By Jamie H. Vaught
After a slow start when No. 13 seed Idaho State raced to 18-8 lead in late first quarter, No. 4 seed Kentucky bounced back and cruised to a 71-63 victory in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament Sunday afternoon in San Antonio, Texas.
With the victory, the 18th-ranked Wildcats, who improved their overall record to 18-8, advanced to Tuesday’s second-round matchup with No. 5 seed Iowa, who defeated Central Michigan. At this writing, game time and venue have not been determined.
Leading Kentucky’s scoring attack were Associated Press first-team All-American Rhyne Howard (14 points), Chasity Patterson (14 points) and Blair Green (10 points). Howard also grabbed 9 rebounds and had 5 assists.
But it was former starter Green of Harlan County, who helped Kentucky, coming off the bench to hit 4 of 8 field goals, including 2 of 4 three-pointers.
It was the first time Green had scored in double figures since mid-January when she pumped in 22 points against Vanderbilt and 18 against Auburn.
UK head coach Kyra Elzy was thrilled with Green and her entire bench, which scored 31 points. "That was huge. So proud of our bench," Elzy commented after the game. "Blair Green came in and hit some big shots, scored in double figures. During the NCAA tournament, in order to make a deep run, you have to have players making plays and we have to be consistent offensively. When we are at our best, we have three or four people scoring in double figures."
In addition to UK's strong production from the bench, it was rebounding that also helped the Cats gain an advantage over the undersized Bengals. Kentucky outrebounded ISU 45-34, including 16 offensive rebounds.
Both teams, meanwhile, were equally sloppy on the floor. There were a total of 37 turnovers with UK committing 19 miscues, while Idaho State had 18. In the field goal shooting department, Idaho State hit 39 percent as compared to Kentucky's 38.
As for UK’s next opponent, Iowa is led by freshman superstar Caitlin Clark, who was leading the nation in scoring with 26.7 points as of Sunday morning.
And the Hawkeyes have a highly-respected veteran coach by the name of Lisa Bluder, who is one of the eight active Division I women’s head coaches to win 775 games or more in her career. In 2019, Bluder was named the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including recently-published “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.