Just seven days ago, the Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team suffered its worst loss of the season. Earlier on Sunday, they executed its most impressive win yet.
The No. 18 UK Hoops squad (19-5) pulled off a massive upset win by a final score of 73-62 over one of the hottest teams in the country. The No. 6 Mississippi State Bulldogs came to Lexington with an overall record of 22-3 and an SEC record of 10-1 – the only loss coming to No. 1 South Carolina by just two points. MSU was riding a six-game win streak, including recent wins over two ranked opponents.
But against Kentucky, they weren’t just outplayed, they were dominated.
It's been real.
It's been fun.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) February 17, 2020
Superstar sophomore Rhyne Howard finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds for her fifth double-double on the season. With her 15th point of the night, she joined the 1,000 point club at UK in just her 53rd career game.
The ‘Cats held MSU to just nine points in both the first and third quarters. The Bulldogs shot under 39 percent on the night and made just three of its nine shot attempts from beyond the arc. Kentucky forced them into 17 turnovers, just the sixth time this season that Mississippi State has turned the ball over at least 17 times.
It took fantastic efforts on both ends of the floor for Kentucky to pull off the upset. Here’s how they did it.
Mississippi State opened up the first 90 seconds of the evening with a quick 6-0 run, forcing Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell into an early timeout. Two of the made buckets were uncontested layups and the third was a short mid-range jumper. The energy-level mirrored what the team showed down in Bud Walton Arena last Sunday.
But out of the timeout, Kentucky responded, as they have all year long.
Rhyne Howard crashed the glass on back-to-back possessions that led to a bank shot from Ogechi Anyagaligbo and a corner three from Sabrina Haines, respectively. A pair of free-throws from Jaida Roper gave Kentucky its first lead of the game and they would not relinquish it for the rest of the night.
With Kentucky holding a 7-6 lead, MSU went cold. They would miss four straight shots and turn the ball over twice in a matter of minutes that allowed UK to extend the lead. Chasity Patterson popped off for five straight points and the ‘Cats took an 11-6 advantage.
Howard would drill a long, NBA-range triple right before the end of the first quarter to give UK a 19-9 lead after the first 10 minutes. The ‘Cats finished the period on a 19-3 run.
In the second quarter, Howard got to work. She put up the first seven points for UK as the two teams went back-and-forth through the opening minutes. A tough look from Howard gave Kentucky its largest lead of the night thus far at 30-18.
But the Bulldogs wouldn’t go away that easily. MSU would hit its first three of the night and cut the lead down to just five points in under two minutes of time. Patterson countered with two easy layups, but Kentucky as a whole went cold for the final three minutes.
Mississippi State began to pound the ball in the paint and was drawing fouls or getting clean looks at the basket. A 6-0 run right before the half put the Bulldogs in a great position, trailing by a slight margin of 35-32.
Howard opened up the half by knocking in a jump shot that gave her her 14th and 15th points of the night. She came into the game needing just 14 to reach the 1,000 point club and reached the mark just 24 seconds into the second half.
Bulldog center Jessika Carter poured in four quick points after Howard’s make that cut the UK lead to just two points. From then on, the Wildcat offense caught fire. Howard and Patterson put up six quick points that were followed by a rainbow three from Roper that touched the rim twice and even hit the backboard before dropping in.
Before you knew it, Kentucky had pushed the lead back to double-digits. Amanda Paschal hit a big three that was followed by another Howard three right ahead of the buzzer to take a 16-point lead into the final frame.
To open the quarter, the ‘Cats immediately pushed its lead to 20 points for the first time all afternoon. However, Howard would pick up her third foul and the momentum shifted. Mississippi State began to crash the glass and was finding mismatches down low. Eight second-chance points in the final 10 minutes kept the Bulldogs alive down the stretch.
MSU center Rickea Jackson exploded for 14 points in the fourth quarter, dominating the glass and creating extra possessions for the Bulldogs. Her efforts helped trim the UK lead to down to just 10 points with five minutes left. But Kentucky always had an answer, and more often than not, it was thanks to Roper.
The senior guard added eight points in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-4 from the free-throw line. Roper connected on a tough, contorting layup at the rim before drilling a mid-range jumper that nearly burst the roof off of Memorial Coliseum. Howard put the game away for good with a pair of free-throws to give Kentucky the 73-62 win.
Roper and Patterson each hit double-figures, with Roper adding 14 points and five assists while Patterson registered 15 points and three assists. Tatyana Wyatt went for eight points and six rebounds.
MSU was paced by 16 points from Jackson and 18 from Carter.
Kentucky will now take a few-day break before they head to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels this Thursday at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network+.