LEXINGTON, Ky. -- East Tennessee State achieved its modest goal against No. 5 Kentucky on Sunday.
Coach Brittney Ezell wanted her team to hold the Wildcats under 80 points, and the Buccaneers did just that after outscoring the Wildcats 27-24 in the second half in the 73-56 loss.
"We had to hold Kentucky, as strange as it may sound, to 80," Ezell said. "You never want to say you want to hold somebody to 80, but we thought that if we held it in the high 70s or low 80s that we have an opportunity to be in the game at the end. The kids bought into that."
The setback was the third in a row for the Buccaneers (2-6), including two straight against teams from the Southeastern Conference. East Tennessee State lost at Vanderbilt 92-71 on Dec. 3.
"This will prepare us for our league," Ezell said. "That's what we're focused on -- doing well in the Atlantic Sun Conference. It's a great opportunity to compete against an SEC team."
Maria Bond, who led the Buccaneers with 14 points, said the back-to-back losses will be beneficial when conference play begins next month.
"It's a confidence-booster," Bond said.
Janee Thompson and Samarie Walker each scored 12 points to help Kentucky tie a school record with its 11th consecutive victory to open the season. Kentucky limited the Buccaneers to six points and two field goals in the final 10:30.
"I'm glad we were able to play good enough defense to win the game," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought East Tennessee State played really hard and, obviously, caused us some problems today and competed tough. We had to win with our defense and that's something that's been different for us than previous games. I'm just glad we were able to tighten up in the second half and really shut them down for a long period of time. I think that was a big difference in the game."
East Tennessee State forced four lead changes and three ties in the first eight minutes, but the Wildcats used a 14-2 run to go up 31-18 with 8:15 remaining in the first half.
Kentucky led 49-29 at the half, but the Buccaneers pulled to 54-44 with 13:28 left.
"I thought our kids competed to the best of our abilities for the entire 40 minutes," Ezell said. "You have to take your hat off to Kentucky. They are fantastic, they are loaded, they play hard and they're aggressive."
Linnae Harper added 10 points for Kentucky, and freshman guard Makayla Epps had eight. Epps was involved in an automobile accident on the Bluegrass Parkway while returning home from a funeral Saturday night, but wasn't seriously injured.
"I'm here and that's the best thing," she said. "Nothing terrible happened. I didn't think I was going to get to play today but I was grateful to get out there with my teammates and be able to contribute as always. I'm just real blessed that nothing bad really happened."
Chandler Christopher added 11 points for East Tennessee State.
Kentucky was without second-leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth. She had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair loose cartilage in her left knee and is expected to miss at least two weeks.