OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - The Rebels never let Kentucky get an insurmountable lead, but a blistering first-half shooting effort out of the Wildcats ended up being the difference in a close 79-71 defeat over the Ole Miss women’s basketball team at The Pavilion on Thursday night.
One glance at the stat sheet shows a strong game by the Rebels, who shot 44.8 percent overall (including a 48 percent clip in the second half) and had a season-high 24 assists. However, a scorching 65.9 percent shooting display by Kentucky in the first half (including an 81.8 percent clip in the second quarter alone) proved too much to overcome on an otherwise solid night for Ole Miss.
“Full credit to Kentucky,” said Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell. “They play really hard. (Kentucky head coach) Matthew (Mitchell) has done a great job with this team of his.”
Ole Miss opened the game with a strong first quarter, using a 13-2 run to build a five-point lead with 2:48 left. But the Wildcats fought back to take a 19-18 lead at the end of the first, building momentum for that productive second quarter offensively. UK opened on a 12-2 run to take a 44-31 lead into the half. It wasn’t a bad first half of basketball by any stretch of the imagination for Ole Miss, which shot 42.3 percent, but UK took advantage of 11 untimely first-half Rebel turnovers. On the game, Kentucky had a 22-7 edge in points off turnovers.
The Rebels won the back half of the game at 40-35 (20-17 in the third and 20-18 in the fourth), but every time Ole Miss started to mount a run, the Wildcats responded to keep hold of their lead. Leading the way for Kentucky was Maci Morris with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, with Dorie Harrison (13 points) and Taylor Murray (12 points) in double-digits as well.
Ole Miss received another high offensive output from junior Madinah Muhammad, who before the game was awarded her commemorative ball for joining the 1,000-point club vs. No. 19 Georgia on Monday night. Muhammad dropped 21 points on five three pointers and another perfect 4-of-4 clip from the free-throw line – her eighth 20-point game of the year. Muhammad, who entered today third in the SEC and 37th in the NCAA in free throw percentage at 85.0, is a perfect 17-of-17 from the free throw line in her last three games. Muhammad also added in five of Ole Miss’ season-high 24 assists.
Shelby Gibson also scored in double-digits at 14 points. Other notables included Kate Rodgers (career-high eight points, five rebounds, two assists), Alissa Alston (seven points, eight assists, four steals, three rebounds), Chyna Nixon (six points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal) and Torri Lewis (six points, 2-of-4 3PT, three assists).
Ole Miss will close the regular season at Auburn on Sunday afternoon.
“Our mindset going into it is that we’re going to make a run in the tournament,” Insell said. “We’re not going to quit, we’re going to keep playing, and I’m proud of our players for that.”