Junior Maci Morris scored 18 points, but the Kentucky women’s basketball team could not overcome a slow start, as the Wildcats lost to No. 7 Tennessee 63-49 on Sunday at Rupp Arena.
Morris scored in double figures for the 14th time in 15 games this season despite suffering a cut above her left eye in the second quarter. Morris returned and played the remainder of the game with a bandage over the cut.
Kentucky (8-7, 0-1 SEC) got nine points from freshman Dorie Harrison, while senior Alyssa Rice had six points and a team-high eight rebounds. The Wildcats held the advantage in bench points, 18-4, and forced the Lady Vols into 21 turnovers.
Tennessee (13-0, 1-0) scored the first 10 points of the game as Kentucky missed its first six shots from the field. The Cats got on the board with 5:45 left in the period on a jumper by Morris, but the Lady Vols were able to extend the lead, holding a 26-7 advantage after one period.
Kentucky scored the first five points of the second period on a layup by Jaida Roper and a three-pointer by Makenzie Cann. Tennessee answered with the next six points to take a 32-12 lead, but Kentucky was able to cut the lead to 16 on two occasions. When Harrison scored with 4:00 left in the period, Tennessee’s lead was 36-20. Neither team would score for the remainder of the half.
The Lady Vols led by as many as 23 points in the third quarter and led 51-31 after three periods. In the fourth quarter, Kentucky was able to cut the lead to 14, but the Cats would get no closer.
Kentucky returns to action on Thursday, as the Wildcats head to College Station to play Texas A&M. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
Team Records and Series Notes
– Kentucky falls to 8-7 this season, while Tennessee is 13-0.
– Today’s game marked Kentucky’s third against a top-10 team this season, having fallen to No. 9/9 Baylor and No. 3/4 Louisville.
– Matthew Mitchell is in his 11th season as head coach at Kentucky. He is the winningest head coach in program history at 249-107.
– Tennessee leads the all-time series between the two teams, 55-11, including a 23-8 mark in games played in Lexington.
– This was the second game of the series played inside Rupp Arena.
o UK claimed the victory in the first game, 66-63, vs. No. 1 Tennessee on Jan. 26, 2006.
– Kentucky is set to play its first SEC road contest on Thursday, traveling to College Station, Texas, to take on No. 22/21 Texas A&M. The game will be broadcast live on SEC Network and on the UK Sports Radio Network with Darren Headrick calling the action.
– Kentucky used the starting combination of senior Alyssa Rice, senior Makenzie Cann, junior Taylor Murray, junior Maci Morris and freshman KeKe McKinney.
o UK is 2-4 with that starting-five combination.
– Tennessee started the game on a 10-0 run as UK went 0-of-6 from the floor in the first four minutes of the game.
o UK closed the first quarter with a 26-7 deficit.
– The Wildcats were able to find some momentum in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Vols 13-10 and holding UT scoreless for the final 4:24 of the first half.
– Kentucky went on to outscore the Lady Vols 29-27 in the second half, paced by 13 second-half points from junior guard Maci Morris.
o In total, UK posted a 42-37 lead over Tennessee in the final three quarters.
– UK held the seventh highest scoring offense in the country to a season-low 63 points.
o The Lady Vols were averaging 88.3 points per game before today’s game.
o Their previous low this season was 68 points vs. Wichita State on Nov. 20.
– The Wildcats forced a season-high 21 turnovers from its opponent in the contest, and gave up just 12 turnovers.
– Kentucky’s 49 points scored is the first time the Wildcats have scored less than 50 points in a game since posting 48 vs. Louisville on Dec. 2, 2012.
– Maci Morris led all scorers in the contest with 18 points to go with two rebounds and three steals.
o She’s scored in double digits in all but one contest this season.
o Morris hit three 3s in the game, taking her career total to 139, which ranks seventh most in program history.
§ She needs just 23 more to tie Jenny Pfeiffer (2003-07) for sixth most.
o Morris eclipsed the 900-point mark in today’s game and has 912 career points.
§ Morris needs just 88 points to become the 33rd member of UK’s 1,000 point club. She needs 111 points to tie Sandy Harding for 32nd all-time on UK’s career scoring list.
§ She’s averaging 16.1 points per game this season.
o She’s led UK in scoring 10 times this season.
o Her three steals also matched a career high.
– Dorie Harrison added nine points in the contest.
o Her nine points matches her second-highest scoring production of the season and her highest since Nov. 16 vs. Montana.
