It took about five minutes for a game that started out close to turn into a blowout.
That’s the way it is against No. 2 Mississippi State, which needed all of five minutes to make a 19-2 run and run away with the victory over Kentucky, 81-58, in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
It was a familiar formula for the Bulldogs, who dropped Kentucky for the third time in 19 days.
“That’s kind of how we are, we’re going to get you once or twice a game with some runs,” Coach Vic Schaefer said of the spree, which featured five straight three-pointers that broke the game open at Bridgestone Arena on Friday afternoon.
Roshunda Johnson had three three-pointers during that stretch and led the Bulldogs with 20 points and four assists. Blair Schaefer had two of her five makes from long range in that stretch.
Mississippi State made 10 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“Just seemed like they always had a dagger,” Schaefer said of his hot-shooting guards, including daughter Blair, who had 15 points in the quarterfinal victory.
The unbeaten Bulldogs (31-0) were a tad heated after a first quarter in which Kentucky made a late run to grab a 23-22 lead behind seven points from Amanda Paschal, who finished with a career-high 13 points.
“That’s not how we wanted to come out, and I just felt like we had to come harder,” Johnson said. “And (Coach) said it, we, some people weren’t playing hard, so we had to keep going.”
It led to a more physical game and a game that made it difficult for Kentucky to find much of an offense after that first quarter surge when it made 66.7 percent of its shots.
Before that big 19-2 run in the second quarter, it looked like it was a moment when the Cats (15-17) might be able to capitalize, especially with the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-7 forward Teaira McCowan out with two fouls.
“We didn’t handle it well, turned the ball over,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Mississippi State’s physical play, which helped create 13 UK turnovers, which turned into 21 Bulldogs points. “They’re an incredible shooting team and they’re shooting the ball really well. So they’re awfully tough.”
The Bulldogs’ two All-SEC players McCowan (12 points, 11 rebounds in 29 minutes) and Victoria Vivians (17 points, seven rebounds and four assists) played well enough, but the Bulldogs had plenty of firepower all around.
Mitchell said: “Wish we could have played better today.”
After seven straight games scoring 20 or more points, Kentucky star Maci Morris was held to 13 points in the loss. Taylor Murray led UK with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
For the first time in eight years, the Cats will not play in the NCAA Tournament, and the losing record will keep them out of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament as well.
The SEC’s automatic WNIT bid will go to Alabama, a team UK has beaten twice this season, because the Crimson Tide finished the regular season a game ahead of UK in the conference standings.
That likely leaves UK’s only postseason possibility coming in the Women’s Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament played at home venues of the teams involved.
After the regular season wrapped up, Mitchell said he would like UK to play in the postseason one way or another.
“We will definitely look for opportunities to play,” the UK coach said Sunday. “In my mind, as long as the team keeps coming with great energy at practice, and working hard, I would love for them to have an opportunity to play.”