Kentucky Women’s Basketball didn’t have the statement victory they were hoping for in the season opener. Nevertheless, a win is a win.
On Monday evening, the Wildcats defeated the Radford Highlanders 82-78 in Memorial Coliseum. The game was Kentucky’s first regular season contest after an exhibition win over Pikeville on Nov. 2. The contest is the first of four-straight home games for the ‘Cats.
Sophomore guard Jada Walker was the standout of the night, dropping 19 points on 8-11 shooting. The 5-foot-7 lead ball handler added four rebounds and four steals to UK’s effort, as well. Walker’s stats weren’t empty, earning a team-high +/- of +15.
Kentucky’s team statistics weren’t quite as spectacular as Jada Walker’s. The ‘Cats shot 33-73 (45%) from the field and a horrific 2-18 (11%) from beyond the arc. Kentucky gave up 40 points in the paint and allowed Radford star Rachel LaLonde to finish with 20 points. Let’s discuss what went wrong — and ultimately right — for the ‘Cats on Monday night.
Slow start for Kentucky WBB
Kentucky didn’t exactly burst out of the starting gates. The team shot 8-22 from the field and an even worse 1-6 from downtown in the first period. To make matters worse, Kentucky lost their leading distributor Maddie Scherr to foul trouble eight minutes into the game.
Head coach Kyra Elzy described her mindset following Scherr’s second foul after the game.
“Maddie Scherr does have that ‘it’ factor. She understands our offense,” Elzy said during the postgame press conference. “She picked up that second foul. We just had to talk to her, ‘Stay in the game. You’re going to come back. You have to be smart.”
With shots not falling and Scherr on the sideline, Kentucky relied on the boards. The ‘Cats snagged seven offensive rebounds in the opening period while giving up zero. Moreover, UK capitalized on the extra possessions. The ‘Cats recorded eight second-chance points in the first quarter alone. Thanks to their paint presence, Kentucky went into the second frame with a narrow 18-16 lead.
High-scoring second quarter
The second quarter didn’t start any better than the first. Radford’s leading-returning scorer, LaLonde, was giving Kentucky’s defense headaches. Halfway through the second period, she already had 10 points.
Nonetheless, help was on the way. With the boost of Walker’s 11 first-half points, Kentucky rattled off a 7-0 run to increase their lead. Walker wasn’t the only one finding the bottom of the net. The ‘Cats had nine players score in the first half. Kentucky entered the halftime break leading the Highlanders 42-36.
Experience comes through for Kentucky WBB
When you need a bucket, find the veterans. Kentucky did just that in the third period. Fifth-year seniors Blair Green and Robyn Benton had an explosive third quarter for the ‘Cats, combining for 13 points in the period.
After the win, Elzy discussed her veterans’ much-needed composure.
“They have a great feel. They’ve been in this situation before. Both of them know how to put the ball in the basket,” Elzy said. “It is a luxury to have both of them on the floor.“
Kentucky’s defense was equally successful. The squad forced five Radford turnovers in the period while only giving up 16 points. The Wildcats capitalized on the Highlanders’ mistakes, scoring eight points off turnovers in the quarter. Propelled forward by their leaders, Kentucky took a 63-52 advantage into the final 10 minutes of the contest.
A freaky fourth quarter
Despite Kentucky’s third-quarter efforts, Radford refused to go away. The Highlanders went on a 7-0 run early in the final frame to cut Kentucky’s lead to single digits. Kentucky answered with a bucket of their own to bring the lead back to 10.
The two teams played tug-of-war for several minutes before Radford guard Carmen Williams drained two free throws to cut Kentucky’s lead to five points with 21 seconds left in the game. Suddenly, things were too close for comfort.
With fouls to give, Kentucky committed three fouls in the final 20 seconds of the contest to halt any chance of a Highlander comeback. Although UK was outscored by seven points in the fourth quarter, they pulled out an 82-78 triumph.
The final score wasn’t entirely indicative of Kentucky’s statistical dominance. The team grabbed more than twice the offensive rebounds than Radford and outscored the Highlanders 21-12 in second-chance points.
Additionally, the ‘Cats won the turnover war, only committing 10 turnovers compared to Radford’s 17. Similar to rebounding, Kentucky didn’t let its numbers go to waste. The ‘Cats outscored the Highlanders 18-10 in points off turnovers. To top off their efforts, UK recorded 20 team assists.
Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, their high-level distributing didn’t lead to high-level delivering. Kentucky only had two players score double figures: Benton and Walker. Benton recorded 17 points on 6-15 shooting. Adebola Adeyeye led Kentucky on the glass with nine rebounds. Scherr added seven assists respectively.
That being said, Elzy isn’t satisfied with impressive individual statistics.
“We’ll go back to work on Wednesday, continuing to work on our defensive execution. About in the fourth, we made some crucial defensive mistakes,” Elzy said.
Kentucky won’t have long to clean up its mistakes. The ‘Cats take on their second opponent of the season on Friday in Memorial Coliseum. UK will face off against in-state foe Morehead State at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.