The six-seed Kentucky Wildcats have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament after falling in Raleigh, North Carolina to the three-seed N.C. State Wolfpack by a score of 72-57.
Rhyne Howard finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Maci Morris‘ final game at Kentucky closed with 18 points and four made triples. The Wolfpack were led by 26 points from Kiara Leslie.
The game kicked off with a Morris three and back-to-back tie-ups courtesy of some excellent defense from Tatyana Wyatt. Kentucky was commanding the offensive glass, quickly pulling down board after board. It was a near perfect start for the Wildcats, but one that didn’t take long to turn the other way.
N.C. State jumped out to a quick 10-5 lead before Maci Morris drilled a jumper to bring the game within three. Rhyne Howard came out looking to attack, but was forcing things early before finally settling in after the first few possessions.
Kentucky’s offense soon went into a rut and the Wolfpack capitalized, building a 12-7 lead at the first TV timeout. N.C. State made its first four three-point attempts but Howard soon got into her groove.
Despite the team offense struggling, Howard was looking to score at every turn. She had a couple of and-ones within two possessions of each other and was getting to her spots with ease. If she was in a one-on-one situation, she was taking it to the rim or pulling up for an easy jumper.
The first quarter ended with Kentucky trailing 25-17, but the Cats were attacking the offensive glass with consistency and the Wolfpack had missed its next three triples.
KeKe Mckinney opened up the second period with a massive block on N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane to get the momentum swinging back in Kentucky’s direction.
The Cats would scoop up an additional six offensive rebounds in the second after corraling four during the first 10 minutes. They actually finished the half with more offensive rebounds (10) than defensive (8).
With those extra chances, Kentucky did a solid job of making sure they didn’t go to waste. The halfcourt defense finally picked up, as well and the Cats forced six turnovers in the frame compared to only two in the first. Howard and Taylor Murray continued to drive the offense as Morris sat on the bench after picking up her second foul in the first period.
The Wildcats were able to trim the lead down to 25-22 in favor of the Wolfpack, but could never cut it under three before the half.
Howard made a couple more shots before the intermission and after the first 20 minutes, Kentucky found themselves trailing 35-30 despite 15 points from Howard.
The Cats fired up 15 three-point attempts in the first half but converted on only three of them. The team shot below 32 percent overall and were outrebounded by eight.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth battle throughout. Both teams were exchanging threes and Kentucky never let the Wolfpack out of its sight. At one point, the Cats cut the lead all the way down to three at 44-41 after a massive triple from Wyatt.
Every time N.C. State wanted to pull ahead by six or eight, Kentucky would bring it back to four or five. Roper hit the biggest shot of the game up until that point at the third quarter buzzer to keep the Cats down, 53-48, heading into the fourth and final quarter.
But then things started to get away. Kentucky went the first two minutes without scoring and the Wolfpack finally managed to push the lead to double-digits. Wyatt picked up her fourth foul and things felt all but over. Morris made some shots down the stretch to keep things from getting too out of hand, but the ending was never in doubt for the last five minutes.
The Wildcats finished the game forcing 16 N.C. State turnovers but shot only 9-29 from three.
In the end, Kentucky’s season comes to a conclusion in Raleigh, 72-57.