Kentucky was significantly hindered, trailing by four points with the clock ticking down. After going a week without stepping on the hardwood, they were missing five players – including their best, Rhyne Howard – and in danger of dropping a third straight since the thrilling overtime win against Mississippi State. But despite being down, this team is never out.
Blair Green scored 22 points, three of which came on a deep ball that put the No. 12 Cats in front for good in their 80-73 victory over Vanderbilt at Memorial Coliseum. It was a career-high total for the junior out of Harlan County, who showed out with so many of her teammates on the mend.
“Blair was huge for us. She made play after play, some big shots,” head coach Kyra Elzy said after the game. “She comes in before practice. She practices extremely hard. She comes in after practice. She watches film. So, the shots that you see her hitting, she takes over and over… we're very confident because she works at it every day.”
“I was feeling pretty hot on my shot,” Green said. “My teammates kept giving it to me. They believe in me and I was confident.”
The Cats were particularly thin in the backcourt for this one, as guards Robyn Benton – who was a team-best plus-13 in plus/minus versus South Carolina last Sunday – and Jazmine Massengill joined Howard on the sidelines. This gave highly touted recruit Treasure Hunt the first starting opportunity of her career, and she took advantage, scoring 11 points while snagging five rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
Her shooting numbers (3-of-11 from the field, 1-of-7 from three-point range) weren’t the prettiest, but her impact on the game was obvious.
“We tried to motivate her before the game because we knew she was going to get this chance… she did a great job,” Chasity Patterson said. “We already knew what she could do… I think this is just the start of something special for her because she’s definitely a talented player.”
“She came in, hit some big shots, got some big rebounds and even a couple of blocks that we really needed,” Green said about the first-year player. “She hustled really well and she ran the court great.”
Coach Elzy had even more praise for Howard’s former AAU teammate, and mentioned having that performance was no easy task.
“She got baptized by fire,” Elzy told reports. “She had five rebounds, four offensive rebounds… she showed tonight how skilled she is offensively. She can score at all three levels, and her size is a factor.”
Fellow freshman Emma King also got another chance to play. Taking the floor for the first time since Dec. 19 vs. Wofford, she saw nine minutes of game time, picking up a rebound and an assist. The stats weren’t the flashiest, the box score doesn’t always indicate how well someone played. And according to Kentucky’s leading scorer, King did what was expected of her.
“Emma is here for a reason. She’s prepared,” Green said. “I have the most belief in her… she really stepped up and played a good role today.”
Koi Love (32 points, eight rebounds) and Chelsie Hall (24 points) dominated for the Commodores, helping them take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. But Kentucky’s defense held the duo to 10 points in the frame, and didn’t let in a single made basket for the final 5:04. Vanderbilt connected on just 1-of-9 shots to end the game – missing the last six – while the Cats poured in three in a row during that stretch.
Next up for Kentucky is a road date with Auburn. The two schools were originally scheduled to face off last Thursday, but their game was postponed due to COVID in the Tiger program. Tip is set for this Thursday, Jan. 21, at 8:30 p.m. E.T. on SEC Network.