Bulldogs fall to Kentucky in SEC Tournament Quarterfinal

Mississippi State's Dominique Dillingham, center, is pressured by Kentucky's Jelleah Sidney, left, and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, right, during the second half.  (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Mississippi State’s Dominique Dillingham, center, is pressured by Kentucky’s Jelleah Sidney, left, and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, right, during the second half. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – No. 11 Mississippi State saw a 15-point lead slip away in a Top 15 showdown with No. 12 Kentucky at the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament.

The third-seeded Bulldogs started fast but struggled offensively in the second half of a 76-67 loss to the sixth-seeded Wildcats.

With the defeat, MSU falls to 26-6 and will now await its postseason dedication when the NCAA unveils its women’s basketball tournament pairings at 6 p.m. CT on Monday, March 16 on ESPN. It was the second time in program history the Bulldogs were playing as the three seed in the tournament.

MSU has set a school record for overall wins (26) and did set a school record for conference wins (11) this season.

Kentucky improves to 23-8 with its second win over MSU this season and will face second-seeded Tennessee in a tournament semifinal matchup Saturday night.

Victoria Vivians led MSU with 19 points, while Martha Alwal scored 17 points and Breanna Richardson added 12 points.

“They played harder the final 14 minutes,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “With them, it starts on the defensive end, just like it does with us. I thought they did a good job of taking us out of some things there late in the game and really played harder. Obviously, we had a hard time guarding (Makayla) Epps.

“Kentucky has three great guards. They were 17-of-34 from their starting guards. Those three are hard to deal with. We have a matchup issue. There is a lot of respect for the Kentucky team.”

MSU started strong offensively and quickly built six-point leads at 8-2, 15-9 and 20-14. A layup by Morgan William pushed the lead to 22-14. The Bulldogs then pushed the lead to double digits on a basket by Alwal at 28-18 with 9:49 left in the first half.

The Bulldogs led by 10 twice before a 15-6 run by Kentucky brought the Wildcats within 41-37 at the intermission.

In the second half, MSU continued the frantic offensive pace as a 13-2 run pushed the Maroon and White to a 54-39 lead with 15:18 remaining in the contest.

Behind the sharp-shooting of Epps, Kentucky rallied. Epps scored 42 points in a regular-season 92-90 double overtime win for UK and again led all scorers Friday night with 31 points.

A 16-2 run by Kentucky brought the Wildcats within 56-55 with 8:33 remaining. The Bulldogs had a stretch of nine straight missed shots from the field. Mississippi State would eventually have a stretch of 12 minutes, 26 seconds with only one made field goal.

Kentucky took its first lead at 61-58 on back-to-back 3-point baskets from Epps and Kyvin Rogers-Goodin with 7:27 to play.

The Bulldogs had one last chance when a 3-pointer by Jerica James cut the Wildcats’ lead to 69-64 with 2:52 left. However, the Bulldogs could not get the stops necessary to gain another lead.

“We only had 12 turnovers which is probably our best number in over a month,” Schaefer said. “I am proud of the guards for that. I am proud of my team for a great season. I am proud of the fans who made the trip. The Bulldogs traveled. We had so many people here. I am disheartened for those people.

“I appreciate the fans for giving us a great atmosphere. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky basketball team. I really thought they upped the juice there in the second half and we didn’t match it.”

For the contest, MSU hit 22 of 60 shots from the field (36.7 percent), 7 of 24 shots from 3-point range (29.2 percent) and 16 of 24 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent). Kentucky hit 25 of 51 shots from the field (49.0 percent), 5 of 13 shots from 3-point range (38.5 percent) and 21 of 27 shots from the foul line (77.8 percent).

Kentucky held a 38-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 12 assists and 12 turnovers, while the Wildcats had seven assists and 16 turnovers. MSU made 1 of its final 17 shots from the field.

Alwal posted a double-double as she also had a game-high 10 rebounds.

(From MSU Media Relations)

Jennifer O’Neill followed Epps in the UK scoring column with 18 points.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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