This team doesn’t know how to lose two games in a row.
In the quarterfinals matchup of the 2020 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, Rhyne Howard and the Kentucky Wildcats (22-7) obliterated the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (21-10) by a final score of 86-65 down in Greenville, SC as they advance to the semifinals.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) March 7, 2020
Howard was honored with the recognition of the SEC’s Player of the Year earlier this week on Tuesday. Just three days later, she poured in 24 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one block, and three steals while shooting 8-15 from the field and 5-8 from distance. 22 of her 24 points came in the first three quarters that saw the ‘Cats execute arguably it’s best shooting night of the season. Her fifth and final three of the night gave her 82 on the season, breaking the single-season school record.
The ‘Cats also broke a single-season team record with 246 three-pointers.
Kentucky finished the night shooting 51 percent overall and a lethal 11-24 (45.8 percent) clip from beyond the arc. It marked just the second time since a win over Winthrop way back in December that UK has shot over 50 percent in a game. Their outside shooting was the most efficient it had been since they beat Alabama back in January.
It was the second and third quarters, in particular, where Kentucky took control. They shot 70 percent in the second and 66 in the third to bust out a 44-28 halftime lead that ballooned to 71-49 heading into the final 10 minutes. Even though Tennessee was matching Kentucky score-for-score for a good chunk of the game, they couldn’t take advantage of their strengths.
Coming into the game as the nation’s second-best rebounding team, Tennessee was blitzed by the efforts from the Wildcat bigs. UK matched the Vols in both overall rebounding (36 each) and points in the paint (24 each).
“It was not only the rebounds we were getting, it was how we were doing it,” Head coach Matthew Mitchell said after the win. “I thought we were very aggressive just snatching rebounds with two hands, just establishing a presence on the boards early.”
Tatyana Wyatt played easily her most impressive outing of the entire season, posting 14 points and three rebounds while shooting 7-10 from the field. Even though she was undersized in comparison to Tennessee (Wyatt is 6-foot-2), she made up for it with endless energy. The same can be said about Ogechi Anyagaligbo, who busted out the gates by going right at the Tennessee frontcourt and fending them off for rebounds.
It was Anyagaligbo’s play in the first three minutes of the game that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Her night ended with four points and five rebounds but she came out looking to hit the Vols in the face and that’s exactly what she did.
Tennessee began shooting lights out from deep at an unsustainable rate. They hit three of their first four attempts from deep and finished the night with seven made triples, just the third time they’ve done that in an SEC game this year. However, that early hot shooting might have plagued them. After opening 3-4, they went just 4-16 the rest of the night and struggled to feed the ball into the post as a result.
Howard was looking to find her rhythm from the jump, taking seven shots in the first quarter, although she made just two of them. She got to the free-throw line a couple of times and snagged five rebounds in the first frame. Overall, the ‘Cats were just 5-18 through the first 10 minutes, but Tennessee was literally throwing the game away.
The Vols turned the ball over six times in the first quarter and 12 in the first half, oftentimes tossing the ball straight out of bounds with no Tennessee player in the vicinity. At the end of the first quarter, the ‘Cats held a 17-13 advantage.
The next quarter is where things got out of control – in a good way.
After Jordan Horston opened up the frame with a quick two, Kentucky rattled off eight straight points and took a 10-point lead. The Vols were trying to confuse the UK guards, breaking out a high-pressure zone that saw long-armed Tennessee defenders extending themselves to near halfcourt. They did this in the first matchup against Kentucky with moderate success, but it was no problem for the ‘Cats this go-around.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell either plopped one of his players in the middle of the zone or left it wide open. Either way, Kentucky could quickly escape trouble by feeding it to the free-throw line or sprinting straight through the zone and kicking it to the wing. Once UK had it figured out, Tennessee all-but abandoned it down the stretch.
A big three from Chasity Patterson put Kentucky up 28-18 and they would not relinquish that double-digit lead for the remainder of the affair. There was a four-minute span in the second quarter where the ‘Cats outscored UT 15-3. Howard started to make some shots that had opposing media members nearly whipping their heads off from disbelief. Blair Green also found her shot, knocking in some timely shots during the second and third frames.
At the halfway point, Kentucky led 44-28.
While Tennessee shot an efficient 8-13 in the third quarter, they couldn’t stop the ‘Cats on the other end as UK one-upped them, shooting 10-15 in the third. Howard opened up the period with a triple and both teams were trading baskets through the first five minutes. However, the ‘Cats ALWAYS had an answer for anything the Vols did on the other end, to the point where there was visible, on-court frustration from most of the UT players (and fans).
The fourth quarter flew by without much tension. Tennessee did outscore Kentucky 16-15 in the fourth, but the game had already been long decided. UK’s lead would jump to as high as 26 before they settled on the 86-65 victory.
Howard led the way with 24, but redshirt senior Sabrina Haines and junior KeKe McKinney both stepped up in major ways. Haines added 12 points, two rebounds, and four assists while McKinney posted seven points, five rebounds, and one block. Friday’s game marked the fourth consecutive game that McKinney has scored at least seven points. She’s been playing her best basketball of the season at the perfect time and her confidence is sky-high.
Senior Jaida Roper led the team with five assists to go along with her three points. Patterson contributed 11 points of her own while Green registered seven.
Tennessee ended up turning the ball over 19 times, which Kentucky converted into 19 points. 10 missed free throws (8-18) by the Vols compared to just two for UK (9-11) also proved to be an important factor.
But there isn’t much time to celebrate; Kentucky has a quick turnaround on Saturday. They’ll take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU on Saturday evening, not even a full 24 hours after Friday’s game. It will be a rematch from a few weeks ago that saw Kentucky upset MSU 73-62 in Memorial Coliseum.
We’ll have a preview for that game on Kentucky Sports Radio dot com in the coming hours.