‘Find a body.’ Kentucky women’s basketball badly outrebounded in loss to Texas A&M.

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An all-too-familiar letdown showed up yet again in the third quarter of Kentucky’s fifth straight women’s basketball loss Sunday.

After playing Texas A&M even until halftime and taking a two-point lead with 6:21 to play in the third period, the Wildcats lost their momentum when the Aggies delivered a well-spread, deliberate offensive attack to take a double-digit lead and roll to a 61-44 win at Rupp Arena.

Head coach Kyra Elzy said Kentucky’s defensive intensity let up as Texas A&M (17-6, 5-5 SEC) took control.

“That’s an understatement, to say the least,” Elzy said. “But yes, we we lacked defensive intensity. So the third quarter, when we really needed it, it was a 32-30 game, they went 16 possessions in that third quarter and scored 13. And so we have to be able to step up defensively. Play hard.”

Kentucky (9-15, 2-8 SEC) had adjusted well in the second quarter after a lopsided first period that A&M won 17-12. Despite a worse shooting percentage from the field and trailing in the battle of the boards, the Wildcats held Texas A&M to just seven points in the second period, taking the opportunity to gain back a bit of confidence ahead of halftime.

Texas A&M coach Joni Taylor said her team’s second quarter offensive performance “wasn’t acceptable,” and it set the foundation for the second-half adjustments that would return the momentum to the Aggies.

“I thought offensively in the second quarter, we were stagnant,” Taylor said. “We missed a lot of chippies and I thought we stood around. That’s totally, I’ll give Kentucky a lot of credit for that. They were aggressive, they were beating us to loose balls. We were just a little lax in what we were doing and they were the more aggressive team. But to only have seven points in the second quarter just wasn’t acceptable offensively. And then defensively, I was pretty proud of what we did. But I thought we could get the ball inside more. And so it was, ‘Make sure we’re taking the right shots. Let’s get the ball inside, we have a distinct size advantage. And try to pound them on the glass.’”

That emphasis on crashing the boards — A&M outrebounded UK 43-25 overall — proved to be a major factor in the Aggies’ success. In the second half alone, Texas A&M outrebounded Kentucky 19-8, limiting the cold-shooting Wildcats’ second-chance opportunities. Kentucky had just five second-chance points in the final 20 minutes.

Senior guard Maddie Scherr noted the team’s failure to secure defensive rebounds, too. The Wildcats allowed 12 Texas A&M offensive boards, with six of those in the third quarter for 10 second-chance points.

“I think in the third quarter we came out and we let them get too many O-boards,” Scherr said. “They got too many points from there. And I think we just let it get out of control. It really starts with the rebounding. They got too many second-chance points from that. And it’s hard to come back from. It just comes from defensive intensity and can’t let them be so efficient in that third quarter, you got to be better defensively.”

Elzy’s diagnosis when asked about the significant rebounding margin? Everybody has to play their part.

“Find a body,” Elzy said. “So when the shot goes up, defensively, it has to be team rebounding, what we did in the first half. So defensively, you should have five people on the boards. We got to get them out of the charge circle, find a body, be physical and push back. We have to be able to make contact, especially when you’re undersized. So find the body.”

Kentucky guard Cassidy Rowe (5) recovers a loose ball against Texas A&M during Sunday’s game at Rupp Arena. UK lost its fifth game in a row and its eighth in nine games.
Kentucky guard Cassidy Rowe (5) recovers a loose ball against Texas A&M during Sunday’s game at Rupp Arena. UK lost its fifth game in a row and its eighth in nine games.

Transfer portal difference

Offensively, Kentucky had just two players finish in double figures Sunday, both of whom found their way to UK via the transfer portal ahead of their junior seasons in 2022-23 — forward Ajae Petty (LSU), who recorded 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals, and Scherr (Oregon), who contributed 10 points, five rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals.

When Taylor assessed her team’s defensive performance, she highlighted both Petty and Scherr, as well as fellow impact transfer Eniya Russell (South Carolina), who finished with seven points and also moved to Lexington prior to last season, as key players in the scout.

“Maddie Scherr, Eniya Russell,” Taylor said. “Petty, in my opinion, is the most improved player in the league, like when you look at what her numbers are in this year compared to last year. They are a nightmare to try to figure out.”

A large chunk of Kentucky’s production — both offensively and defensively — comes from the transfer portal, with Petty, Scherr and Russell being three of UK’s top four leading scorers. Russell comes in off the bench, but Elzy’s go-to point guard, junior Brooklynn Miles (Tennessee), the Wildcats’ sole addition via portal this past offseason, is a core part of UK’s starting five.

Transfer players making significant contributions to college basketball teams is nothing new, but the trend’s increasing presence allows the opportunity for comparison. Texas A&M’s roster boasts four brand-new faces from the transfer portal in guards Endyia Rogers (Oregon), Aicha Coulibaly (Auburn), Kyndall Hunter (Texas) and forward Lauren Ware (Arizona). Rogers, Coulibaly and Ware all start and have drastically improved an Aggies roster that finished 2022-23 tied for last place in the Southeastern Conference with Kentucky (9-20, 2-14). Rogers, Coulibaly and Ware are three of the Aggies’ leading scorers this season, averaging 12.7 points, 12 points and 10.8 points, respectively.

“We are intentional in who we recruit, period,” Taylor said, “and especially our prospects that we’ve been on for a really long time. And it’s the same thing in the portal, it’s got to be someone who we recruited out of high school or know. Like it’s really hard for me and our staff to take someone out of the portal who we don’t know. And so I think we were lucky this year because of the four players who we ended up signing were people that we had previous, you know, awareness of, knowledge of, experience of one way or the other. Whether it was playing in our league with (Coulibaly) for three years. And Lauren (Ware) I knew from USA Basketball. And so when they went in (the portal), it was just an opportunity for us to talk and make sure that what they wanted, their goals, lined up with what we needed to help our team. And that’s about winning and having great chemistry and being great young women off the floor. And so, if those things line up, then we’ll do it but we want to make sure that we are building it the right way.”

Against the Wildcats, Rogers scored 15 points, Coulibaly contributed 14 points and Ware added eight.

Coach Kyra Elzy’s Wildcats tied their worst losing streak of the season with their fifth straight loss Sunday.
Coach Kyra Elzy’s Wildcats tied their worst losing streak of the season with their fifth straight loss Sunday.

Former Ducks face off

The Texas A&M matchup also was an opportunity for two former Oregon teammates to face off.

Rogers, who made her way to Oregon after two seasons at Southern California, and Scherr played together during the 2021-22 season, Scherr’s sophomore year. Despite the disappointing loss, Scherr was all smiles when asked about Rogers.

“Obviously she’s a hooper through and through, But yeah, that’s my girl. I love her, so it was fun to get to see her. And yeah, just always rooting for her and supporting her, too.”

Kentucky guard Maddie Scherr (22) and Texas A&M guard Endyia Rogers (1) played together at Oregon during the 2021-22 season.
Kentucky guard Maddie Scherr (22) and Texas A&M guard Endyia Rogers (1) played together at Oregon during the 2021-22 season.

Next game

Kentucky at Auburn

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 9-15 (2-8 SEC), Auburn 15-8 (4-6)

Series: Tied 27-27

Last meeting: Auburn won 71-68 on Jan. 26, 2023, at Memorial Coliseum