It wasn’t pretty by any means, but Kentucky walked out of Memorial Coliseum on Monday night with a victory that wasn’t short of scary moments.
Rhyne Howard was in the locker room for a good chunk of the second half before returning in the fourth quarter to help seal a 68-61 win for the No. 13 UK Hoops team against the Auburn Tigers.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 28, 2020
The super-soph appeared to dislocate a finger on her non-shooting hand and quickly rushed herself out of the game. A team trainer attempted to pop it back into place on the baseline, but Howard ultimately went back to the locker room for nearly 10 minutes of in-game action.
Howard struggled throughout the majority of the game prior to the injury and finished the game with just 10 points on 3-13 shooting, including a 1-7 mark from deep, but hit clutch shots and free throws down the stretch. She also made a key block to ice the game away. Keep in mind, she played the last four-ish minutes with basically one hand.
Sabrina Haines led the ‘Cats with 17 points (which tied her career-high) on 5-10 shooting while making 4-8 from beyond the arc. In the third quarter, when nothing was working for Kentucky, Haines hit two big triples that kept UK in front.
In her first game back since Jan. 5 due to severe migraines, KeKe McKinney shot a perfect 6-6 from the floor for 13 points (also tying a career-high) and eight rebounds. Her defense in the paint came up huge on several occasions for the ‘Cats.
The game started out with both teams trading baskets. Blair Green got going early, knocking down two threes in the opening minutes.
Auburn’s theme throughout the entire game was to feed the ball to center Unique Thompson and she ate up the Wildcat defense all evening. She posted four quick points against Tatyana Wyatt and was dominating the glass early. Head coach Matthew Mitchell immediately went to McKinney off the bench and for the rest of the quarter, Thompson did not score.
Another three from Kentucky, this time courtesy of Haines, put UK up 11-9 not even halfway through the quarter. The tempo would slow down a bit from there. Auburn began to turn the ball over and the ‘Cats were in an effortless groove on offense. The Tigers zone defense had no chance of keeping up with the ball movement of Kentucky.
After the first 10 minutes, the ‘Cats held a 21-13 lead.
Auburn would open the second quarter with their first made three of the game and a second-chance layup from Thompson. Kentucky would counter with an outside shot of their own and started to run up the score from then on. Chasity Patterson led the ‘Cats with all seven of her points coming in the second quarter on 3-3 shooting. She was forcing turnovers and attacking the rim in transition at will.
Thompson was the only player keeping Auburn in the game. She had 12 points and six rebounds in the first half on 6-7 shooting. She was demanding double-teams on nearly every possession. Any time Thompson had the ball in the paint, you could go ahead and add two points for the Tigers.
Kentucky outscored Auburn 23-15 in the second quarter and went into the locker room with a 44-28 lead. The feel of this game had the ‘Cats on the verge of a 30-point win.
But the Tigers came out with a new mentality after the intermission and the ‘Cats offense stalled.
Kentucky didn’t hit its first field goal until there was under two minutes left in the third quarter. Auburn came out of the half on an 11-2 run and had Kentucky on the ropes. When Howard went out of the game with a dislocated pinky and three minutes left in the third, the Tigers had crawled all the way back to a mere five-point deficit.
Kentucky shot just 2-10 in the third quarter and 2-6 from deep while Auburn went 7-12 from the field. If it weren’t for the two biggest shots of the night from Haines – back-to-back triples in the span of 26 seconds – Aubrun could have easily taken the lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
Those two shots from Haines pushed Kentucky’s lead back to nine points, but the Tigers rattled off five quick ones to make it a 51-47 advantage for the ‘Cats after the first three quarters.
Auburn continued to feed Thompson as the game went on. A pullup jumper from Daisa Alexander was followed up by free throws from Thompson and the game was tied for the first time since it was 0-0. McKinney and Amanda Paschal hit a pair of clutch shots to push Kentucky’s lead back to five points.
McKinney would soon hit another big three and then blocked Thompson on the other end to force a jump ball. Howard returned to the game with roughly four minutes left in the game and Kentucky holding a slight lead.
Auburn would cut the lead down to one with just three minutes left and Jaida Roper would get fouled in transition as the clock sat under two minutes remaining. She knocked down both free throws to give UK a three-point lead with 1:24 left.
The last minute-and-half was all about Howard. She played excellent defense on Thompson to force Auburn into a timeout, hit three free throws down the stretch, and recorded a steal and a block while dribbling with just her right hand. It wasn’t a perfect night for Howard, but she did what all great players do – step up when the moment is brightest.
Howard couldn’t even tie her shoe as she stepped to the free-throw line. Paschal had to come over and do it for her, which was met with a bevy of cheers from the Big Blue Nation.
Haines would knock down a pair of free throws to ice the game for Kentucky as they held off a vicious Auburn rally for a 68-61 win.
Thompson finished the evening with 27 points and 15 rebounds on 11-14 shooting from the floor. She turned the ball over four times but was a dominant force throughout the game. No one on Kentucky could stop her when Auburn needed a bucket and she was automatic on the block.
Kentucky shot 42.9 percent for the game despite a miserable third quarter and they were 11-28 from beyond the arc. The Wildcat bench poured in 25 points compared to just five for Auburn.
Auburn finished the night shooting 45 percent from the field and 4-16 from deep. 38 of their points came from inside the paint. The Tigers outrebounded the ‘Cats 36-29 but turned the ball over 26 times, which UK converted into 25 points. Kentucky turned the ball over 20 times, the second-most this season.
Green finished with seven points while Paschal added five points and three assists.
Monday’s win marks the first of three games for the ladies this week. They’ll travel to Missouri this Thursday for a 7 p.m. matchup against the Tigers before they come back to Lexington for a Sunday game at 1 p.m. against Florida.