No. 15 Kentucky grinds out 61-55 victory over Missouri


Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard (10) lays up the ball during the UK vs. Missouri women’s basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 61-55. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff.

Braden Ramsey

In a game that only the truest of college basketball fans would consider calling pretty, the Cats dug deep and gutted out their sixth SEC win of the season by six against the visiting Tigers.

Rhyne Howard recorded 22 points and ten rebounds in the game, giving her three 20 point/10 rebound double-doubles so far this year. She went 7-of-15 (46.7%) overall and 7-of-8 at the charity stripe, making up for her battalion’s 33% (15-for-45) shooting display.

“It’s a great luxury to have Rhyne Howard,” Wildcat head coach Kyra Elzy said postgame. “[She showed] shows why she is the best… she makes everyone around her better, and it’s not just her scoring.”

Neither team was efficient, as Mizzou shot only 38.5% (20-of-52) overall. The two combined to go 4-for-31 from behind the arc (UK: 3-of-13, Missouri: 1-for-18), and only scored 19 points in the first quarter.

“It was a really ugly [first] half of basketball,” Tiger coach Robin Pingeton said.

Despite the struggles, the Cats were able to build a ten-point halftime lead, heading into the break up 28-18. The Tigers would not go away though, dominating the third quarter behind 6-0 runs at the beginning and end of the period to enter the final frame trailing by only three.

LaDazhia Williams spearheaded the Mizzou attack, notching 15 of her 23 points in the second half. A three-point play actually put her squad in front 52-50 with 3:56 remaining, their first lead since she scored the game’s initial points 32 seconds in.

“[LaDazhia] was doing a great job for us,” Pingeton said. “She continues to get better and better… [we] want her to continue to assert herself.”

What ultimately doomed the now 6-6 Tigers was the same thing that had Kentucky on the ropes: the supporting cast’s efficiency. The redshirt junior poured in as many buckets (10) as her comrades did, but on a third of the shots (13 for her, 39 by her crew). Aijha Blackwell played her part, snaring a whopping 19 boards, but was only 4-of-12 from the field. Howard had three teammates score during the 10-2 Kentucky run that ended the game, while nobody other than Williams found the bottom of the net in the last 3:22 of action on the flip side.

“We play team basketball,” Elzy said. “We talked in the huddle: ‘You’re battle tested, do not panic, let’s take good shots, let’s trust each other and trust how we play.’”

One of those three Cats to score down the stretch was Dre’una Edwards. The Utah transfer has come off the bench in recent weeks, but hasn’t complained, plying her trade just as she did previously. She had some key baskets and boards in the final minutes on her way to a near double-double (ten points, nine rebounds).

“In the past, when she has missed some shots around the rim or the referees have called a foul that she didn’t like, it really has taken her out of her game,” Elzy said. “For her to miss a shot down the stretch, go back, get the rebound, focus and finish, that was a huge growth for her.”

As Williams carried Mizzou back into things, the bulk of her business was done on the low block. The Tigers scored 34 points in the paint, executing their game plan to a tee. But Kentucky’s 19-6 edge in points off turnovers – and 21-6 bench point advantage – provided enough offense to get the W.

“I really thought if we could beat them at the paint game, we’d be in good shape,” Pingeton said. “We beat them in the paint game, but just came up short.”

Unsurprisingly, the Wildcat coach intends on mending this flaw as the season wanes on.

“If I could snap my fingers and fix one thing, it would be keeping the ball out of the paint. Making them score outside the paint, one shot and out,” she said. “Have we gotten better? Absolutely… [but] you continue to work on your deficiencies, and while you’re doing that, you find a way to win.” 

Kentucky’s next chance to tack onto its victory column comes Thursday, when it heads to Oxford to battle Ole Miss. Tip off between the Cats and Rebels is set for 7:00 p.m. E.T. on SEC Network Plus.