In its biggest test since a narrow loss at Louisville in early December, the No. 16 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team got pushed around by No. 7 Mississippi State in Starkville on Sunday.
The Bulldogs owned the paint, pulling down twice as many rebounds as the Cats on their way to an 86-71 victory. The loss snapped a five-game win streak for Kentucky, which fell to 14-2 on the season and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play. Mississippi State, the defending regular-season SEC champion, improved to 14-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC.
Kentucky’s defense was disruptive once again, forcing 24 turnovers. But the Cats couldn’t take advantage as they turned the ball over 22 times themselves.
A slow start doomed UK. The Cats trailed 26-11 after the first quarter and never got within single digits of the lead the rest of the way. UK twice got within 10 points in the third quarter, on three-pointers by Maci Morris and Jaida Roper. But Mississippi State forward Anriel Howard’s late three-pointer put the Bulldogs ahead by 15 heading into the fourth.
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Sparked by its senior front court of Howard and Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State outrebounded UK 48-24, converting those extra opportunities into 25 second-chance points and outscoring the Cats in the paint 48-22.
Howard led the Bulldogs with 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, while McCowan, a 6-foot-7 center, added 13 points and 10 boards.
“Mississippi State is a potent and powerful team, no doubt about it,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “You have to give Mississippi State credit ... We fought hard and did so many things that we wanted to do ... So many lessons we can learn and get better from.”
Morris led Kentucky with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting, going 2-for-5 from three-point range. Morris moved up to No. 13 on UK’s all-time scoring list in the loss, passing Jennifer O’Neill.
Freshman Rhyne Howard was the only other Wildcat to hit double figures in scoring, chipping in 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting and grabbing a team-high five rebounds. Mitchell said Howard continues to improve.
“This is a great game for her,” he said. “I talked to her the whole game. She kept trying and got better and I am really proud of how she is developing.”
Kentucky returns to action Thursday at No. 10 Tennessee. On Sunday, the Volunteers lost to unranked Missouri, 66-64, in Knoxville.
No. 16 Kentucky at No. 10 Tennessee
7 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network)