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FINAL: Kentucky Stops Near Upset and Defeats Florida 73-64

Grant Grubbs03/04/21

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Article written by:On3 imageGrant Grubbs

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Rhyne-Howard
<small>(UK Athletics)<small>
[caption id="attachment_341427" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] (UK Athletics)[/caption] Kentucky’s win over Florida may not have been the prettiest victory, but it didn’t need to be. In the first game of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky pulled out a tight 73-64 victory over the Florida Gators. Kentucky may have won, but the game was far closer than need be. The Gators, for the second time this season, created problems for the ‘Cats with their aggressive drives to the basket. It’ll be essential Coach Elzy and company use this game as a learning experience moving forward in the tournament. Rhyne Howard once again proved why she is the SEC Player of the Year and dropped 27 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Florida certainly didn’t make it easy on the ‘Cats. Florida guard Kiara Smith went off for a career-high 36 points and nine rebounds. The Gators gave Kentucky all they wanted in more what was supposed to be an assured victory. Nevertheless, a win is a win. In what has seemed to become a common theme for Kentucky, the Wildcats’ defense came out of the gates lethargic. Florida guard, Kiara Smith, lit up the ‘Cats for 15 of Florida’s 17 points in the first quarter. Kentucky’s offense wasn’t much better. Although Howard put up 10 points in the opening period, the ‘Cats were struggling mightily. In the final five and a half minutes of the first, the Wildcats had four turnovers. The first quarter concluded with Florida leading the way 17-15. The 'Cats may have closed up some of their issues, but other old habits were still gaping wounds. The Gators were in complete control of the offensive boards. By halftime, Florida had snagged 13 offensive boards. In contrast, Kentucky only recorded a measly four offensive rebounds. Despite Kentucky’s mistakes, they headed into the half leading 33-32. Howard was had 16 points in the half and Florida’s Smith contributed 18. Kentucky would need greater contributions from its role players in the second half to extend their lead. The first two periods had been far too close for comfort, with eight lead changes between the two squads. Florida slowed down on the offensive boards in the second half, but KiKi Smith sped up. In the third quarter alone, Smith scored another 11 points and helped the Gators take a 49-46 lead heading into the final frame. Coach Elzy finally made some defensive adjustments at the beginning of the fourth quarter. She transitioned the ‘Cats into an occasional press defense which fell back into a 2-3 zone to hopefully provide extra help defense on Smith. Unfortunately, Elzy’s hopes didn’t go as planned. Smith continued to slice through Kentucky’s defense like warm butter. Even worse, Chasity Patterson was still not showing up in the fourth after already being essentially non-existent throughout the rest of the game. Then, a switch flipped. As if they had suddenly realized the urgency of their situation, Kentucky exploded into full-form. The ‘Cats finished out the game making nine of their last 10 shots and Howard dropping nine points in the final 10 minutes. Although the game was undoubtedly stressful, ‘Cats fans can still go to bed tonight with a smile on their face knowing they finished triumphant. Powered by the veteran leadership of Rhyne Howard and an impressive outing from freshman Treasure Hunt, the ‘Cats guaranteed their spot in the quarterfinals. Kentucky will face off against four-seed, Georgia, on Friday with a chance to advance to the quarterfinals. 7        

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2022-06-30