LEXINGTON, Ky. – Rhyne Howard scored 16 points and dished out a career-high seven assists as the 16th-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team topped Vanderbilt 77-55 on Thursday night at Memorial Coliseum in the SEC opener for both teams.
Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell earned his 300th career victory in the game, with 270 of those coming during his 12-year tenure in Lexington.
Maci Morris scored 14 points, including four-of-seven shooting from behind the arc. Morris moved into 14th place on Kentucky’s career scoring list, passing Tiffany Wait in Thursday’s game. The senior from Bell County (Ky.) High School now has 1,448 points during her four years in Lexington.
Kentucky’s defensive pressure was the story of the game, as the Wildcats forced 29 Vanderbilt turnovers, turning those into 30 points. Kentucky also held a big advantage in bench points, outscoring Vanderbilt 27-8.
Kentucky (14-1, 1-0 SEC) hit six of its first seven shots from the floor, building a 14-6 lead early in the first quarter. Morris had eight early points, while Howard had six. Vanderbilt answered with a 9-1 run to cut the UK lead to 16-15 with 1:43 left in the period. But Kentucky was able to extend the lead back to six, 21-15, to end the period. The Commodores made all six of their field goal attempts in the quarter, overcoming eight turnovers that led to 10 UK points.
In the second quarter, Kentucky was again hot from the field, hitting five of its first eight shots. In the process, the Wildcats turned a four-point lead at the quarter break into a 16-point advantage, 37-21, with 2:20 left in the half. Kentucky would lead 40-24 after 20 minutes behind 11 points from Morris and eight from Howard. Vanderbilt would finish the first half with 16 turnovers, which led to 16 UK points. Kentucky turned the ball over only six times in the half, and Vandy scored five points off the UK miscues.
In the third period, Kentucky continued to reap the benefits of its full-court pressure defense. The Cats forced the Commodores into four early second-half turnovers and UK was able to turn this mistakes into an 8-2 run that produced a 49-26 lead with 7:24 left in the third.
The run continued, with Kentucky outscoring Vanderbilt 16-5 in the first five minutes of the second half, taking a 56-29 lead in the process. The Cats would eventually lead by 30, 65-35, in the third quarter, and UK would hold a 65-38 advantage after three periods. Blair Green had nine points in the third period to lead Kentucky.
In the fourth period, Kentucky would lead by 30 again, but Vandy ended the game on a 6-0 run to cut into UK’s final margin of victory.
Vanderbilt (5-9, 0-1) got 17 points from Cierra Walker.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday, visiting Mississippi State in SEC action. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.