LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky felt right at home in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The host Wildcats just missed the century mark and easily advanced to the second round of the Albany Regional with a 97-52 rout of Tennessee State on Friday.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats (24-9) will play host to Dayton on Sunday in Lexington. The Flyers (26-6) defeated Iowa State 78-66 in the first game of a doubleheader.
Linnae Harper scored 16 points and led six players in double figures for the Wildcats. Alexis Jennings followed Harper with 15 points while Jennifer O’Neill, Bria Goss and Makayla Epps had 13 points each. Jaycee Cole added 10 for the Wildcats.
Kentucky wasted no time disposing of the Lady Tigers and used a 16-0 run in the first 10 minutes to turn a 3-3 tie into a 19-3 advantage. O’Neill scored five points during the spurt and tallied 11 points in the first half.
”We had to play harder than them to have success today and I thought that was the biggest difference between the two games (against Tennessee State),” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
O’Neill said the team’s fast start was a point of emphasis prior to tipoff and was a difference in the outcome.
”That was something that was written on the board – just out-hustle your opponent,” O’Neill said.
A 3-pointer by O’Neill with eight minutes remaining in the first half gave the Wildcats a 28-6 advantage and put the Kentucky in a comfort zone. In addition to the outside shooting of O’Neill, forward Alexis Jennings gave the Wildcats a 1-2 punch in the post in the first half. Jennings led Kentucky with 12 in the first half.
Kentucky made seven of its nine 3-point shots in the first half and finished 29 of 59 overall from the field for 49 percent. O’Neill made three of her team’s eight shots from long range.
Tennessee State (18-13) had just nine field goals in the first half and struggled against Kentucky’s pressure defense. The Wildcats forced 17 turnovers and scored 13 points off those miscues.
”I don’t think we played at all defensively,” Tennessee State coach Larry Joe Inman said. ”I just felt like we had a horrible night defensively. They just did what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it.”
Mitchell said his team’s defense helped set the tone for the easy victory.
”We needed to create some offense from our defense – Tennessee State is so great at driving the basketball and sometimes our rotations aren’t the best and we still struggle with defensive positioning.
”What we’re trying to get the team to do now is play really, really hard and if you make a mistake on defense, just get it in quickly and try to run it back at them and make up for the mistake with a really fast pace on offense. It was critical. We needed to turn them over. We needed to turn offense into defense.”
Brianna Lawrence led Tennessee State with 16 points. Briana Morrow followed with 11 points for the Lady Tigers, making their first appearance in the tournament since 1995.
Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 9-3 overall as No. 2 seed and 17-11 overall in the tournament . … Kentucky defeated the Lady Tigers 87-75 on Jan. 28 but were without O’Neill and Bria Goss. O’Neill and Goss combined for 26 points in the second meeting between the two teams.
Tennessee State: The Lady Tigers fell to 0-3 overall in the tournament and lost for the first time since a 63-50 loss to Jacksonville State on Jan. 31. … Inman, who previously coached at Middle Tennessee State and nearby Eastern Kentucky University, fell to 3-13 overall in games played against Kentucky. He split four games while at Middle Tennessee and was 1-9 at Eastern.