RALEIGH, N.C. – Seniors Maci Morris and Taylor Murray each scored 19 points as sixth-seeded Kentucky held off 11th-seeded Princeton 82-77 on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum.
Kentucky (25-7) got 15 points from freshman Rhyne Howard and 12 from sophomore Tatyana Wyatt as the Cats advanced to the round of 32, where they will meet either host N.C. State or Maine.
As it has all season, Kentucky’s pressure defense was an important part of the team’s victory. The Cats forced the Tigers into 16 turnovers, and UK was able to score 22 points off those miscues. Meanwhile, Kentucky turned the ball over just seven times, leading to just eight Princeton points.
Princeton, behind Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie, outscored Kentucky 38-28 in the paint. The Tigers also won the battle of the boards, 38-26.
Kentucky shot 50 percent (27 of 54) from the field and from the three-point line (nine of 18). Princeton converted on 30 of its 64 field goal attempts (46.9 percent), including seven of 19 (36.8 percent) from behind the arc.
Princeton scored the game’s first basket, but Kentucky quickly answered with five straight points to grab an early 5-2 lead. The Cats led 9-6 before the Tigers scored four in row to lead 10-9. But the lead only lasted 16 seconds, as Jaida Roper nailed a three-pointer to give Kentucky a 12-10 advantage with 4:00 left in the first period.
Kentucky would take a 16-15 lead on a pair of Wyatt free throws with 1:00 to play in the quarter. But Princeton scored five straight to end the quarter, taking a 20-16 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Princeton got off to a quick start in the second quarter, using a 7-2 run to take a 27-18 lead. But Kentucky would begin chipping away at that lead. The Cats scored six in a row, including four by Howard, to cut the deficit to 27-24 with 6:39 left in the half. After a Princeton basket, Kentucky scored seven in a row, four by Morris and three by Howard, to take a 31-29 lead. Princeton would tie the game at 31-31 before Wyatt converted a layup to give the Cats a 33-31 lead with 3:00 to play in the half.
But the Cats would miss their final five shots of the half and Princeton would take advantage, scoring six in a row to take a 37-33 lead into the break. Princeton made 16 of their 31 shots from the field in the first half, while Kentucky made 12 of 28. Howard led the Cats with seven first-half points.
The third period was a back and forth affair that featured two ties and eight lead changes. Kentucky scored the first four points of the half, on baskets by Morris and Amanda Paschal, to lead 38-37. From there, the teams would begin sharing the lead until late in the period. With the game tied at 52 apiece, Kentucky took control, scoring nine in a row, capped by a Morris three at the buzzer, taking a 61-52 advantage after three periods. Morris scored 11 points in the third period, making all four of her field goals, including three from behind the arc.
Princeton scored first in the fourth period, cutting the lead to six. The Tigers would get within six on three occasions, including at 65-59. That’s when Kentucky assembled a 6-1 run to take its biggest lead, 71-60, with 5:30 to play. The Tigers fought back with an 8-2 run to cut the UK lead to 73-68 with 3:29 to play, but Princeton would get no closer.
Princeton (22-10) got 22 points from Gabrielle Rush, while Alarie had 20 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Kentucky will face the winner of the N.C. State-Maine game on Monday. The time and TV network will be determined later.