LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky survived its first test in the NCAA Tournament and is still dancing after opening weekend.
The Wildcats (18-8) advanced to the second round of the Big Dance with a 71-63 win over Idaho State Sunday in San Antonio.
“We earned a ticket to the NCAA Tournament and we’re trying to enjoy the ride,” Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy said. “… at the end of the day, you have to find a way to get the job done — survive and advance and here we are.”
Kentucky, a No. 4 seed, will play fifth seed Iowa Tuesday. The Hawkeyes defeated Central Michigan 87-72 in a first-round game Sunday. Elzy won her NCAA debut as her squad notched their 12th consecutive tournament opener.
The difference-maker for Kentucky was its defense, which limited the Bengals to just 13 points in the middle two quarters. Elzy said her team’s energy on defense “bothered” Idaho State.
“We were intense and I thought we were locked into the game plan,” she said. “We had talked all week about dominating defensively. What dominating looked like was hustle plays, locked into the game plan, leaving your heart in the floor and playing your guts out. We didn’t need to wait and we didn’t need to save it snd you had to sell out defensively.
The Wildcats overcame a slow start and trailed 18-8 in the first quarter before outscoring the Bengals 18-6 in the second quarter for a 30-24 lead at the break. Kentucky stretched the margin to 51-31 in the second half.
“Once our defense got going, we started getting better offensively,” Green added. “Our defense turns into offense and we just had to get into that rhythm.”
Rhyne Howard and Chasity Patterson paced the Wildcats with 14 points each, followed by Green with 10. Overall, 10 players scored for the Wildcats, who got 31 points from their reserves. Dre Edwards finished with nine points. Howard added nine rebounds and dished out five assists.
“Every time we can get everyone involved, it’s just a lot of fun,” Green said. “We’re all feeding off each other’s energy, especially when the bench comes to play. … my teammates found me and we were just really having a lot of fun out there.”
The scoring balance displayed by the Wildcats pleased Elzy who felt like her team “stepped out of their comfort zone.”
“This is closer to (the balanced scoring) that I envisioned,” she said. “We met after the SEC Tournament and just challenged people to step up. … we need two or three people to step up and score in double figures and we really worked this last week on movement within our offense. … I thought we did a better job today, offensively. … I thought we created scoring opportunities off of our defense.”
Diana Konate led the Bengals (22-4) with 16 points, scoring 10 of those in the first quarter.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.