The Tennessee State Lady Tigers trailed the 8th ranked Kentucky Wildcats by four points, 13-9, with 3:20 and had played even with Matthew Mitchell’s team for much of the first quarter. That all changed when freshman guard Taylor Murray checked into the game and gave the Cats a much-needed boost.
The speedy sub immediately swished a three-point and seconds later added an and-one off of a steal to push the Cats’ lead to double digits, 21-9.
Kentucky ended the quarter on a 20-3 run thanks to 12 points off of eight Tiger turnovers to lead 27-9.
The second quarter was a different story; Kentucky’s energy level plateaued during the last five minutes of the period. The Cats committed five turnovers and shot a dismal 2-for-8 to limp into the half with a 38-17 lead.
Thankfully, Kentucky reacquired its work ethic in the third quarter and used a 22-4 run to extend their lead to 63-26 to finally put the game out of reach for good.
The Cats went on to win 81-39 for their 11th win of the season.
Evelyn Akhator finished the game with 14 points (7-of-11) and 13 rebounds. She was followed by Maci Morris and Taylor Murray who each had 13 points a piece.
Murray finished the game with 13 points, two assists and two rebounds but stats do not tell the whole story of her impact on the game.
With Kentucky struggling, the freshmen’s energy was infectious and the team’s play improved considerably with her on the floor.
All season long Murray has been an asset off the bench and her continued development will be a major key for how far this team will go in March.
The Cats had six players finish in double figures. While that will not be a frequent occurrence it does demonstrate that Kentucky has multiple players who are capable of stepping up and leading the team in scoring on any given night.
Kentucky’s bigs were excellent across the board against Tennessee State.
Evelyn Akhator and Alexis Jennings were tremendous in the post against TSU. Akhator notched another double-double and Jennings collected ten points and eight rebounds.
Alexis Jennings came up big early and produced three offensive rebounds in the opening minutes of the game.
Freshmen forward Batouly Camara played a great game off the bench. Camara scored six points, grabbed as many rebounds and even dished out two assists.
Alyssa Rice played her best game of the season and scored four points to go along with four rebounds and two assists.
When Kentucky struggles like they did late in the first half, their defensive pressure will be key in regaining momentum much like they did tonight.
Against the Lady Tigers Kentucky forced 24 turnovers and generated them into 27 points. Kentucky also held TSU to 16-of-60 shooting (27 percent) and 1-of-11 from behind the arc.
If the last bit of the first quarter represented the best basketball the Wildcats have to offer than the last five minutes of the half were the worst.
Poor shooting and rebounding happen, and can be easily overcome by effort. The problem for Kentucky is that the effort was simply not there.
The Lady Tigers outplayed the Cats at every turn to close the half but were not able to convert on the offensive end and could get no closer than 18 points.
By no means is the aforementioned stretch an alarm bell, but it should serve as a good teaching moment in practice for Matthew Mitchell as the team begins play in a stacked SEC.
Duke killed Kentucky on the boards last week and tonight Tennessee State did the same, collecting 15 in all.
The good news for Kentucky is that they held the Lady Tigers to only six second-chance points and Cats also won the overall rebounding battle, but one has to think limiting an opponent’s offensive mulligans will be a point of emphasis in the practices leading up to the SEC opener.