With two games remaining until Kentucky women’s basketball begins Southeastern Conference play, Tuesday night’s tilt against an undermanned Western Carolina figured to be an all-points inspection of what else it needs to work on.
Maybe not much.
The No. 18 Cats (11-1) destroyed the undermanned Catamounts (2-9) with their biggest rout of the season, 99-39 in Memorial Coliseum.
Six UK players scored in double figures as Kentucky showed no signs of a letdown or a letup two games after its first loss of the season to Louisville a week ago.
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“They had a lot players missing tonight and I thought they gave a valiant effort,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Western Carolina. “I was proud of our team for just playing hard and trying to come into the game focused with disciplined, consistent effort.”
Mitchell said lapses in their play hurt the Cats in their only loss to No. 3 Louisville a week ago, and he saw their attention slip during a relatively easy win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday after going up big early. So, to maintain their energy and momentum against any opponent is important.
“You have to stay focused on your fundamentals. You can’t get sloppy,” Mitchell said. “We wanted 40 minutes of good energy tonight, and I thought we got that.”
Kentucky took command early with Tatyana Wyatt getting multiple touches in the paint in the first five minutes and converting five out of six of them as UK outpaced the Catamounts with a 21-4 run in the first quarter behind those 10 points from Wyatt.
“I felt good about it. When I saw the first layup go through I got more confidence,” Wyatt said.
Mitchell commended Wyatt for seeing the opportunities the defense was giving her and taking advantage of them, a focus of practice this week.
Western Carolina dressed only seven players and had two go down with injuries at various points in the first half. That didn’t bode well against Kentucky’s all-out pressure defense. Farasia Hodge got treatment and was able to return to the game from what looked like a turned ankle. Western Carolina’s Jada Miller, however, went down late in the half and did not return.
Kentucky forced 17 turnovers in the first half alone (24 for the game) and kept the Catamounts without a bucket for a stretch of more than five minutes to begin the second quarter as it extended its lead to 44-11.
“We have to play our hardest no matter who we’re playing” said UK’s Jada Roper, who had 12 points off the bench, including two three-pointers. “Our focus is to get better every game and this was our one chance to get better today.”
Maci Morris found her range against a tired Catamounts defense just over midway through the second quarter, hitting a pair of threes around a KeKe McKinney basket. A Rhyne Howard three was followed immediately by a Taylor Murray steal and jumper that gave the Cats a 56-20 margin at half. It was the most points the Cats have scored in a first half this season.
Kentucky opened the third quarter scoring the first 11 points with Wyatt getting four more to add to her season high of 16. Roper capped the 16-0 run with a three-pointer to make it 67-20 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
It was the Catamounts’ worst loss of the year, surpassing an 84-49 defeat to Georgia Tech on Nov. 14.
In all, 10 Cats scored led by Howard’s 18 points. Morris had 13, Murray and Amanda Paschal each had 11. Kentucky outrebounded the Catamounts 41-22.
Murray State at Kentucky
When: Noon Friday (SEC Network Plus)