AMES, Iowa — Kentucky's star was off.
But the Cats showed they are much, much more than A'dia Mathies.
They had just enough of everyone else to get past a gritty McNeese State team 68-62 on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Any night anybody can step up," Mathies said after the win at Hilton Coliseum. "You never know who it's going to be. You can't just expect to shut down one player and have the whole team fold.
"Nobody really shined; we all did it collectively," said Mathies, who picked up two fouls in the first two minutes and finished with just six points.
Kentucky (26-6), which earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament for the first time since 1982, had others pick up the slack.
Senior Keyla Snowden came off the bench and scored all of her team-high 11 points in the second half. Azia Bishop added 10 points, three rebounds and three blocked shots.
A collection of Cats contributed, including Bria Goss, Amber Smith, Samarie Walker and Samanatha Drake each pitching in eight points. Kastine Evans added seven points.
"It was a tough situation to be in and other people just stepped up," said Smith, the point guard, who had seven rebounds and four assists in the win. "Kastine stepped up; Keyla stepped up; other people stepped up."
It was UK's post trio of Bishop, Drake and Walker that did the most damage. Together, they helped the Cats outrebound the Cowgirls 58-40.
The 58 boards, including 36 on the defensive end, was the most for UK this season.
Walker had 13 rebounds and Drake had a game-high four blocks.
"Our post players actually looked like high-level players today," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It's been a while since that happened."
UK grabbed a double-digit lead early in the second half. But with nine minutes to go, McNeese State (26-8) scored seven unanswered to cut UK's lead to 46-42.
"That was just too close for comfort," Smith said. "Coach said in the huddle, 'We've got this. Let's get after them for four minutes.' We just settled down and sat down and guarded them."
That was as close as it would get.
UK responded with an 11-3 run to put it out of reach. The Cowgirls hung around, but never got the late surge they needed.
"We don't play a whole lot of folks and I thought fatigue set in," Cowgirls Coach Brooks Donald-Williams said. "Our lack of depth hurt us. ... When they made their runs, I felt like we were really fatigued and when we gathered ourselves, we went right back at them."
Kentucky's depth was the advantage, outscoring the McNeese State bench 31-8.
Despite having Mathies and UK's next two leading scorers, Goss and Snowden, combine for three points in the first half, the Cats led McNeese State 31-28 at the break.
"In the first half, our three leading scorers have no field goals," Mitchell said. "That's a difficult, difficult scenario for us to blow the doors off somebody. I just don't think that was going to happen today with the way McNeese played."
The Cowgirls were led by Caitlyn Baggett's game-high 22 points. Martika Hull added 20 points, 13 rebounds and six steals.
"I thought we did a great job of attacking and taking advantage of their pressure up top," said Donald-Williams, whose team didn't buckle under UK's pressure, turning the ball over just 13 times (a new low for a UK opponent this season). "They challenge everything you do and I thought we really handled it well."
Kentucky had its challenges, too, and handled those well.
That's what Mitchell said he's going to remember, not that Mathies struggled or that UK's press wasn't as effective as it usually is.
Snowden agreed. UK was happy to survive and advance.
"No matter if we won by one point — or a half of a point if we could — we just needed to get to that next game," she said. "And that's what we did."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com