The road has been rough on the Kentucky Wildcats this season.
UK is 9-1 at home, but three trips into enemy territory have resulted in three frustrating defeats.
The latest came Thursday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of the Duke Blue Devils and a site where the UK women are now 0-3 all-time.
Maryland transfer Lexie Brown outshined Kentucky’s Makayla Epps in a matchup of star point guards, scoring 24 points to lead 15th-ranked Duke to a 69-54 victory over No. 17 Kentucky.
Duke (12-1) broke open a game that had been nip-and-tuck all night with a 10-0 burst to open the fourth quarter, extending a 49-44 lead after three quarters to 59-44.
Cold shooting spelled Kentucky’s demise. The Wildcats (9-4) finished 18-of-60 from the field for 30 percent, making five of 16 from three-point range.
The length and quickness of Duke’s matchup zone forced Kentucky to fire from the perimeter throughout the second half. The Blue Devils — fielding the tallest team in school history with seven players 6-foot-2 or taller — outscored Kentucky 30-22 in the paint, but the Cats got only six of those points after halftime.
Kentucky did not score its first field goal of the fourth quarter until Maci Morris connected on a baseline floater with 1:58 left to play. By then, Duke’s lead was 67-49. UK shot 3-for-18 in the final quarter.
“I thought the team certainly battled tonight at times. The game was decided when we couldn’t make shots and we let that deflate us,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said on the UK radio network after the game. “We felt sorry for ourselves. ... We were just so fragile mentally and emotionally right there. ... We have to work on that.”
Taylor Murray, returning to the starting lineup after missing two games with a broken left pinky finger, led Kentucky with 18 points, but only two of those came after halftime. Epps scored 12 and Morris 11. Senior Evelyn Akhator, the team’s second-leading scorer, managed only one point against the Blue Devils’ massive front line.
Mitchell said Murray “did a good job” but noted that she was not her normally aggressive self in her first game back. “She did not attack the rim,” he said. The coach said he expects Murray to only get better as the season goes along.
Kentucky native Rebecca Greenwell got off to a slow start for Duke but finished with a double-double. The Owensboro Catholic graduate ended up with 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Kentucky came to Cameron Indoor ready to play. Mitchell noted Wednesday that the Wildcats returned from Christmas break with good energy and that was evident from the start.
Murray scored five of Kentucky’s first six points to launch the Wildcats to an 8-2 lead 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
Duke answered with an 11-2 run for a 13-10 advantage and led 16-14 after one quarter.
Epps, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, scored her first points on a putback of her own miss at the 7:43 mark to make it 20-16.
Murray’s 16 first-half points kept Kentucky in the game. Duke led 37-32 at halftime on the strength of 14 points by Brown and 11 by 6-foot-4 senior Oderah Chidom.
“We had a chance going into the fourth (quarter) on the road and we got deflated because we couldn’t make shots,” Mitchell reiterated. “We’ve got to find a way to win on the road. If we can learn from tonight, and get a little bit tougher and understand that things aren’t always going to go our way, this team has a chance to do some great things.”
Kentucky at Tennessee
4 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2)