MURFREESBORO — Kentucky knew it would be its biggest test yet, and it was.
Middle Tennessee State halted the Cats' 11-game win streak with a 57-51 win in front of 4,811 in the Murphy Center on Monday night.
It was the Cats' first loss of the season, and it was a difficult one that saw UK turn over the ball a season-high 29 times against a soft 2-2-1 press.
"We made terrible decisions," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was all decision making. We just rushed so much."
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Jackie Pickel, whose sight was blurred from a poke in the eye earlier in the second half, hit a clutch three-pointer with 32 seconds left to give the Raiders the lead for keeps 54-51. It was only the team's second made three of the second half.
"I just got my feet set and got ready," Pickel said.
Coach Rick Insell knew his shooter would sink it.
"Those are the types of shots she's made her whole life," he said.
Kentucky (11-1) trailed for the first time at the half and fell behind by as many as 13 points before battling back to force three ties in the second half, including the final time, 51-51, on two made free throws by A'dia Mathies.
But that was before Pickel's dagger from well beyond the men's three-point line.
Brandi Brown led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points for Middle and Pickel added 13.
Alysha Clark, the nation's third-leading scorer, also had 13 points — almost 12 below her average — and nine rebounds for MTSU (6-4), which won its second in a row and outrebounded UK 39-38.
Victoria Dunlap made six of 10 shots and had 20 points and 16 rebounds, but she was the only Cat who managed double digits.
The rest of the UK team shot 9-for-29.
Several times it looked as if UK were going to come back. Its defense held the Raiders without a point for nearly seven minutes of the second half while scoring 10 straight to tie it at 43 on two free throws by Lydia Watkins.
MTSU answered by scoring five points in a row, including a Chelsia Lymon layup with 5:26 to go that was her team's first basket in almost eight minutes.
Mitchell said battling back took its toll on his team.
"We let them get out to a big lead, so now you're fighting that all night long," he said.
Kentucky also was plagued by poor free-throw shooting, making just 59.4 percent.
"We came in tonight and missed 13 (free throws) in a six-point ball game, and then you don't rebound. It's just a bad recipe for getting beat," Mitchell said.
But really it was the turnovers that were the key. Two players had seven for UK. Middle scored 27 points off the miscues.
UK coughed up the ball 16 times in the first half alone.
"We felt like coming in we were going to to try to put a little pressure on them and we succeeded," Insell said.
The win was a good one for Middle Tennessee, which returned every player from an NCAA Tournament team.
Insell had positive things to say about UK's future, too.
"They've got a good team, and they're going to be a contender in the SEC, you'll see," said Insell, whose son Matt is an assistant at Kentucky. "The 11-0 record coming in was not fools' gold."