– Alyssa Rice posted eight rebounds with six points in the game.
o Rice now has seven or more rebounds in 11 games this season.
o She has recorded five or more rebounds in every game but one this season.
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
“Well, give Tennessee a lot of credit. That first quarter really was difficult for us to come back from. They came out with a lot of energy and really ran the ball hard at us and we didn’t do a very good job. So, disappointing start to the game and, you know we just, we’ve got to fight our way out of this. You know, I think we’ll really be upset when we look at all the open shots that we missed. But, you know, we really got to dedicate ourselves to as a coaching staff making sure that we are trying to get as many game-speed shots as we can. So, good news is, between now and the 11th of January, we’ve got some time that we can do that. So, we’ve got to get in the gym, shoot the ball better, control all the things that are within our control and play better basketball, because I just don’t believe we are operating at full capacity right now. So, we’ll go back to work and see if we can improve and I really believe that we can.”
To what he attributes the fast start by Tennessee…
“Well, yeah, I didn’t think that we started the game with a lot of focus. You know, I think we clearly have a confidence issue right now. I think that there is some doubt in our minds and we’ve got to work hard to battle through that. I mean, the only way you get confidence is through achievement and so, against Tennessee, they are really talented. You can’t make those mistakes. We were making really bad mistakes in transition and they’re a team which we’ve seen this before, but really everybody could bring it down. You know, Jaime Nared’s such a great player because she’s basically played the power forward for them, but she could play point guard for them. So, I thought we started the game a little bit tentatively and low confidence and making really, really bad errors there in transition. So, when teams are laying it up on you in terms of transition, you are not executing well. So, you know, if you’re forcing people to kick out and make some 3s in transition, then you’ve executed, but it’s something where, as a coach, you just have to go back and find a way to do a better job to hold them accountable and make sure we do the things that we’re responsible for. Transition in defense, it’s a really important part of the game, and we worked on it, but we didn’t execute early on.”
On turnovers as a form of consolation for this team…
“Yeah, I mean, listen. Right now, what we have to do is understand that everything that’s happening, we are participating in and we are a much better collection of players than we are showing. Although we do have some veterans, everybody’s in a different role and we have just not done a good job as coaches of making everybody understand exactly what we’re needing from them because we’ve just got people that seem to be real uneasy and off-balance and they don’t seem to be comfortable in what we need from them. So, I’ve got to do a better job of that, but there are moments in the game today, you know, 26-7 it did not look very good at all, but they found some way to steady themselves in the second quarter and make some positive things happen. So where we are right now, as a coach, you have to make sure that they understand there is a way forward here, and it’s not magic or sprinkling some pixie dust on them or anything. They’ve got to know that they can play winning basketball. I have to create an atmosphere in practice that somehow brings it out of them. Clearly some things I’ve done it the past aren’t working with this group and it’s just all part of this team’s journey. So, we were really proud they were able to get 21 turnovers. It’s outstanding. And, you know, we’ve got to convert those into points and really we’re just not making any dynamic plays in transition and that’s always been something in the past we’ve had the ability to do, and we’ve got to try to find a way to get back to that.”
On Taylor Murray’s confidence the past few games…
“You know, since the Louisville game, really tried to settle the offense down by if we made a basket, you know, trying to get them into something and I think she’s kind of caught in between right now. It’s not what she’s done her first two years, so it’s just a great opportunity for her to get out of her comfort zone and learn and grow as a player. I know she’s willing to do that, and we even talked about it before going into this game. But she is a person that needs to improve. Her head coach needs to, I have to improve. I have to do a better job first and foremost and make sure that I show her a way forward. And she’s a great woman and she clearly has to play better and produce more than what happened today, but it’s a challenge in her basketball career. People are not gonna let her beat them the way she did her first two years. They can really focus on her. So, she’s gonna have to grow and think her way through it and I absolutely believe that she will and it’ll be better for her. She’ll be a better person for it and definitely a better player for it.”
“Just like to say what an amazing crowd today on New Year’s Eve. I really appreciate it. They were fantastic. We didn’t give them much to cheer about, but really great crowd. Very appreciative and wish everybody here a happy new year. Brighter days are ahead in 2018. Thanks.”
#4, Maci Morris, G
On whether she thought she was going to come back after stitches…
“I was coming back. There was no question about that.”
