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COLUMN: Kentucky’s overtime loss to Mississippi State puts the Cats in a precarious position in Athens

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky forward Ajae Petty comes down with a rebound during the Kentucky vs. Mississippi State women’s basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 77-74. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

On Thursday night, Kentucky women’s basketball (9-13, 2-6) was defeated by the Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-5, 5-3) 77-74 in overtime.

Mississippi State was surfing a high wave into Lexington as the Bulldogs most recently defeated the No. 9 ranked LSU Tigers on Jan. 29.

Despite that, as has been the case a lot in men’s and women’s college basketball this season, teams tend to decline after big wins and Kentucky looked to take advantage of that in hopes that State would be another one of those squads trending downwards.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they struggled from the free-throw line once more while also adding another negative in their inability to sink three-point shots.

Heading back home and getting ready to face the Bulldogs, Kentucky knew what it had to do strategically, but the hardest part for it – as it’s been all season – was being able to execute and it failed in that category again.

Kentucky went 13-20 (65%) from the free-throw line and it ended up playing a crucial role down the stretch as the Cats lost by just three points.

Despite missing free-throws, the Wildcats also came up empty on multiple of their three-point attempts, shooting a total of 23 three-point shots and nailing five of them – yes, five.

Maddie Scherr attempted the most shots from beyond the arch as she took eight, but she only capitalized on three of them and Saniah Tyler – who was coming off of a 14-point performance in Tuscaloosa – went 1-7 on three-point shots.

Scherr and Tyler each had good looks from the three-point line in the dying seconds of overtime but both were unable to get the shots to fall, resulting in a missed opportunity to force a second overtime.

“I had a good look and you know, I didn’t knock it down,” Scherr said.

Tyler was able to contribute in other ways, scoring another 14 points, but if she was able to be more consistent from behind the three-point line, the game could have had a different result.

In the end, as it works in all sports, one player can’t be blamed for the loss. There will always be a conversation surrounding the team funded by a ton of “what if’s” and, on Thursday night, Kentucky’s main headline was “what if it hit those 3-pointers and nailed those free-throws.”

It is easy to move past a loss, especially mid-season with multiple opportunities ahead, but what has fans and critics most worried is that this Kentucky team hasn’t been efficient all season.

Kentucky is shooting 63.6% from the free-throw line, which is the 13th worst percentage in the SEC and, lest anyone forget, there are 14 teams in the conference.

Kentucky looks ahead to its next contest, which is on Sunday, Feb. 4, against the Georgia Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs are currently struggling as well, sitting one spot behind Kentucky at the bottom of the SEC standings.

Sunday brings a very large opportunity for Kentucky to get back on track and a win would be big for the team’s confidence, however in the same way the game could ignite its flame, it could also permanently snuff it out as a loss could be debilitating to the campaign. While it may be seen as dramatic, the contest in Athens may very well be a must win.

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