USI battled with the host Wildcats, who are ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 poll, throughout the first quarter as it trailed 22-10 after 10 minutes of action.
The Screaming Eagles got a transition bucket from junior guard Emma DeHart as USI grabbed a quick 2-0 lead. Moments later, senior guard Ashley Johnson scored and USI was tied with Kentucky two minutes into the contest.
Kentucky, which went 25-8 a year ago, used a 12-0 run that took up nearly six minutes of the first quarter to take control of the contest. USI trailed by 14 later in the period, but a bucket by senior guard Kiara Moses as well as a pair of free throws by junior center Audrey Turner had the Eagles to within 10 points.
A lengthy scoring drought hampered the Eagles in the second period as Kentucky’s lead grew to as many as 21 points before a basket and a three-pointer by Johnson in the closing minute of the half started to swing momentum into USI’s favor.
Kentucky, however, got a three-pointer in the final 10 seconds of the second period to take the wind out of USI’s sail and send the Eagles into the locker room facing a 37-18 halftime deficit.
The Wildcat’s advantage ballooned to 30 points early in the third quarter, but USI bounced back to make things a little uncomfortable for the home crowd. The Eagles scored 11 of the next 13 points to force a Kentucky timeout as they trimmed the Wildcat’s lead to 52-31 with less than two minutes to play in the frame.
Kentucky ended the quarter with an 18-15 advantage, but the Eagles showed they could rally against an opponent that figures to be one of the best teams USI will face all season.
Missed opportunities hurt the Eagles throughout the contest as USI missed five layups and was just 12-of-20 from the charity stripe. Kentucky shot 49.2 percent (30-61) from the field, while holding the Eagles to just 25.5 percent (14-55) from the field.
Johnson led the Eagles with 13 points, while Moses finished with a team-high seven rebounds.
USI returns to action Sunday at 11 a.m. (CST) when it travels to West Lafayette, Indiana, and Mackey Arena to take on Purdue University in its final exhibition contest of the season.