Facing its first major test of the season on Thanksgiving Day, the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team did more than pass with flying colors. It made a statement.
The Wildcats dominated No. 17 South Florida, 85-63, in the first bout of a three-game gauntlet at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on Thursday to improve to 5-0 on the year.
In their first trip away from Lexington and facing a ranked opponent for the first time this season, the Wildcats carved up the Bulls. After South Florida tied the game early in the second quarter, the Cats went on a 6-0 run that included a three-pointer from Maci Morris. UK ended the half on a 10-0 run to take a 44-28 lead at halftime.
Kentucky led by 26 points in the fourth quarter before the Bulls cut the margin to 19 with just under two minutes to play, but Morris responded with another three-pointer to end any hope of a South Florida comeback.
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“It was a big win. The team really was focused and came out and just kept their poise,” said UK Coach Matthew Mitchell. “I told the team at halftime I was so proud of how they came out and presented themselves today just from a hustle standpoint and the eye test ... I told them in the back, I don’t have to see a stat sheet, I know what it looks like and we really out-hustled South Florida today and it was a credit to our team.”
Freshman Rhyne Howard led the Wildcats with 18 points while Taylor Murray added 17 points. Mitchell singled out the senior after the game.
“Taylor was outstanding today with her pace and her attack,” Mitchell said. “She’s playing really good basketball right now, and she is doing it on both ends. She’s disrupting on defense, she’s moving the ball great and pushing the ball, so really pleased and really proud.”
Jaida Roper contributed 12 points off the bench and KeKe McKinney got into double digits for the first time this season, scoring 10 points.
The Cats face UCLA on Friday then wrap up their trip against North Carolina on Saturday.
“This is something. South Florida who is ranked in the top 20, and your reward for that is to play UCLA ... ,” Mitchell said. “So that’ll be a tough game, but just love where our team is right now
“We’ll enjoy it for a little while and get ready to saddle up and see if we can get another one tomorrow.”
Kentucky vs. UCLA
What: Paradise Jam
Where: St Thomas, Virgin Islands
When: 1 p.m.
Live stream: FloHoops.com (subscription required)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.5