UK women’s basketball earns a bit of revenge with decisive win against Mizzou

Sunday afternoon provided the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team a chance for redemption, and the Wildcats responded with a 77-54 victory against Missouri at Memorial Coliseum.

It marks the first time UK won a conference game by at least 20 points since a 90-62 home victory against Auburn on Feb. 27, 2022. Missouri has never won a road game against UK.

The Tigers, who handed the Wildcats their first conference loss of seven in the Dec. 29 SEC opener in Columbia, Mo., faced a much different UK team this time around. While the starting lineup remained the same, the Wildcats brought forth a new energy and level of skill, sharpened and refined by multiple disappointing losses.

“It is very encouraging,” UK head coach Kyra Elzy said. “It is a very happy day. I told them in the locker room, we are a better team today than we were the first time that we played ‘em. We’re playing with so much more confidence offensively, have more of an identity. But what we talked about is ‘refuse to lose.’ That’s been the message the last two days, refuse to lose. What are you willing to do outside of your comfort zone to help us get over the hump? We’ve been close, we’ve been close. But we hadn’t gotten over the hump. And I thought they were willing to sell out today to get over the hump.”

UK (10-11, 2-7 SEC) opened with an explosive first-quarter performance marked by the continued offensive leadership of guards Robyn Benton, Maddie Scherr and Jada Walker. The Wildcats outscored the Tigers 22-9 during the period.

“(UK) came out tonight and really, I thought in that first quarter, threw the first punch.” Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton said. “And I didn’t think we responded well. I thought (Elzy’s) kids played really, really hard. Very physical, very aggressive, very confident. They did a great job defensively. When you watch ‘em on film and you see they do such a good job of turning people over. Some of those are forced turnovers, but they can get compounded by unforced turnovers. I thought that really hurt us in the first half.”

UK forced 22 turnovers and scored 28 points off those mistakes, while only allowing the Tigers to score eight points off 13 turnovers committed by the Wildcats.

The team’s post play, which had one of its strongest showings of the season in Thursday’s 71-68 loss to Auburn, kept UK on track in the midst of early second-quarter struggles. The Wildcats’ ability to adjust to the Tigers’ adjustments returned momentum in favor of UK, which finished with a 9-0 run in the final 2:36 of the half.

Kentucky’s Jada Walker scored 18 points to go with five assists and three steals in Sunday’s win against Missouri at Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky’s Jada Walker scored 18 points to go with five assists and three steals in Sunday’s win against Missouri at Memorial Coliseum.

Elzy was proud of how her team responded.

“That’s big, we called a timeout, we talked about it in the huddle,” Elzy said. “Settle in here, lock back in defensively, don’t play so fast. But Missouri is a great team. They are well-coached, they can score, so they are always in the game. They’re extremely tough. But we talked about, they are going to make a run, but we must answer the run. It starts on the defensive end and play from there. And I thought they reset their mindset for the defensive end and then we scored on the other end.”

Missouri (14-8, 3-6) came out firing in the third, but UK matched the Tigers’ determination. The Wildcats outscored Missouri in the third quarter 28-20 despite an aggressive 12 points from Tigers forward Hayley Frank.

Ultimately, UK’s elevated communication and knockdown shooting proved to be too much for the Tigers to handle.

The Wildcats got big games from Benton, Walker, Scherr and Blair Green, all of whom scored in double figures on an afternoon where UK shot 52% from the field.

“I think the last couple weeks really just haven’t gone as planned,” Green said. “Leading up to this game, we really had to look ourselves in the mirror and have some tough talks. Have some heart-to-hearts, and just figure out who we are. Figure out who we are individually and what we can bring to this team. That loss at Mizzou, that really hurt us because we knew that we could beat that team. We were up on them in the first half and we kind of let it go, so our biggest thing is ‘no let-ups.’ No let-ups at all.”

UK’s one-two punch in the post, Nyah Leveretter and Adebola Adeyeye, combined for 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

Walker led all players in scoring with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field, including 2-of-3 from long range. Ten of Walker’s 18 points were scored in the third quarter. She also contributed two rebounds and three steals.

“We have it in us,” Elzy said. “Our motor has to be extremely high. I told them, ‘We have to play with high octane.’ Even though they didn’t know what octane meant, but it’s OK. ‘Big energy! Y’all understand that!’ We just have to be tough, relentless defensively and play to our strength, which is transition offense.”

Next game

Kentucky at No. 1 South Carolina

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 10-11 (2-7 SEC), South Carolina 21-0 (9-0 SEC)

Series: South Carolina leads 38-35

Last meeting: South Carolina won 95-66 on Jan. 12 at Memorial Coliseum