LEXINGTON, Ky. – Already a key player down, Mississippi could only watch the problems mount as Kentucky put on its most ferocious defensive display yet.
Courtney Marbra scored seven points to lead Mississippi, but the Rebels committed the most turnovers in a Southeastern Conference game this year during an 82-41 loss to the sixth-ranked Wildcats on Thursday night.
The Rebels (12-11, 2-8) were without inside presence Nikki Byrd, who was averaging 13.1 points and 9.5 rebounds but was hurt late in the Rebels' loss on Sunday to Auburn and is day to day. Leading scorer Valencia McFarland was held to six points, well-short of her average of 13.6 per game.
"It's crazy. They pressure for 40 minutes and they sub in and out," said McFarland, who committed a team-high seven of Mississippi's 36 turnovers. "It's constant pressure. It's very difficult."
The Wildcats (21-2, 10-0) equaled the 1982-83 team for the best start in school history and are looking to do something that team couldn't — win an SEC championship to join the school's only other title team from the 1981-82 season.
"Their team is on a mission. Their style of play affects everyone obviously in this league and tonight we got bit by the same bug - turnovers, pressure," Mississippi coach Renee Ladner said. "They're definitely the hardest team to play against because of their relentless pressure and their ability to sub."
Kentucky's leading scorer, A'dia Mathies, went 2 of 14 from the field and finished with 11 points. Kastine Evans scored 12 points and had a career-high seven steals, while Samarie Walker added 11 points as the Wildcats won for the 18th straight time at home.
Mississippi never got within single digits in the second half. Up 40-29, the Wildcats used a 15-3 run to put the game out of the reach that included five different scorers.
Crystal Riley hit a 3-pointer in the right corner, Walker cleaned up a miss from Mathies, Evans hit a jumper and after Bernisha Pinkett's strip and missed layup, the Wildcats grabbed three offensive rebounds before Walker finally scored to give Kentucky a 55-32 lead with 13:53 left.
Kentucky would make it 30 with just over 8 minutes left and take its first 40-point lead in the final 1:27 as Mississippi shot 27.3 percent in the second half.
"The future is bright. We're very young. Those nine underclassmen certainly had a lesson today," Ladner said. "Hopefully we can grow from that."
Kentucky freshman Azia Bishop didn't dress because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
No matter, the Wildcats kept on rolling after an early hiccup.
Kentucky jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but after Mathies' layup the Wildcats went more than 6½ minutes without a field goal before Brittany Henderson's putback of a Mathies' miss gave Kentucky an 18-16 lead.
Mississippi, which is beginning a stretch of five of its final seven regular-season games on the road, took its only lead, 14-12, after consecutive baskets by McFarland, but couldn't extend it because the Rebels kept sending Kentucky to the foul line early.
Kentucky finally got going and Keyla Snowden hit a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave Kentucky its first double-digit lead, 29-18, with 6:05 left. Mississippi, which came in averaging 17.5 turnovers per game, committed three in the final minute to finish the half with 20 and trailed 37-23 at the break.
"You look up, it's 18-all, the next time you turn around they made a run of about 10 points or whatever it was," Ladner said. "You're always trying to warn your team about not allowing a team like Kentucky to get on a run."