[caption id="attachment_344067" align="aligncenter" width="1364"] Photo by UK Athletics
Kentucky’s raw athleticism and height proved to be too much for Idaho State in their first-round matchup.
In what started out as a closely contested battle, the Wildcats ended up defeating the Idaho State Bengals 71-63. Powered by a well-balanced scoring effort, the ‘Cats’ talent overloaded 13-seeded Idaho State.
Led by an astounding 14-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, and four-steal effort from Rhyne Howard, the Wildcats put on a solid performance. Blair Green, Chasity Patterson, and Howard all scored in double figures to establish Kentucky’s position in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Although the Wildcats were able to win by a comfortable margin, Idaho State certainly didn’t make it easy.
Kentucky took the early lead, but Idaho State didn’t let them hold it for long. During about a minute and a half stretch, the Bengals went on a 9-0 run. Idaho was out-scoring the ‘Cats and UK wasn't realizing their simple mistake: not giving the ball to Howard
Howard didn’t take her first shot attempt until 5:30 was left in the first period. However, scoring was the least of Kentucky’s worries. In just the first 10 minutes of play, the Wildcats had turned the ball over SEVEN
Despite turning in one of the worst quarters of the year on offense, the ‘Cats escaped the first period only down 18-12. Perhaps the Wildcats’ early performance had been due to some first-game jitters, but they couldn’t afford to remain nervous for long.
Kentucky came out of their quick break much more aggressive, but they continued to struggle to put the ball in the basket. Despite missed layup after missed layup, UK's defense allowed them to slowly make up ground.
With 5:37 left in the half, the ‘Cats took a 21-20 lead behind a massive Jazmine Massengill jumper. Howard may not have been playing her best ball, but others were stepping up.
Blair Green and Dre’Una Edwards combined for 10 points on the half. For reference, those two had scored a total of 12 points together throughout the SEC Tournament.
Fueled by these unexpected scoring efforts, Kentucky went into the half leading 30-24. Howard had failed to score at a high level, but was contributing to the team in other ways. The star Kentucky guard had five rebounds, three steals, and a block all in the first 20 minutes.
Nevertheless, if the Wildcats wanted to build upon their lead, she would have to increase her scoring total substantially in the second half. Furthermore, the ‘Cats would need to continue to get on the offensive boards.
Kentucky snagged nine offensive boards in the first half, compared to only four grabs for Idaho State. The Wildcats obviously weren’t going to be able to rely on consistent scoring, so they were going to need constant tenacity.
And constant tenacity, they brought. The Wildcats continued to struggle offensively out of the break but solidified their defensive focus. Idaho State was doing everything to figure out Kentucky’s defense, but with each turnover, it seemed like more of a pointless effort.
Between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, the Bengals had missed 11 shots in a row. In turn, Kentucky had gone on a slow but steady 13-0 run. Rhyne Howard contributed nine of those 13 points.
The Wildcats headed into the final frame of the game leading 47-31. Kentucky had increased their lead largely due to a balanced scoring attack. The ‘Cats had eight players in the scoring column.
To pile on, the ‘Cats had figured out Idaho State guard Diaba Konate. Konate had scored 10 points in just the first half, but only recorded two points in the third period. Kentucky’s star power was quickly taking over, while Idaho State’s early spark had burnt out... or had it?
The Bengals were not ready to lay down and give up. Early on in the fourth period, Idaho State went on a 10-0 run to narrow Kentucky’s lead to 10. This explosion came nearly directly after Howard twisted her ankle and headed to the bench. As you could have guessed, it didn’t take long for Howard to check back in.
The two-time SEC Player of the Year didn’t waste any time shocking her team back to life. Upon Howard’s return, the Wildcats went on a 6-0 run capped off by a Blair Green three. In spite of the Bengals’ best efforts, the Wildcats continued to overwhelm them.
As the final minutes of the game slipped away, Kentucky center Olivia Owens continued to cause problems for Idaho State. Owens dominated the boards in the fourth period and matched Idaho State’s late-game physicality.
When it was all said and done, the Wildcats pulled away for a 71-63 win. Their balanced scoring had been just what Coach Elzy was looking for, but their slow start was not.
The Wildcats may have done enough to advance, but they undoubtedly have a lot to improve upon. Due to a barrage of missed layups, the team only shot 38% from the field. Additionally, the Wildcats committed a whopping 19 turnovers.
Despite the Wildcats’ shortcomings, a win is a win. The Wildcats won’t have long to fix their mistakes before their next game. The Wildcats will face five-seeded Iowa in the Round of 32 on Tuesday.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of an 87-72 victory over Central Michigan in the first round of the tournament. The Wildcats can’t afford to start out slow in their next contest as Iowa is the second highest-scoring team in the country. The Wildcats will square off against Iowa on Tuesday.