Kentucky Women’s Basketball is on thin ice, and things are only starting to heat up.
On Thursday night, the No. 23 Wildcats (8-6) fell 77-52 to the unranked Florida Gators (14-5). The contest is Kentucky’s third loss by 20 or more points in a row. The ‘Cats had as much trouble off the court as they had on it.
Just an hour before tip-off, the program announced star forward Dre’Una Edwards would be out due to a disciplinary matter. Edwards is averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds this season. This is Edwards’ second absence this season, the first being due to failure to uphold the team’s academic standards.
With Edwards out, there was more pressure than usual on Rhyne Howard to score. Unfortunately, the reigning SEC Player of the Year didn’t deliver. Howard scored 17 points, two points less than her season average. Further, Howard went 7-21 from the field and 2-6 from 3-point range.
Kentucky’s offense reflected its leader. The team’s efficiency was atrocious, going 18-66 (27%) on their attempts from the field and 4-18 (22%) from beyond the arc.
Here’s how the Gators handed Kentucky their third-straight embarrassing loss.
Kentucky struggles to get going
Kentucky’s first quarter was a product of the team’s pregame charades. The ‘Cats couldn’t buy a basket early in the contest, and the team began the game 2-8 from the floor. Nonetheless, they weren’t willing to give up that easily.
After a media timeout, the ‘Cats switched into a 2-3 zone defense. The new look caused issues for the Gators. Kentucky gradually chipped away at the lead, making their final five field goals of the frame. The ‘Cats went into the second period trailing 20-16.
Spirit-less second quarter
If the first quarter was a gas leak, the second was a nuclear meltdown. Florida outscored the ‘Cats 24-10 throughout the frame. The Gators’ freshman Alberte Rimdal drained two more 3-pointers to bring her first-half total to 12 points.
Defense wasn’t the only place Kentucky was struggling. The ‘Cats missed seven straight field goals and continued to look lost offensively. Head coach Kyra Elzy believes Florida’s aggressive defense was vital in getting the ‘Cats out of a groove.
“[Florida’s] physical play really bothered us. I didn’t think we handled it early on,” Elzy said during the postgame press conference.
To pile on, the team’s third-leading scorer Robyn Benton went down with a leg injury with 7:17 left in the half. The senior guard never returned. With Benton out, Kentucky had seven healthy players on the roster.
Kentucky dragged themselves into the halftime break down 44-26, their largest halftime deficit of the season.
Kentucky WBB thrashed in the third
Things just kept getting uglier for the ‘Cats. The Gators began the second period on a 13-2 run. With Edwards out, Kentucky’s offense was lost. Olivia Owens and Nyah Leveretter clogged the paint, preventing Howard and Jada Walker from finding buckets inside.
Worse, Kentucky couldn’t find the net from outside. Elzy spoke on the team’s shooting struggles after the game.
“When we become stagnant offensively, and we’re not moving, it forces us to take either contested 3’s or deeper 3’s,” Elzy said. “We’re not as efficient that way.”
Not only were the bigs hurting the offense, but they were failing to rebound. Florida snagged twice as many rebounds as the UK in the third period, leading to easy second-chance points.
Kentucky closed the period on a 7-0 run, but it wasn’t enough. Once again, Florida won the period. The Gators strolled into the final frame comfortably ahead 59-37.
The finishing touches
Fans didn’t need to watch the fourth quarter to know the contest was over. The ‘Cats were drained, discouraged and downright defeated.
Kentucky began the quarter going 1-8 from the field. The team’s slow shooting allowed Florida to rattle off six unanswered points.
Midway through the quarter, Kentucky switched into a press defense. Admittedly, the change of pace gave Florida temporary fits. However, like everything else the ‘Cats tried, it didn’t take long for Florida to figure it out.
When the dust settled, Florida walked off the court with a 77-52 victory. The Gators dominated every facet of the game. On the inside, Florida snagged 17 more rebounds and scored 24 more points in the paint than the ‘Cats. From the outside, Florida went 7-15 (47%) from deep.
On the flip side, Kentucky’s offense was horrendous. UK failed to record double-digit assists for the second contest in a row. Outside of Howard, Massengill and Walker combined for 22 points on 7-23 (30%) shooting.
Elzy was blunt when discussing the team’s offensive woes.
“Our offensive chemistry is not clicking. We’re doing too much standing,” Elzy said. “We’re easy to guard at the moment.”
Kentucky only has three days to reignite the spark they showed earlier in the season. On Jan. 23, the team will face Ole Miss at noon in Rupp Arena. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.