LEXINGTON, Ky. - Playing without leading scorer Maci Morris, the 16th-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team fell to visiting Ole Miss 55-49 on Sunday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum.
Freshman Rhyne Howard carried the offensive load in Morris' absence, scoring 20 points for the Cats. It was the sixth time this season that Howard has scored at least 20 points in a game. Howard also led the Wildcats with 11 rebounds and tied for the team lead with four assists.
No other Kentucky player reached double figures in the game. Freshman Blair Green scored nine points in the contest, while Jaida Roper added seven.
Morris, the school's No. 10 all-time scorer, missed the game with knee pain. The senior from Bell County (Ky.) High School averages 16.8 points per game on the season. Morris' fellow senior Taylor Murray, who injured her knee at Tennessee on Thursday, played on Sunday, scoring two points in 35 minutes of action.
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going. The game was tied 4-4 when both teams went cold, resulting in a 3:59 scoring drought. Howard ended that stretch with a three-pointer, and later added a basket and free throw to give the Cats a 12-6 lead. That would be the score at the end of the first period. Each team committed six turnovers in the first 10 minutes, and the Cats held Ole Miss to just three of 12 shooting from the floor in the period.
Kentucky (15-3, 2-2 SEC) stretched its lead to 14-6 at the beginning of the second quarter on a jumper by Green. But Ole Miss would score nine of the game's next 12 points to cut the UK advantage to 17-15 with 3:58 left in the period. The Cats would score the final four points of the half, taking a 21-15 advantage into the locker room, despite making just two of their 16 shots from the floor in the second period. Howard led Kentucky in points (six), rebounds (eight) and assists (two) in the first half.
In the third period, Kentucky grabbed an eight-point lead, 25-17. But Ole Miss rallied, mounting a 10-3 run to cut UK's lead to 28-27 with 4:59 left in the quarter. Kentucky scored the next six points, including four in a row by KeKe McKinney, to lead 34-27, forcing an Ole Miss timeout with 2:03 left in the quarter. Ole Miss would score the next five points to cut the lead to two before Murray hit a pair of free throws, giving the Cats a 36-32 lead, which would be the score after the third quarter.
The Cats took a 38-32 lead early in the fourth quarter on a jumper by Green, but Ole Miss answered by scoring the next five points to get within one, 38-37, with 7:33 to play. Green responded for UK, hitting left-wing three-pointer to give the Cats a 41-37 advantage.
Ole Miss (7-11, 1-3) would score the next five points to take a 42-41 lead, their first lead since leading 4-2 in the first period. However, just over a minute later, Howard hit a shot from behind the arc, giving the Cats a 44-42 advantage. But again, Ole Miss had a response, scoring six in a row to lead 48-44 with 2:03 left in the game.
Howard brought the Cats within two, 48-46, on a basket with 1:41 to go. But Ole Miss would make five of its six free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
The Rebels got 28 points from Crystal Allen and 12 from La'Karis Salter in Sunday's game.
Kentucky returns to action on Thursday, visiting LSU in Baton Rouge. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on SEC Network+.