RECAP: Rhyne Howard explodes in the second half as Kentucky takes down No. 12 Mississippi State
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RECAP: Rhyne Howard explodes in the second half as Kentucky takes down No. 12 Mississippi State

Zack Geoghegan11 months

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Article written by:Zack GeogheganZack Geoghegan

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Rhyne-Howard
<small>(UK Athletics)<small>

(UK Athletics)

Early foul trouble could have stunted her production, but you can’t hold back a National Player of the Year candidate for long.

During the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats Women’s Basketball Team (9-1) 92-86 overtime road win against the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-2), reigning SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard put on full display why she’s still one of the best–if not the best–players in the entire country. Down in Starkville, the Wildcat junior guard exploded for 33 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists for her third double-double of the 2020-21 campaign. Howard only scored four points in the first-half but poured in 29 during the second half and overtime period. She shot 10-19 from the field and went 4-6 from beyond the arc.

Kentucky had its hands extra full against the Mississippi State offense, as the Bulldogs couldn’t miss a single shot in the second half. As a team, MSU shot 69.2 percent (18-26) during 20 second-half minutes but was paced by Kentucky’s 53.6 percent (15-28). The Wildcats were able to muster up enough stops down the stretch–elevated by some big shots from the offense–that sent the game into an extra five minutes before UK was able to pull away late.

Howard’s 33 points will deservedly be the talk of the day, but her supporting cast stepped up all across the floor, especially KeKe McKinney and Jazmine Massengill.

McKinney finished with 11 points, including a 3-4 shooting mark from beyond the arc, to go along with four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one timely drawn charge. Coming into Sunday’s game, the senior forward had only made one shot from distance thus far–and it came in the previous win over Arkansas–but was on-fire against the Bulldogs. Massengill added six points, three rebounds, two assists, and one steal, canning the most important non-Howard buckets of the night with a 3-pointer that tied the game at 75 all in the fourth quarter.

Overall, this game was about as tightly contested as it could have been.

Both teams putting up points efficiently, as they each shot 49 percent from the floor, but Kentucky held the advantage from distance, shooting 14-28 from 3 while MSU went 7-17. It was the second game in a row that the ‘Cats made double-digit 3-pointers after doing so just once in the first eight outings of the season.

After turning the ball over five times in the first quarter, Kentucky only saw seven miscues the rest of the way. Mississippi State turned the ball over 11 times themselves, with both sides turning those mistakes into 15 points. The rebounding battle was about the same, with UK barely winning that category 35-34. MSU did win close matchups in second-chance points (13-10) and bench points (26-22) while dominating the ‘Cats in the paint, outscoring them 54-24 down low. But one team had Rhyne Howard and the other didn’t. In the end, that was the biggest difference between these two top 15 programs.

Coming out of the gate, Kentucky didn’t get off to the same slow start that plagued them against No. 10 Arkansas earlier this week. After falling down 10-2 against the Razorbacks on New Year’s Eve, UK stayed right with the Bulldogs on Sunday. Thanks to a 3-pointer from Robyn Benton, her second already of the day at that point, Kentucky held an 11-10 lead at the first media timeout.

The scoring slowed down a bit from there, as Kentucky added just five points in the final five minutes of the first period before falling behind 17-16 at the quarter break. Howard was sent to the bench at the 5:55 mark after picking up her second foul and would not return until the start of the second period. But foul trouble hung over her like a dark cloud throughout the rest of the half, as she would add just two more points before the break for Kentucky.

Luckily, she has a squad of four-and five-star-type talented teammates that surround her. McKinney and Chasity Patterson both added five points in the second frame while the Kentucky defense played its best stretch of the day. Mississippi State shot 7-17 in that period but was able to stay close thanks to a 3-5 clip from beyond the arc.

Even though Howard’s shots weren’t falling (four points on 1-4 shooting in 12 first-half minutes), she still made a sizable impact elsewhere. She was up to five rebounds, four assists, one block, and just one turnover at the intermission. Kentucky did manage to extend its lead to as many as five points on multiple occasions in the second quarter, eventually rattling off a 9-0 run that gave them a 30-24 lead, but Mississippi State always found a way to stay within arms reach. A big 3-pointer from Aliyah Matharu with 47 seconds left in the first half trimmed the UK lead down to just 36-34 at the half.

To open up the third quarter, Kentucky slowly added to its minuscule lead. Five quick points off of a triple from Blair Green and the signature “steal-and-score” move from Patterson pushed UK ahead 43-38 a few minutes into the fresh half.

Howard was still searching for her shooting touch but found Benton for an open mid-range jumper, part of seven consecutive makes from the Kentucky offense. A pair of free-throws from Benton later in the quarter gave Kentucky a 53-47 lead where the ‘Cats could have pounced on MSU and blew the game wide-open. However, the Bulldogs responded with an immediate 5-0 run of their own and quickly began to overwhelm the UK defense with elite-level shot-making.

Mississippi State shot an unbelievable 11-13 from the floor in the third quarter, allowing them to take a 59-57 lead into the final frame despite watching the ‘Cats shoot 8-14 from the field, themselves. Howard was only at eight points by the time the fourth period rolled around, but she made sure to save her best efforts for the pressing moments.

McKinney kicked off the final frame with her third 3-pointer of the night after Kentucky turned it over on the opening possession. Led by Rickea Jackson, who finished with 23 points on 10-22 shooting for MSU, the Bulldogs continued to make everything in sight. But it didn’t seem to matter, considering they couldn’t stop the one player for Kentucky who they couldn’t let get into a rhythm.

Once Howard woke up, she put everyone else to bed. If for some reason you didn’t think Howard was deserving of her title as a National Player of the Year favorite, you now have more than enough evidence that should change your mind. She poured in 15 of Kentucky’s 21 fourth-quarter points, knocking down big shot after big shot right as it felt like Mississippi State might be able to pull away.

Howard was 5-8 from the field in the fourth, making three of her four 3-pointers. At one point, she scored 12 points a row for her team before Massengill’s 3-pointer tied the game at 75 apiece. That triple from the Tennessee transfer with a little under three minutes left in regulation marked the first time that Kentucky had been that close since the third quarter. Howard came right back with another 3-pointer to put UK up 78-75, but MSU responded with an and-1 score from Jessika Carter.

Kentucky nearly fumbled the game away on the last possession and a chance to win after being forced into an oddly quick five-second violation on the out of bounds play. Luckily for the ‘Cats, Mississippi State would miss their final shot attempt, giving us five free minutes of basketball and the third overtime period between these two schools over the last two days (the UK Men’s team beat MSU on Saturday in double-overtime).

The extra period was, as you might have guessed, all about Rhyne Howard.

She dropped in 10 of Kentucky’s 14 overtime points, helping her reach a season-high in scoring while putting the game out of reach for MSU. The Bulldogs actually started the overtime on a 4-0 run, but watched helplessly as Howard sized up the defense and made it look way too easy. There was a stretch during the fourth quarter and extra period where Howard had scored 20 of Kentucky’s last 23 points.

Clutch free-throws in the closing minutes from Howard and Edwards handed Kentucky the 92-86 win and a 2-0 start to a strenuous SEC slate of games. Benton was the fourth and final Wildcat in double-figures with 10 points while Dre’ Una Edwards added seven points and 11 rebounds. Green posted eight points on 3-6 shooting and was replaced by Massengill in the starting unit during overtime. Olivia Owens contributed six points and four rebounds in 21 important minutes off the bench for UK.

Next up for the ‘Cats is No. 9 Texas A&M, who Kentucky will play on the road this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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2021-11-30