A slow start led to the lowest scoring game in Memorial Coliseum — both by Kentucky and by an opponent — this season. But it was enough for a win.
The No. 19 Wildcats (9-3) handed Radford (7-2) a 59-36 loss Sunday despite being down starter and defensive “heart and soul” Taylor Murray, who was missed the game with a broken left pinky.
“Big blow for us not having Taylor Murray,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She's been playing probably the best basketball of anybody on our team.”
Murray, who has led the Cats in scoring in three games this season, was averaging 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds over the past 10 starts.
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In her absence, Kentucky didn't struggle on defense. But the offense scored its fewest points since Jan. 17 last season against Auburn.
After a narrow and slow first quarter, the Wildcats stretched their lead to 23 points early in the fourth quarter and added to that through the final 10 minutes.
The offense relied on the usual duo of Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator, who tied for the team lead in scoring with 13 points apiece. Alyssa Rice lead the team in rebounds with nine.
“We haven't faced a lady like No. 13 (Akhator) yet,” Radford Coach Mike McGuire said. “We let her really just go to work. … She was very difficult for us today.”
The Wildcats’ speed and the Highlanders’ nerves forced Radford to turn the ball over 19 times, on which Kentucky capitalized and scored 19 points.
“You can’t have 13 empty possessions against [Kentucky] in the first half and think you’re going to compete,” McGuire said.
Murray’s injury gave way for Jaida Roper to make her first start of the year, and for freshman Paige Poffenberger to contribute. Poffenberger had played 18 total minutes this season.
Roper took this opportunity to prove that she can, as she puts it, “do what Taylor (Murray) does.”
Roper and Poffenberger combined for three steals. Mitchell called Poffenberger a “jolt” on the defense in the way she “harassed [Radford’s] point guard.”
Rice was sure to show appreciation for the bench’s contribution during Sunday’s game, which included Makenzie Cann’s 11 points and seven boards.
The Radford matchup seemed to be a perfect storm for the Wildcats. With a loss to Arizona State fresh on their minds, the opponent on a winning streak and the absence of Murray, Mitchell was “really concerned” about Sunday’s game.
“We didn’t shoot the ball that great today,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a ways to go to play our best basketball. But this was a difficult week for us.”
The Wildcats return to Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday to face Washington State. It will be their final test before taking on their fourth ranked opponent of the season, No. 18 Duke, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
Washington State at Kentucky
Noon Wednesday (SEC Network Plus)