The Kentucky women’s basketball team has hit another low point in its season.
The Wildcats have now lost five of their last six games, but Thursday’s defeat was notable for several negative reasons for head coach Kyra Elzy’s team.
UK had just six players available for a 65-57 loss at Vanderbilt, which is one of the worst teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky committed a season-high 25 turnovers in the defeat, including a season-high seven turnovers by freshman guard Jada Walker. The Wildcats shot 15% from three-point range in the second half.
While star senior guard Rhyne Howard scored her 2,000th career point in the game, little else went right for a UK team that continues to move further away from the NCAA Tournament picture.
Vanderbilt 65, Kentucky 57
The star: Rhyne Howard scored a team-best 25 points for the Wildcats. Howard now has scored 2,000 career points at UK, the third Wildcat player to reach the scoring mark. Howard needs 14 more points to tie A’dia Mathies for second on the UK all-time scoring list. Senior forward Brinae Alexander had 26 points for Vanderbilt.
The stats: Only one other UK player, freshman guard Jada Walker, joined Howard in double-figures scoring. Walker had 10 points in the game. All six UK players played at least 26 minutes.
The status: Kentucky drops to 9-8 overall and 2-5 in the SEC. Vanderbilt improves to 11-10 and 2-5.
1. SOMEHOW, UK’S DEPTH ISSUES GOT EVEN WORSE.
Kentucky played Florida last week with just eight available players after the pregame announcement that redshirt junior forward Dre’una Edwards — the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder — would be suspended for the second time this season.
UK has also been without freshman walk-on guard Kristen Crenshaw-Gill dating back to the Florida game due to an ankle injury.
Then, after senior guard Robyn Benton injured her ankle in the loss to Florida, UK was left with just seven available players for its two most recent games.
On Thursday, that number grew even smaller as sophomore guard Treasure Hunt — who often plays in the post for UK — was ruled out of the Vanderbilt game due to an injury. Elzy told reporters postgame that after warm-ups Hunt “was not feeling 100%” so UK made the decision to not play her.
Elzy said Hunt is day-to-day, but didn’t specify what the injury is.
This left the Wildcats with just six available players — guards Rhyne Howard, Emma King, Jazmine Massengill and Jada Walker, forward Nyah Leveretter and center Olivia Owens — to face Vanderbilt.
As has been the case dating back to the Florida game, UK frequently played zone defense with its limited number of available players.
“It is a difficult time right now, but we have to be able to handle the adversity,” Elzy said. “At the end of the day we still had chances (to win).”
All six players played at least 26 minutes against Vandy, led by Howard’s 39 minutes played.
Several career highs ensued for some UK players on Thursday night. Among them:
▪ Nyah Leveretter in blocks (six)
▪ Emma King in three-point shot attempts (eight)
▪ Jada Walker in minutes played (35)
2. THE AVAILABLE PLAYERS TURNED THE BALL OVER TOO MUCH.
Kentucky committed a season-high 25 turnovers at Vanderbilt.
“It wasn’t a lack of heart or effort or want-to-win, we just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Elzy said.
Four UK players — Massengill, Leveretter, King and Walker — committed at least four turnovers against Vandy, led by Walker’s seven, which was a career-high.
Eight of the 25 turnovers came on steals by Vanderbilt senior guard Jordyn Cambridge, who was named an All-SEC defensive team selection as a sophomore and who leads the SEC this season in steals per game and total steals.
Elzy said that Vanderbilt’s aggressive defensive trapping was an issue for UK. Elzy also noted that UK had only one day to prepare for the Vanderbilt game after Tuesday’s win over Auburn.
Some of the turnovers can be attributed to fatigue and the lack of offensive options that comes with only having six players available. But coupled with another poor three-point shooting night for UK (the Wildcats were 5-for-23 on three-point attempts), too many possessions failed to result in points.
3. RHYNE HOWARD CONTINUES TO ETCH NAME IN RECORD BOOK.
UK’s season hasn’t gone to script so far, but it’s still featured more history made by Howard.
With her 25-point outing Thursday, Howard now has scored exactly 2,000 career points at Kentucky. That mark is third in UK history and just 14 points behind A’dia Mathies for second place on the all-time scoring chart.
“What she has done for Kentucky women’s basketball, what she has done for women’s basketball, she is very, very talented,” Elzy said of Howard, adding that Howard has stepped up in a leadership role for UK in recent games.
It’s virtually impossible for Howard to catch UK women’s basketball legend Valerie Still, who tops the scoring chart with 2,763 career points.
Howard has only reached as far as the second round in the two NCAA Tournaments she’s participated in at Kentucky, and the opportunity to play in a third seems to be slowly slipping away.
This week, ESPN women’s basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme moved UK outside of his NCAA Tournament projection for the first time this season. This came before UK won at Auburn and lost at Vandy, a win that does nothing for UK’s tournament résumé and a loss that damages it.
For UK to be able to give Howard the career send-off she deserves, it will need to come up with a couple upset wins between now and early March.
At least there’s precedent for this in the SEC this season. No. 1 South Carolina opened league play with a surprise loss at Missouri, and earlier this month UK scored an upset win at home over Georgia.
But the biggest conference shock so far came Thursday night, when Auburn (previously winless in SEC play and defeated by the Cats on Tuesday night) scored a stunning home win over No. 4 Tennessee (previously unbeaten in SEC play).
This was Auburn’s first win over an Associated Press top-five ranked opponent since 1997.
Kentucky will close a three-game road trip on Sunday afternoon with a visit to No. 12 LSU. The Tigers have been a major story in the SEC this season, with legendary head coach Kim Mulkey making the move from Baylor back to her home state. LSU is 17-4 overall and 5-3 in SEC play this season. LSU lost Thursday night at Arkansas, the second straight defeat for LSU. UK and LSU didn’t play last season after a scheduled game in Lexington was canceled because of weather-related travel issues.
Kentucky at No. 12 LSU
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
TV: SEC Network