Kentucky trailed 18-12 following the initial quarter of its first-round contest with Idaho State, struggling on both ends of the floor. But from that point on, the Cats embraced head coach Kyra Elzy’s pre-tournament message. Role players stepped up offensively, and the team as a whole locked down defensively to pull away from the No. 13 seed for a 71-63 win.
“Every time we can get everyone involved, it’s a lot of fun,” junior guard Blair Green said postgame.
Green was one of the many who raised their level of play on the offensive end, scoring 10 points in the contest. Kentucky had three players in double digits – Rhyne Howard and Chasity Patterson each had 14 points – and another, Dre’una Edwards, just a free throw away with nine points.
This balance was a big reason the Cats pulled even and in front of the Bengals in the second and third quarters. Kentucky had 31 bench points, and – for the first time in what felt like ages – wasn’t solely reliant on Howard’s heroics to be competitive and win.
“This is closer to what I’ve envisioned [on offense],” Elzy told reporters. “We met after the SEC Tournament and challenged people to step up… we need three or four people to score in double figures.”
The Wildcats went 4-of-15 in the opening frame (26.7%) while allowing Idaho State to go 8-for-13 (61.5%), not a good recipe for success. Elzy and Green attributed some of that to the Bengal tenacity and to the long off stretch Kentucky went through.
“[Idaho State] plays extremely hard. They’re well coached,” Elzy said. “We hadn’t played in a while.”
“It has been a while since we played,” Green commented. “[We were] just knocking the rust off a little bit.”
But the tide changed in quarters two and three, in which Kentucky outscored Idaho State 35-13. This, in Elzy’s mind, was because her players turned things up a notch.
“We were intense… locked into the game plan, leaving [our hearts] on the floor,” she said. “It allowed us to force them into turnovers and create scoring opportunities.”
Green said this helped her find her groove too.
“The energy that everyone was bringing brought energy to me,” she told reporters. “We just had a lot of fun out there.”
The Cats will look to continue smiling when they take the floor again on Tuesday in the second round, when they match up with the No. 5 seed Iowa Hawkeyes. Tip time and broadcast network have yet to be announced.