Tigers arrived in Lexington ranked No. 51 in the latest NET rankings with a season record of 14-7 (3-5 SEC). The Tigers are led on offense by Hayley Frank (14.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Lauren Hansen (13.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and Haley Troup (8.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.5 APG). For the ‘Cats, while they lost a golden opportunity to win their second conference game of the year last Thursday in Memorial (lost to Auburn 71-68), they have been playing much better basketball as of late. The ‘Cats last two losses have come by a combined 4 points in the form of a 1-point loss to Mississippi State on the road and the aforementioned 3-point home loss to Auburn. Still, the ‘Cats checked in ranked No. 92 in the latest NET rankings. The ‘Cats offensive attack is led by their trio of guards in Robyn Benton (17.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.3 APG), Jada Walker (13.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.9 APG) and Maddie Scherr (10.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.8 APG). A key stat that stood out pre-game was that the ‘Cats average 10.6 steals per game, a testament to their aggressiveness on defense and in the passing lanes. Some keys to the game against Missouri included starting fast, limiting turnovers (17.7 per game), three-point shooting, winning the rebounding battle, and preventing having a “cold” quarter as a team.
The starting lineup for the ‘Cats featured Walker, Benton, Scherr, Green, and Leveretter.
The ‘Cats started the game with a steal and transition layup by Benton for the first points of the game. Benton collected another steal and found Scherr for a layup through contact that pushed the score to 4-0 Kentucky. The Tigers scored their first points of the game via a three-pointer, but the ‘Cats responded with a three of their own by Benton that brought the score to 7-3 ‘Cats. The ‘Cats scored again on a nice curl play off an inbounds pass that pushed their lead to 9-3 to open the game. The score sat at 11-5 Kentucky at the media timeout after a mid-range jumper from Scherr. The ‘Cats continued their hot start shooting with another steal and acrobatic score from Walker, followed by a three from Benton that pushed the ‘Cats lead up to 11 (7-0 run) at 18-7 with 3-minutes to play in the quarter. The ‘Cats were aggressive in the passing lanes to start the game, collecting 5 steals in the first 7-minutes of action and converting those into 10 points. The Tigers ended a 9-0 ‘Cats run on a layup. Adeyeye created an and-one opportunity on the ‘Cats next trip down the floor. The score sat at 22-9 after the missed free-throw. In the ‘Cats best quarter of the season, they shot 48% from the field in the first quarter while creating 10 turnovers that led to 12 points (Kentucky committed only 2 first quarter turnovers). The score at the end of the first quarter stood at 22-9 ‘Cats. Benton led the way with 8 first quarter points. Game note: Missouri called for 7 first quarter fouls (Kentucky had 0 fouls in the quarter).
The second quarter scoring began with another Benton three that was created off a Scherr steal. Scherr hit a three of her own as the shot-clock was winding down to extend the Kentucky lead to 19, 28-9 with 8:36 to play in the half. Kentucky started the game 4-5 from 3PT range. A steal and score by Walker pushed the score to 30-11 Kentucky with 6:30-minutes to play in the half. An 8-0 Missouri run narrowed the ‘Cats lead to 11 at 30-19. A Green corner three pushed the ‘Cats lead back to 13 at 35-22. The ‘Cats finished the half on a 9-0 run that pushed the score to 41-22 Kentucky at the half. The ‘Cats also finished the half hitting 4 of their last 5 FGs. Benton led the offense with 11 first half points, while Green and Scherr each mixed in 7 first half points. Kentucky shot 52% from the field in the first half and 63% from three-point range (5-8). Kentucky did not trail in the first half and their aggressiveness on defense created 17 Missouri turnovers that turned into 20 points for the ‘Cats.
The second half started much like the first, with a score from Benton to push the lead to 43-22 Kentucky. The ‘Cats responded to a Tigers three with a Walker three to maintain a 21-point lead. A trio of Scherr free-throws extended the Kentucky lead to 49-25 after she was fouled on a three-point attempt. Green converted an and-one opportunity for the ‘Cats in response to another made Tigers three. Both teams traded buckets for a period in the third quarter, a stretch that featured a King mid-range jumper and a good defensive play by Adeyeye in transition. The score at the media timeout in the third quarter was 56-37 Kentucky. Both teams started the third quarter 5 for 7 from the field as a team. Frank, for Missouri, collected 12 of the first 17 points in the third quarter for the Tigers, giving her a game-high 21-points for the game. Green hit a mid-range jumper for the ‘Cats to push the lead to 58-39 Kentucky with 4-minutes to play in the quarter. Scherr nailed a corner three on the ‘Cats next possession but the Tigers responded with a three of their own from Judd. A quick Walker layup after the made three pushed the Kentucky lead to 63-42 ‘Cats. Walker hit her second three of the game to extend he ‘Cats lead to 25 at 67-42. Kentucky finished the third quarter on an 8-0 run, with the score sitting at 69-42 at the end of the third. Walker led the ‘Cats offensive attack in the quarter with 10-points. Kentucky shot 64% from the field in the third and scored 28-points.
The fourth quarter scoring started with a Missouri three that brought the score to 69-45 Kentucky. That was the only score for either team in the fourth until the ‘Cats scored their first points via two Walker free-throws with 5:42 to play in the game. Leveretter hit the ‘Cats first field goal of the fourth quarter on a mid-range jumper that she banked in. The score at the media timeout was 75-47 ‘Cats with 3:53 to play in the game. A nice driving layup by Jenkins, seeing her first minutes of the game with the ‘Cats up big, brought the score to 77-52 Kentucky with 2-minutes to play. That bucket served as the last points for the ‘Cats as they finished the fourth quarter with just 8 team points. A late layup by Missouri finished the game scoring and the ‘Cats went on to win their first home conference game of the season by a score of 77-54.
The lockdown Kentucky defense held the Tigers to just 38% shooting from the field and 33% from three-points range (7-21). Offensively for Kentucky, they shot 52% from the field and a season high 53% from beyond the arc (8-15). The Tigers won the rebounding battle by a count of 29-27. Kentucky turned the Tigers over 22 times and converted those extra possessions into 28-points. Walker led the ‘Cats in scoring with 18-points (5-assists). Green collected 14-points (5-rebounds) and Benton added 13-points (4-steals). Scherr stuffed the stat-sheet with a line of 13-points, 5-rebounds, 8-assists, and 3 steals. Walker led the ‘Cats in plus/minus total with a +37 in 31-minutes of action. The ‘Cats played their best and most complete game of the season Sunday afternoon, getting rewarded for their hard work throughout a tough season and continued unity as a team with a huge win in conference play.
The ‘Cats will look to build on their newfound momentum as they hit the road for a tough matchup versus the undefeated No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (21-0, 9-0 SEC) on Thursday, February 2. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.