On Tennessee getting off to a fast start…
“We’ve been coming out and imaging other team’s intensities. So, we have to work on that and get that fixed.”
On Taylor Murray’s performance the last few games…
“I try to motivate Tay as much as I can. She’s my best friend, so I try to help her. When it comes down to Tay, I know how Tay is, and Tay knows how she is. So, hers is going to be self-driven. Whenever she decides to get out of it, she’ll get out of it.”
On Tennessee’s defense…
“I noticed early on they were keying in on me. It was hard for me. I thought the middle was wide open and I thought we got a lot of wide open shots, we just did not make any. So, kudos to Tennessee for playing us that way because it took away driving opportunities for us and it was harder for us to get the shot we wanted as well.”
Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick
“Just proud of our basketball team. It’s been a while since we’ve been up here and gotten a win. We focused on a couple of things. One was to take away their transition baskets and I thought we did a good job there. Second was rebounding. Kentucky is a great rebounding team. We wanted to make sure we zeroed in on that and I thought we did an awesome job. And thirdly, we did what we practice, and as coaches, when you practice things and see them on the court is awesome. And the only thing we didn’t do is we didn’t understand what a charge was. So, we’ll go back home and make sure they know what a charge is.”
On processing this game with the team…
“We didn’t lose momentum. Jaime Nared came out of the game and I said great game. I didn’t even know she was 2-of-11. I just saw her be a great leader. I saw her rebound. She had assists and steals. She had to do those things outside of scoring. I didn’t think we let up, but we missed easy shots. I just love our energy and effort and how we are playing together. I would love for us to play a perfect game, but we’re not. Our goal was to be 1-0 in the SEC for today and we are that.”
On having two freshmen stand out…
“They are two outstanding freshmen point guards for us. They are two different styles, which I love. I am not surprised by them bonding at one of the all-star games in the summer, and they came in to Tennessee and it wasn’t about them. In this day and time, that is hard to find. They came in wanting to learn and the upperclassmen came back to step up and go, ‘You know what, we need you.’ The freshmen listened, the upperclassmen were respectful, knew we were going to go through ups and downs. You know, coming into the SEC with the schedule we played and those two leading our team is outstanding and I can’t say enough about them both. They’re poised. They make turnovers, but I told them the only time I am going to get upset with turnovers is when we are not attacking the basket or we are not trying to make a play.”
On how much fun it has been…
“I can tell you how much fun it is. I got braces and I love to smile. Usually, I’m not going to smile with braces. Any coach knows that when you got talent that’s great, but when talent works hard and listens, you love it. When they want to learn, talent and these kids make you look like a great coach. And my job and the staff’s job is to put them in the right situation to be successful. They’ve got to be willing to learn and listen as well, and I think you’re seeing an example of these kids being willing to put their individual goals and what they want to do individually to the side and do a lot for this basketball team.”
#21 Mercedes Russell, C
On the decline of offensive production throughout the game…
“I think we were just taking quick shots and we weren’t hitting, but I think our defense was really good tonight from the start. We played really good. Our communication was on point. So, I think we really relied on our defense tonight, even though we weren’t making shots that we usually do.”
On playing zone defense…
“I would say that it’s very effective, but I think just depending on what team we’re playing, I mean that was part of our game plan, just kind of throw them off a little, ‘cause they’re used to getting in the rhythm in man-to-man. So, I think zone is very good for us. I think today we played it very well and that’s the best we’ve played all year, and obviously their shooters hit a couple 3s but I think we limited them as much as we could.”
#2 Evina Westbrook, G
On how she plans to improve on her number of turnovers…
“Personally I just have to take care of the ball better, point blank. As a point guard, as I said last game, I can’t have the highest turnovers for the team. That’s not how that should be, but I just have to get past it and get better next game.”
On playing as a freshman and what she’s learned from the upperclassmen…
“It’s been amazing, especially playing alongside Mercedes (Russell). She’s so smart, it makes my job a lot easier that she knows what I’m doing at all times. She knows when my passes are coming, and that’s just kind of as the season goes on, it amazes me more that she knows what I’m going to do before I do it.”
On the rest of the team making up for Jaime Nared struggling…
“Everyone has their games. Everyone has games where they’re not gonna hit all their shots. She’s been good for us just scoring wise, but she did a lot of stuff defensively that helped us as well. So her not scoring a lot, we just had to. Everyone else had to contribute, and I think everyone else did a good job.”
‑ GO CATS –
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