Sunday, January 29

LSU, Kentucky women meet Sunday, try to return to winning ways | LSU

LSU’s meeting with Kentucky on Sunday features two teams in search of an exit — from a losing spiral.

The No. 12 Tigers LSU have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, while Wildcats players might respond, “cry me a river.”

Not only has unranked Kentucky (9-8, 2-5) lost five of its past six, it played the last outing with only six players because of injuries and a suspension. A season that began with a No. 13 ranking is now immersed in disappointment going into the 1 pm typoff at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

LSU (17-4, 5-3) is trying to avoid that territory by fixing what’s gone wrong. Coach Kim Mulkey said it could be as simple as a few errant shots falling this time, which didn’t happen in Thursday’s 90-76 loss to Arkansas, and better transition defense. Mulkey also hinted that the pressure is increasing with LSU’s early success.

“Some of those shots we missed last night we were making them earlier in the season,” Mulkey said. “Sometimes they don’t go in.

“None in that (LSU) locker room have ever been the hunted. That takes it up to a whole different level pressure-wise.”

A return home could be part of the solution for LSU, which allowed a season-high 90 points against the Razorbacks. The Tigers defense this time will have to contend with perhaps the best offensive player in the conference in All American and two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Rhyne Howard.

A 6-foot guard, Howard has an all-around game that will be difficult to defend. She averages 20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and has scored 2,000 career points in only 100 games. She had 25 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday’s loss to Vanderbilt, but it wasn’t enough. She will have a distinct height advantage on whomever guards her.

“I can’t grow them overnight,” Mulkey said. “We are who we are out there. We can throw a lot of bodies and they’re still going to be smaller. It could be any of our perimeter players that defends her.

“They’re hungry. The SEC season isn’t going as hoped or planned. When you have a player as good as she is and you get everybody back healthy, you can turn that corner quickly.”

The Wildcats were without three starters against Vanderbilt, including junior forward Dre’una Edwards, who was out because of a disciplinary suspension. She averages 15.9 points and a team-best 7.7 rebounds. Jada Walker (10.1 ppg) is the other starter who was still healthy enough to play. She had 10 points but had seven of the season-high 25 turnovers.

LSU’s loss was the first in which it didn’t have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Mulkey is looking for starters Jailin Cherry and Faustine Aifuwa to snap out of their two-game funks. Khyala Pointer (18.7) and Alexis Morris (14.7) continue to carry the brunt of the offensive production.

“They’re man-to-man, will press you some in a 1-2-2, they’ll play you some 2-3 zone,” Mulkey said. “They’re not like Missouri, FGCU, or Arkansas, they make three or four 3s like we do. There’s no given. We have to be prepared and understand you have to win some of these games down the stretch. We’re at the halfway point in the SEC. Let’s see how many more we can win.”

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