After back-to-back games outscoring opponents by more than 50 points for the first time in program history and back-to-back games making more than 10 three-pointers for the first time since 2012, the question for the Kentucky women’s basketball team Thursday was could they do it against stiffer competition.
Well, no. But they did come away with an impressive 63-51 win Thursday night against Virginia on a cold, snowy, late night in Rupp Arena.
Virginia, a team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, had trouble with Kentucky’s tenacious defense, coughing up 32 turnovers, but also caused problems for the Cats, holding UK to just 27 percent from the field in the first half.
It wasn’t until UK began knocking down shots in the third period that they reaped dividends from their pressure.
An 11-2 UK run bookended by three-pointers from Maci Morris and Blair Green broke open the game and gave the Cats the momentum to push up by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter.
In Virginia’s season opener, the Cavaliers went up against No. 6 Mississippi State and got handled, losing 72-44 in Starkville, where the Cats will travel on Jan. 6. They presented a tougher challenge for the Cats as both offenses struggled to an 8-8 tie after one quarter.
Kentucky tried to go at Virginia’s towering Felicia Aiyeotan, a 6-foot-9 center from Nigeria, but had little success. Aiyeotan had five blocks in the game, including one in the middle of a sequence that saw a made three-pointer by Mone Jones and a fast-break layup by Khyasia Caldwell put the Cavaliers up 15-12 early in the second quarter.
Mitchell anticipated Virginia would pose problems with their size at his pregame press conference Tuesday.
“I don’t think we ever are going to go into the game and we’re just going to be the most powerful team to go one-on-one and in individual matchups,” he said. “Our power will come from the team, so we really need to be disruptive and to do that you’ve got to put tremendous pressure on the ball and that’s something that we need to improve on quite frankly.”
Taylor Murray led the team in scoring with 12 points, helping her cross the 1,000 point threshold for her career. Rhyne Howard and Jaida Roper each scored 11. All nine UK players who entered the game scored and played more than 13 minutes.
High Point at Kentucky
When: 2 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network Plus)