OXFORD — After committing just five turnovers in the first half, the University of Mississipi women”s basketball team turned the ball over 18 times in the second half and went on to lose to No. 17 Kentucky 74-68 Thursday night.
With the loss, Ole Miss fell to 9-10 and 2-5 in the Southeastern Confrence, while Kentucky improved to 16-4 and 5-2 SEC.
“It was the best of times in the second half and the worst of times in the first half,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell after his team rallied from an eight-point deficit. “That was a crazy, crazy game for the Wildcats.”
The difference in the game was Kentucky”s implementation of a full-court press. The Wildcats double-teamed Mississippi”s inbounds pass for the final 16 minutes.
“It really changed the game and turned the game around for us,” Mitchell said.
Ole Miss led by 11 in each half, but Kentucky turned up its full-court press midway through the second half to take the lead. The Wildcats scored 25 points off turnovers.
“We allowed their pressure to make us throw the ball away,” Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “On our end of the floor we took good shots. But you can”t become rattled. We quit attacking and it cost us the game. They stepped up our intensity and we fell apart.”
Kentucky forced Ole Miss to turn the ball over on three consecutive possessions and cut the deficit to 51-49 with 10 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game. It took its first lead since the 9:14 mark in the first half at 55-53 with 7:20 to play.
Shae Nelson led Ole Miss with a career-high 22 points, while Kayla Melson added 21 and Valencia McFarland scored 17. The Rebels attempted just 37 field goals and shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field (22 of 37). Kentucky shot 46.2 percent (30 of 65).
Ole Miss pushed its lead to 16-11 on a pair of free throws from Courtney Marbra with 12:05 left in the half. Kentucky tied the game at 16 before the Rebels extended their lead to 29-24 on a jumper by Shae Nelson with 4:33 remaining in the half.
Ole Miss pushed its lead to 36-25 on a putback from Nikki Byrd with 20 seconds remaining. The Wildcats hit a 3-pointer buzzer and trailed 36-28 at halftime.
Nelson had 17 points, including five 3-pointers, while Melson had six at the intermission. Ole Miss shot a season-best 52 percent (10 of 19) from the field in the first half, while Kentucky shot 33.3 percent (9 of 27).
A three-point play from Melson followed by a pair of free throws on the next possession gave Ole Miss a 47-36 lead with 13:57 to play.
Ole Miss will play at 2 p.m. Sunday at Vanderbilt (SportSouth).