For the fifth straight time, the annual rivalry matchup between Louisville and Kentucky went the way of the Cardinals.
No. 7 Louisville women’s basketball recorded a 64-58 victory over No. 14 Kentucky at the KFC Yum Center on Sunday afternoon in Louisville, a performance that raised more concerns about UK’s ability to win against college basketball’s best.
Kentucky led 33-32 at halftime despite committing 12 first-half turnovers, but the Wildcats didn’t score for the first 7:35 of the second half and went 1-for-13 from the floor in the third quarter. UK was able to fight back and briefly lead again late in the fourth quarter, but a 6-0 scoring run by U of L with less than three minutes remaining settled the result.
The game, Kyra Elzy’s first against Louisville as UK’s head coach, means that Kentucky is now just 1-3 this season against high-major, quality opponents.
UK hasn’t beaten Louisville since December 2015, and Kentucky hasn’t won in Louisville since December 2014.
Louisville 64, Kentucky 58
The star: Dre’una Edwards returned from a one-game team suspension and recorded a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The stats: In addition to Edwards’ 14 points, Treasure Hunt also co-led UK in scoring with 14. Robyn Benton had 13 points and star Rhyne Howard, who struggled, finished with just nine points and three made field goals.
The status: Kentucky fell to 6-3. Louisville improved to 8-1.
1. TURNOVERS AND STAGNANT OFFENSE SINK KENTUCKY.
Too often, the Wildcats looked lost on offense.
The 21 turnovers committed by the Wildcats were a season high, and they were a large part of the reason why they lost the game.
“I thought Louisville was really aggressive defensively, made us play faster than we wanted to play. Some of them I thought were careless turnovers, some of them I thought were from their pressure,” Elzy said. “Thought they made us play faster than we could think and forced some turnovers that we don’t usually make.”
After missing Thursday’s loss to DePaul while serving a one-game team suspension, Edwards returned and committed three first-quarter turnovers and finished with seven overall.
“I think I was pushing the pace a little too much … I knew the crowd was here, I knew everybody was looking at us,” Edwards said. “I think I was just overcompensating myself a little bit, pushing a little too hard.”
On her suspension, Edwards said she made a mistake and she appreciated Elzy holding her accountable.
While Edwards was the Cats’ co-leader in scoring and leader in rebounding, her offensive struggles were emblematic of a UK team that has struggled in half-court sets.
Elzy has talked frequently about the need to hit the right speed in the half-court offense between going too fast and too slow, and that was apparent from the opening stages against Louisville.
The Wildcats were gritty on defense Sunday and played well enough on that end to win the game.
But lengthy periods of stagnant offense, coupled with the turnovers — which led to 21 Louisville points — proved to be too much to overcome.
“I thought we got gassed in the third (quarter),” Elzy said. “We quit the backdoor cuts that we were making early … we started settling for quick outside shots I think due to fatigue and we were one shot and out, or we weren’t in rebounding position. But back in the fourth (quarter) we made some plays because we started putting the ball back on the floor and finishing at the rim.”
“At times when we do get stagnant we just look at each other and say, ‘This is not what we do. Go back to the drawing board,’” Edwards said. “We know what to do. Just play Kentucky basketball.”
2. RHYNE HOWARD STRUGGLED TO SCORE IN FRONT OF WNBA SCOUTS.
The focus is seemingly always on Howard when Kentucky plays, but on Sunday the eyes watching the projected No. 1 pick in next year’s WNBA Draft included some of the teams hoping to select Howard.
Media seating featured five representatives from the Indiana Fever, the WNBA team with the best odds to pick first in the 2022 WNBA Draft, which will take place in April. The Connecticut Sun also had a representative watching Howard play.
Similar to Thursday’s game against DePaul, Benton shouldered a lot of the scoring load for Kentucky while Howard struggled to put the ball in the basket.
Howard finished Sunday’s game with just nine points, going 3-for-13 from the field, along with seven rebounds and two assists. Louisville stuck to Howard like glue defensively, with Howard unable to create much separation whenever she tried to get to her spot on the floor.
“That’s why you play a team sport and there’s five people on the court,” Elzy said. “Obviously, Rhyne is a very talented player but she’s never been able to do it by herself and she has a supporting cast that can step up.”
“Credit to Rhyne, even though she wasn’t scoring like she’s accustomed to, her defensive intensity, her leadership in the huddle, being able to talk to people and rebound the basketball is a big step forward.”
Sunday’s game featured plenty of contact that the officials let go. Officials also assessed a total of four technical fouls in the game, one to Elzy, one each to Louisville players Olivia Cochran and Mykasa Robinson, and one to the Louisville bench.
After the game, Edwards said she wanted the officials to give UK a call down the stretch.
“We’re pushing, we’ve got people attacking the rim. They’ve got to give us a call at some point,” Edwards said. “But I’m not going to blame the refs. We kept fighting, and that’s all that matters.”
Looking toward Howard’s future, the Fever have the best odds to get the first overall pick, but they are also guaranteed no worse than the third overall pick.
The Sun are not currently in the WNBA Draft lottery; they are slated to pick 12th.
The 2022 WNBA Draft lottery will take place on Dec. 19 on ESPN.
The highest WNBA Draft selection from UK was Evelyn Akhator, who went third overall in 2017.
3. FOCUSING ON UNITY IN A CRISIS.
While the buildup to Sunday afternoon’s game focused on the return of the women’s basketball rivalry between UK and U of L after a year off due to scheduling difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic, the backdrop to the contest was more somber.
This weekend’s severe weather across Kentucky and adjacent states caused significant destruction and loss of life. Sunday’s game served as an opportunity to help those affected.
Prior to the game, Louisville partnered with Kroger and the KFC Yum Center to hold a bottled water drive outside the arena. Fans donated bottled water during the hours prior to tipoff, and U of L head coach Jeff Walz and the Louisville team also made an appearance just 75 minutes before the game with packages of bottled water.
We are about 75 minutes prior of tip-off and head coach Jeff Walz and the Louisville women’s basketball team carried bottled water from the KFC Yum! Center to the donation site. pic.twitter.com/Aguv54TvKJ
After the Kentucky men’s basketball team’s game at Notre Dame on Sunday, head coach John Calipari spoke about the death and destruction caused by the tornadoes and said he believes a telethon will take place Tuesday to raise money for those affected. Calipari led a telethon to raise funds after an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Walz addressed the KFC Yum Center crowd of 12,167 people after the game and thanked them for filling about three vans full with bottled water.
After finishing its second stretch of the season of playing three games in one week, Kentucky gets some days off before finishing non-conference play with a pair of home games against teams it should easily handle. Kentucky plays at home against Morgan State (6-4) on Friday night before closing non-conference play Sunday afternoon against South Carolina Upstate (currently 5-2). Kentucky is currently on its first two-game losing streak of the season.
Morgan State at No. 14 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. Friday
TV: None (online via SEC Plus)
This story was originally published December 12, 2021 3:25 PM.
Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball program, in addition to other college, high school and professional sports in the area. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University in 2020. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas.