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Cats can’t recover from slow start in 72-65 loss at Tennessee in SEC opener

The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team dropped its Southeastern Conference opener Sunday, falling 72-65 to Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

The setback was the second in a row for the Wildcats, who lost at Duke Thursday night in Durham to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule. Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said a slow start by the Wildcats hurt his team’s chances.

Taylor Murray scored a career-high 24 points in UK's loss at Tennessee Sunday (UK Athletics Photo)

Taylor Murray scored a career-high 24 points in UK’s loss at Tennessee Sunday (UK Athletics Photo)

“It didn’t look to me like Tennessee had any trouble getting into rhythm, but we dug ourselves a hole because we wouldn’t get back and defend the transition defense,” Mitchell said. “That hurt us early on.”

Sophomore guard Taylor Murray posted a career-high 23 points to lead the Wildcats in the contest and senior forward Evelyn Akhator recorded her eighth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to push Kentucky over the Lady Vols.

“Taylor is the player for us right now that’s the most in-tune mentally. And Taylor plays both ends of the floor,” Mitchell said. “She really doesn’t let her offense dictate her defense. She’s just really solid right now on both ends of the floor, she’s been working hard to mature as a leader, and she’s just having a fantastic sophomore year.

“It has a lot to do with her attitude, she comes and works hard, and I think she’s really interested in improvement because she’s spending a lot of time with coaches and asking questions, and I’m just really proud of her, she’s been playing good ball.”

After Kentucky raced out to a 4-2 lead in the first quarter, Tennessee went on a 13-2 run to take a nine-point lead with 4:47 to go in the period. While the Wildcats trimmed the margin to four, the Lady Vols ended the first quarter with a six-point lead following a jumper by Tennessee’s Diamond DeShields.

Tennessee started the second quarter with two quick baskets, quickly stretching its lead to 10. The Wildcats battled back, coming within four points on two occasions but would leave the court at halftime seven points behind the Lady Vols.

After Tennessee stretched its lead to as many as 12, Kentucky made one final push in the fourth quarter, as a layup from Alyssa Rice with 1:27 to go in the game would bring the Wildcats back within four. A missed jumper from Tennessee gave Kentucky a chance to make it a one possession game, but Makayla Epps missed a 3-pointer and Tennessee got the rebound forcing Kentucky to foul with just 34 seconds left. Tennessee’s Jaime Nared made both free throws and Tennessee didn’t relinquish its lead.

Mercedes Russell led the Lady Vols with 22 points while DeShields followed close behind with 21.

Kentucky returns to action Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Wildcats take on Missouri at Memorial Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

From UK Athletics

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