AMES, Iowa -- A’dia Mathies and Kentucky didn’t look anything like the SEC regular-season champions in their NCAA tournament opener.

Keyla Snowden scored 11 points, Azia Bishop added 10 and second-seeded Kentucky squeaked by McNeese State 68-62 in the opening round of the women’s tournament Saturday.

Mathies, the SEC Player of the Year, had just six points for the Wildcats (26-6), who struggled to put away the upset-minded Cowgirls until late in the second half.

McNeese State got within 63-57 on two free throws by Martika Hull with 40 seconds left, but the Cowgirls couldn’t get any closer.

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Caitlyn Baggett had 22 points and Hull scored 20 with 13 rebounds for No. 15 seed McNeese State (26-8), which forced the nation’s leader in turnover margin to give the ball away 20 times. But the smaller Cowgirls were outrebounded 58-40 and couldn’t pull off the upset.

Mathies and the Wildcats didn’t look anything like the SEC regular-season champions in their NCAA tournament opener.

Mathies picked up two fouls in about 2 minutes and wasn’t a factor in the first half. The Wildcats also missed their first 12 3-pointers and half of their first 10 free throws, and the Cowgirls climbed ahead 27-23 despite some shooting struggles of their own.

Kentucky steadied itself with an 8-1 run to close the half, and Kastine Evans ended its 3-point drought to put the Wildcats ahead 42-33. Snowden followed with a jumper that finally pushed Kentucky’s lead to double digits with 12:41 left.

But McNeese State didn’t shrink away as many lower seeds might have, and Caitlyn Baggett’s layup cut Kentucky’s lead to just 46-42 with 9 minutes left.

Ashlyn Baggett, Caitlyn’s twin sister, was held to five points for McNeese State.

Kentucky was knocked out of the SEC tournament with a surprising loss to LSU in the semifinals, and this win was a shaky first step in what the Wildcats hope will be their first trip to the Final Four.

The Wildcats appear to be in their best position yet to win a regional, having been seeded second for the first time since 1982. They also won their first SEC regular-season title in 30 years, and Kentucky’s fast-paced, guard-oriented attack would seem to give it a strong chance for a long run through the tournament.

But for that to happen, the Wildcats can’t afford to shoot 2 of 17 from 3-point range and 16 of 28 from the foul line as they did against McNeese State.

Samarie Walker was a bright spot for Kentucky with 13 rebounds, but Mathies finished 2 of 10 from the floor with five turnovers before fouling out.

Despite the loss, McNeese State is clearly a program on the rise under fifth-year coach Brooks Donald-Williams. The Cowgirls reached the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row and put forth a much better showing than last time, when they were bounced by eventual national champion Texas A&M 87-47.