The fifth-seeded Cats dropped seven games during the 2021 regular season. Five of them came on the road, but perhaps their most costly defeat occurred in the last week at home. So, what went wrong for Rhyne Howard and Co. in their losses?
DePaul (Dec. 16)
Kentucky’s first loss of the season came from DePaul 86-82. Four Kentucky players scored in double figures led by Chasity Patterson with 22 points. Dre’Una Edwards and Rhyne Howard both had 18. Despite this, the Wildcats shot only 25 percent (6-24) from beyond the arc and that was their downfall in this game.
All of DePaul’s starters scored at least 12 points. Both teams kept the game close but in the end, DePaul came out with the victory on their home court. The four points Kentucky lost by is the closest margin all season.
Texas A&M (Jan. 7)
Kentucky was defeated by Texas A&M 77-60. Great team basketball from the Aggies paved the way for the Wildcats’ first conference loss of the season. Four of Texas A&M’s five starters scored in double figures and scored all but five points for their squad on the night.
Kentucky fumbled their chance at victory by relying too much on a single player. It was Howard against the world. Howard netted 22 points, five assists and six rebounds, but one all-star couldn’t overcome team play on the other end. Howard’s presence was able to keep the game close until the fourth quarter. But with no help, Kentucky was outscored by 11 points after only trailing by six entering the final period.
South Carolina (Jan. 10)
South Carolina defeated Kentucky 75-70 in their first matchup of the season. Howard had one of her most impressive performances of the season against the Gamecocks, notching 32 points on 52% shooting.
Despite leading the Gamecocks by nine points at halftime, South Carolina fought their way back into the game and outscored Kentucky 25-15 in the third quarter. Destanni Henderson’s 22 points and Aliyah Boston’s double double were too much for Kentucky to handle and the Gamecocks escaped Lexington with a victory. The lesson for the Cats is to not let their guard down in the second half by getting overconfident with a lead.
Tennessee (Jan. 24)
Kentucky took on the then-ranked No. 25 Tennessee in Kyra Elzy’s first game against her alma mater as a head coach. The Cats lost 70-53 with Tamari Key dominated for the Volunteers. Everything went Key’s way in the post, posting 19 points on 8-10 attempts. Rennia Davis made a statement on the glass as well, grabbing 20 rebounds – the most in a single game for the Lady Vols since 2012.
The third quarter was the Achilles heel for Kentucky as they were outscored 22-9. Howard struggled from the field, shooting 3-16 and 14 points. Against a record performance from the Vols, Kentucky may only take away lessons in perseverance from this loss.
Ole Miss (Feb. 4)
Ole Miss defeated Kentucky 72-60 in Oxford, marking Kentucky’s first and only loss to a non-ranked opponent during the regular season. Despite Howard’s 26 points and 10 rebounds, the Wildcats looked defeated from the opening tip.
Howard’s 26 points came on 7-26 shooting (2-10 on three-pointers) and other than Chasity Patterson’s 14 points, not a single Wildcat scored more than five points in the contest. Meanwhile for the Rebels, Shakira Austin was shooting the ball lights-out, going 9-11 from the floor and notching 21 points. To avoid a repeat loss, Kentucky again needs to spread out their shooting and passing so they don’t have to rely on career performances from a select few.
South Carolina (Feb. 21)
Kentucky suffered their worst loss of the season on the road, losing to the Gamecocks 76-55. Zia Cooke’s 21 points, along with three other South Carolina players scoring in double digits, helped take Kentucky down for the second time this season.
Kentucky kept the score close in the first half, but looked sluggish in the second half and trailing by as many as 24 points. But rebounding was their real downfall - the Wildcats were out rebounded 49-30 (20-8 on offensive boards) and outscored 42 - 25 in the second half.
Ole Miss (Feb. 28)
Ole Miss swept Kentucky in their season series 2-0 after upsetting the Wildcats during their senior day 73-69. Another stellar performance from Shakira Austin (22 points, 12 rebounds) led the way for the Rebel victory. However, their player of the game was freshman guard Snudda Collins, who knocked down four three-pointers – the four most important shots of the game. Howard scored 21 points, but on only 6-25 shooting.
This loss cost Kentucky their spot in top-four seeds of the SEC tournament, meaning they will have to win four games in four days for the league title. To do it, they’ll need to stop relying on one or two players and play team ball like their opponents. Women’s basketball will also have to overcome fading second halves in order to hold onto their leads.