[caption id="attachment_332187" align="aligncenter" width="1588"] (UK Athletics | Hannah Phillips)
In what wound up being one of the worst shooting performances of the season, Kentucky still found a way to come out on top.
The No. 15 Wildcats Women's Basketball Team (13-4, 6-3 in SEC) only connected on 37 percent of its shots against the Missouri Tigers (6-6, 2-5 in SEC) and nearly gave away a late lead, but ground out a big win at home on Sunday afternoon, 61-55. This wasn't the first time this season that Kentucky had its back up against the wall in the second half, either. No matter what was happening in the moments leading up to it, the 'Cats have consistently found ways to close out tight games.
A stout first half on defense for Kentucky held Missouri to just 18 points throughout the first 20 minutes as UK controlled a 28-18 lead at the break. However, The Tigers outscored the 'Cats 21-14 in the third frame before taking a three-point lead with only a few minutes left in the fourth period. But as they've continued to do all season, Kentucky fought back to the tune of an 11-2 run to close out the game for a 61-55 win.
While losing sizable leads isn't ideal, it says a lot about this team that they haven't yet fallen victim to a complete collapse.
was the star of the night for Kentucky once again, leading the charge with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists on 7-13 shooting and a 7-8 clip from the free-throw line. Only one other Wildcat finished in double-figures, Dre'Una Edwards,
who added 10 points and nine rebounds on a 4-11 shooting clip.
Out of the gate, it felt like neither team would even score
Howard missed her first two shot attempts as the Kentucky offense struggled to find the basket. On the bright side, the UK defense was locked in. The Tigers had just four points at the first media timeout as the 'Cats held a slight 6-4 lead. The scoring wouldn't come out of the break, either. By the end of the first quarter, Kentucky was barely holding onto an 11-8 advantage.
Both teams shot a combined 9-29 through the first 10 minutes of action before Kentucky finally found some rhythm.
opened up the second quarter with a nice mid-range jumper as the 'Cats finally began to show aggression attacking the rim. Even though Aijha Blackwell was feasting on the Kentucky frontcourt, UK began to string together defensive stops. There were multiple shot clock violations from the Missouri offense throughout the entire night and it was a direct result of a focused defense.
Holding a 21-16 lead with roughly three minutes left in the half, Kentucky hits its stride heading into the locker room. They finished the second quarter on a 7-2 run that allowed a 28-18 halftime advantage. Both sides were shooting under 33 percent from the floor and Missouri had yet to make a 3-pointer (0-10), but a 10-point edge in points off turnovers gave Kentucky the momentum.
wasted no time making her presence known in the third quarter after a quiet first half. The senior forward knocked down a triple that extended the UK lead to 13 but Mizzou countered with an immediate 6-0 run that forced head coach Kyra Elzy
into a timeout. Even though Kentucky was ahead 31-24, the offense had completely vanished.
Both sides were pacing each other over the next few minutes, with Kentucky boosting its lead back to double-digits before Missouri would knock it back down to eight or six. With under two minutes left in the third, Blackwell made a layup that trimmed the UK lead down to just five points. Missouri shot 8-12 in the third frame while holding the 'Cats to just 5-13.
Two free-throws from Missouri's Shug Dickson put them down 42-39 as we went into the final period. The Tigers had still yet to make a triple (now 0-14) but outrebounded Kentucky 8-4 throughout those 10 minutes while forcing UK into some foul issues. Olivia Owens
picked up her third personal foul with about 90 seconds left. Had it not been for Howard's nine third-quarter points, the result could have been even more disastrous.
Feeling the tides turning in its favor, Missouri began to attack. They quickly went to the free-throw to open up the fourth quarter and got within one-point of Kentucky. Some timely jumpers from Howard and Robyn Benton
followed up by a lay-in from Blair Green
gave UK a 48-42 lead with 6:40 left. However, Missouri continued to feed the ball into the post and the success rate started to skyrocket.
Blackwell, who finished with 13 points and 19 rebounds, wiggled into the lane for one of her several second-chance buckets. A couple of minutes later, Hayley Frank hit the first 3-pointer of the afternoon for Mizzou as they trailed by just one point with under five minutes remaining. Ladazhia Williams was a problem all game long on the block against the UK frontcourt, giving her team the lead for the first time since the score was 2-0 thanks to an easy shot at the rim. A couple of free-throws from Mizzou would eventually fatten its lead to 53-50 as Kentucky had its back on the ropes for the final 3:23.
But as they've done time and time again this season, Kentucky found a way to overcome the adversity that sat in front of them.
Edwards scored four straight points for the 'Cats before Howard canned two more free-throws that put UK back ahead 56-53 with just 90 seconds to go.
Williams would come right back down with two points of her own, but Patterson split a pair of free-throws a couple of possessions later that kept Kentucky in the lead, 57-55. Missouri called timeout and had the ball with 35 seconds left down by two points, but missed a good look right at the rim which allowed Kentucky to regain possession. McKinney drilled the two biggest free-throws of the night for her squad, putting them up by four points with just 15 ticks left on the clock.
Howard would ice the game away with two more freebies as Kentucky is now riding a two-game win streak thanks to the 61-55 victory.
Despite the win in hand, it was one of the worst shooting games for the 'Cats this season. Finishing with a mark of just 37 percent and 3-13 from beyond the arc, both categories rank amongst the four worst outings for UK during 2020-21. Missouri outrebounded the home team 35-30, scored 10 more points in the paint, and made 38 percent of its looks.
The two statistical areas that Kentucky needed in order to win were points off turnovers (19 for UK compared to just six for Mizzou) and fastbreak points (7-2 in UK's favor). It was hardly a perfect game by the 'Cats and one many could argue they didn't deserve to win. But Kentucky will take it.
While it would be preferred if Kentucky stepped on the gas and blew these types of opponents out by 25-plus points into the second half, we'd be having a much different conversation if they didn't find a way to muster out the victory. In the SEC, a win is a win, no matter how it's earned. This much can be said as true, though: this version of the Wildcats is not an SEC contender.
Kentucky's next matchup will be this Thursday down in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels (7-6, 1-6 in SEC). The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+ at 7:00 p.m. EST.