The matchup for Kentucky Women’s Basketball in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge was anything but what the title of the event implied it would be. The No. 16 Wildcats (5-1) brushed off a tight first quarter to roll through the West Virginia Mountaineers (4-2) by a final count of 83-60.
Rhyne Howard was the star once again for Kentucky, dropping 27 points on 5-7 shooting from beyond the arc. But she wasn’t alone. Dre’Una Edwards and Jada Walker both finished in double-figures while three others scored at least six points. Outside of the first period, it was all ‘Cats everything on Wednesday night in Memorial Coliseum.
Let’s talk about how we got there.
Kentucky got off to a quick start in front of the largest crowd of the season. It was an immediate 5-0 lead for the ‘Cats before West Virginia began to settle in. The score was knotted at 7-7 after four minutes and would remain close to finish out the period.
Howard’s second made triple of the first quarter gave UK a 14-10 lead but WVU bounced right back to score the next five points. The Mountaineers would eventually take a slight 17-16 leading into the second period.
Treasure Hunt kicked off the quarter with her first made 3-pointer of the season (previously 0-12) as both sides continued to battle back and forth. The pace was high and the intensity grew with it. Howard was getting visibly upset for her lack of touches, but she quickly got herself more involved. From there, Kentucky went on a run.
A Jada Walker three was immediately followed up by her stealing the inbounds pass and getting fouled on the made layup. That bucket gave UK a 26-23 lead, which it would waste no time ballooning to a 32-25 advantage.
Back-to-back triples from Howard and Jazmine Massengill would push Kentucky even further ahead. Dre’Una Edwards would close out the half with an easy finish off a beautiful pass from Massengill to put the ‘Cats up 40-31 heading into the break.
Howard and Edwards powered Kentucky with a combined 23 points through the opening 20 minutes. As a team, UK shot 46.9 percent from the floor and 7-13 from deep in the first half. Nyah Leveretter was inserted into the game late in the second period as well, her first action of the season as she’s been recovering from a non-COVID-related illness.
Out of the intermission, West Virginia found its footing. The Mountaineers made four of its first five field-goal attempts to begin the half. But on the other side of the floor, Kentucky was just as steady. Howard finally hit her groove as her squad slowly began to break away. For the next 10-plus minutes, it was nothing but the ‘Cats.
Kentucky couldn’t miss in the third period and was wearing down the WVU bigs on the glass. Howard added 10 points by herself in the frame to help build a sizable UK cushion. From roughly the 6:00 mark of the third quarter to the 5:00 mark of the fourth, the ‘Cats exploded for a 27-9 run that put the game well out of reach for the Mountaineers.
After losing the first quarter by one point, Kentucky won the next three by 24, cruising to a dominant 83-60 victory. Howard was excellent all night, posting 27 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals on 7-14 shooting, including a lethal 5-7 clip from deep. Edwards was right behind her with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high six blocks for her second consecutive double-double.
As a team, Kentucky shot over 50 percent from the floor (50.9) and beyond the arc (11-19; 57.9 percent) while holding West Virginia to just 37.1 percent overall shooting. The ‘Cats also owned the battle on the boards, 43-28, while blocking 10 more shots than WVU, as well.
The ‘Cats will return to action this Sunday once again at Memorial Coliseum, going up against Merrimack College at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network+. We’ll see you then.