It was a storybook Sunday for the University of Kentucky’s floor general.
On the day she and three teammates were honored for their four years of service to the Wildcats, Taylor Murray was nearly perfect in leading No. 16 Kentucky to a crucial 57-52 victory over LSU in front of a packed house on Senior Day in Memorial Coliseum.
It was the sixth win in a row for UK (23-5, 10-4 Southeastern Conference). The Wildcats are now alone in third place and can clinch a top-4 seed and a double bye in the SEC Tournament with a victory over Texas A&M in their home finale on Thursday. Missouri lost on Sunday to fall two games behind UK in the standings.
Murray missed just one shot on her way to a team-high 18 points, going 7-for-8 from the floor. And to top it all off, the senior point guard clinched the win on the heels of her only misfire.
After LSU (16-10, 7-7 SEC) clawed back from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to get within one possession of the Cats with less than a minute to play, Murray attacked the basket. Her shot was off target and the Tigers corralled the rebound. But LSU never got a chance for a game-tying shot. Murray swiped her second steal of the game and drew a foul, then knocked down both free throws to set the final score with 16 seconds to go.
She had a free run at the basket as the final seconds wound down after KeKe McKinney rebounded LSU’s final miss and hit her with an outlet pass, but Murray pulled up to run out the clock. UK Coach Matthew Mitchell called a timeout with two seconds left to pull Murray and fellow senior Maci Morris off the floor, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd of 6,911.
Mitchell was thankful for Murray’s efficiency on a day the rest of the Wildcats struggled to find the basket. UK shot just 36 percent from the field, with everyone but Murray combining to go 11 of 41 from the floor.
“It was not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination,” Mitchell said. “On a day where it was just hard for us to get the ball in the basket, thank goodness (Murray) was really on today and just played the kind of game on Senior Day that you probably dream about having.
“Every point was important today and, certainly, Taylor’s performance was just superb. I know she’ll remember her Senior Day fondly … She’s really running our team right now. She had it under control from a strategic standpoint in the fourth quarter.”
Murray said her success on Sunday was simply an outgrowth of her seizing the opportunities she was given.
“It was just a matter of staying aggressive. If they’re denying Maci (Morris) or Rhyne (Howard), why not drive it,” she said. “I’m just taking advantage of that. I’m not really the top scorer on our team, but whenever I have an opportunity I’m going to take the shot.”
Murray was one of three Wildcats to hit double figures in scoring. Howard and Tatyana Wyatt each had 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. Morris scored 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting and added two steals and two assists in front of a healthy contingent of backers from her native Bell County.
Asked to discuss what Morris has meant to the program over the last four years, Mitchell said, “It would be hard to describe in words adequately.
“She’s come in from day one and really worked. She doesn’t talk a whole lot, she just lets her work ethic make a statement for her … We’re real proud of Maci and so happy she got a win today on Senior Day.”
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 16 Kentucky
7 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network Plus)