Cats survive Tiger comeback on senior day


Senior guard Taylor Murray dribbles the ball up the court. University of Kentucky women’s basketball team lost to South Carolina 74-70 at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb| Staff

Jake Maynard

The Kentucky’s women’s basketball team defeated the LSU Tigers 57-52 Sunday afternoon to keep them in the race for the SEC Championship. This is the Wildcats’ second win over LSU this season, and ust like in the teams’ first meeting, LSU mounted a late-game comeback to challenge the Cats as the clock ran down, making for a memorable senior day.

“(I’m) very happy to win any SEC game,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said, “Always grateful for a victory, particularly on senior day and in particular with this senior class.”

Before the game seniors Paige Poffenberger, LaShae Halsel, Taylor Murray and Maci Morris were honored for their commitment to Kentucky over the past four years. Poffenberger did not play due to medically retiring from basketball earlier this season, but the other three seniors started.

Murray lead the Wildcats to a 12-6 lead over the Tigers in the first quarter with four points and an assist on 100 percent shooting. Kentucky’s full-court defense rattled LSU, forcing the Tigers to turn the ball over six times and shot just 14 percent in the first quarter. LSU’s rebounding allowed them to stay in the game–they outrebounded UK by four in the initial period and scored 33 percent of their points on second chance attempts. The Tigers’ struggles from line hurt them badly as they shot only 2-of-6 in the quarter.

Mitchell addressed Murray’s accurate shooting.

“On a day where it was just hard for us to get the ball in the basket, thank goodness she was really on today,” he said. 

The second period began with a scoring drought for both teams. The first basket didn’t come until LSU made a layup with 8:21 left in the quarter. Kentucky responded with a 6-1 run in the next two minutes before a second drought occurred. Neither team was able to score for two-and-a-half minutes until an LSU jumper with 3:48 remaining in the half. Again, Kentucky responded hard, ending the quarter with a 10-3 run. Rhyne Howard ended the half with a second three to give the Wildcats a 28-15 lead going into the second half.

After two quarters of Kentucky dominance, LSU came out of the half with a challenge for the Cats. With 5:32 remaining in the quarter, the Tigers cut the game to single digits behind an 8-2 run and six points from Ayana Mitchell. The Wildcats were able to push the lead back up to 12, but that was immediately answered by an LSU run to cut the game to just seven. However, Kentucky rallied and ended the quarter with a six-point run as Howard ended her second straight quarter with a last-second shot. 

The Wildcats entered the final quarter of play with a 45-32 lead and played like they felt safe. LSU out-hustled the Cats for an 8-0 run half way through the period and then a second run, this time for five unanswered a minute later. With 1:45 remaining in the game, the Tigers cut the Kentucky lead to just two points, and it was the closest the game had been since the start of the second quarter.

Murray was able to get to the line the next play but made only one of two free throws. LSU and then UK went scoreless on their next possessions, but a steal from Murray gave the ball to the Cats with under 20 seconds remaining.  

Murray sank two clutch free throws with 16.3 seconds left in the game to give UK a five-point berth. Murray was thankful for the opportunity to take those free throws; she looked at them as redemption.

“When I was at Arkansas and I was at the same spot I missed both,” she said.

In the final moments of the game, LSU drove inside for a layup only to have it blocked by Keke McKinney. Morris threw a long pass down the court to Murray to secure the game for UK.

Murray led Kentucky with 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. She ended with three assists, two steals and a rebound.

“She played the type of game on senior day that you just dream about having,” said Mitchell.

Howard and Tatyana Wyatt each ended with 12 points and five rebounds. Howard had a block and two steals on the defensive end while Wyatt had two blocks of her own.

Morris rounded out Kentucky’s double-digit scorers with exactly 10 points. She struggled shooting, making just three of her eight shots. Morris also had two assists, a rebound and two steals.

Kentucky’s next game will be against Texas A&M on Thursday, Feb. 28. This will be the Wildcats’ final game of the regular season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 and the game will be available to watch on SEC Network+.