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Rhyne Howard saved the day for the Kentucky women's basketball team Sunday afternoon. After a back-and-forth game filled with lead changes, tied scores and a late 3-pointer by the Razorbacks, the Wildcats held on for a 61-59 victory over Arkansas inside Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky now moves to 21-5 on the season and maintains a four-game winning streak.
Kentucky's leading three scorers should come as no surprise: Rhyne Howard (18 points), Taylor Murray (16) and Maci Morris (11) led the way for the Wildcats. Of course, her last-second shot sealed the deal for the win, but Howard was vital for the UK Hoops team throughout the game, adding 14 rebounds, four assists and three steals while committing just one turnover in 35 minutes. She was also solid from behind-the-arc, sinking 3-8 from deep. The first basket of the game was a three-pointer by Howard, as was the last basket of the first quarter and of course, her jumper to end the game. After the final buzzer, Howard admitted the last shot was supposed to be for Maci Morris.
But when Arkansas' defense was all over Morris, Howard was able to get an open look herself.
"We wanted it in one of their hands there at the end - that's what we run that for," Coach Matthew Mitchell said after the game. "Arkansas played really great on Maci. Either way, we wanted the last shot, and [Howard] just timed it really, really perfectly."
The first quarter was arguably the strongest for Kentucky: they finished the period shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the three, good for a 22-14 Kentucky lead. Howard led the team with eight points and two assists in the first 10 minutes.
But by the end of the second quarter, Arkansas had found their groove, and the Razorbacks took the lead for the first time when they went up 27-26 with a little over three minutes left in the half. Kentucky hit an absolute wall on the offensive end: the Wildcats shot just 12.5 percent from the floor and were outscored 19-8 in the second quarter
. The Cats relied on the cushion built by their first-quarter lead and entered the locker room trailing 30-33 after an ugly and disjointed quarter of basketball.
The halftime message must have revolved around aggression, because the Cats came out fighting in the third quarter. A layup by Murray followed by a Jaida Roper steal and another successful layup by Blaire Green got the crowd re-energized and the momentum swinging back in Kentucky's favor.
In the third quarter, Kentucky outscored Arkansas 17-13. The Cats got their shooting percentage back up into the 40's (44.4 percent) and had a one-point lead at the end of the period. But it wasn't until the final quarter the ball really got going and the game got fun. And just when you thought Kentucky had it, Arkansas' Raven Northcross-Baker drained a three-pointer from the corner to tie the game back up at 59 with just 20.4 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Howard was able to get up a shot and, after bouncing around and touching just about every part of the rim, it finally rolled in - Kentucky took the 61-59 led. There was barely over a second remaining in the game, but just to be sure, Howard grabbed one last steal to end the game.
"It's just a complete performance
," Mitchell said of Howard's well-rounded outing. "Obviously, it would have been hard to win without her... It's awesome having her here, and she's making great contributions."
The Cats will be back in action Thursday, when they're on the road at South Carolina. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.