Kentucky defeats No. 2 seeded LSU 78-63 in SEC quarterfinals


Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard (5) smiles after making a 3-pointer during the UK vs. Auburn womens basketball game on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-62. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

No. 7 seeded Kentucky defeated No. 2 LSU 78-63 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday.

With the win, Kentucky improves its win streak to eight games for the first time since the 2014-2015 season, and has defeated its last five SEC opponents by 15 or more points for the first time in program history.

“Once we got back healthy it was go time. It was either we go to the tournament, or we go to the tournament, there was no other option than for us to just start winning and having fun with the game,” senior guard Rhyne Howard said.

Howard led Kentucky to the win, leading all scorers with 32 points on the night, including six 3-pointers that contributed to the Wildcats tying the record for most 3-pointers made in the SEC Tournament, with nine made shots from beyond the arch.

“Usually I don’t have that much space to get my shots,” Howard said. “When I see it, I’m taking it, and it was just going in tonight.”

Howard’s teammate, sophomore guard Treasure Hunt, emphasized the importance of having a talent like Howard in making the team successful, not just with her scoring, but also just her presence on the floor.

“Everybody tries to guard her so she can’t score, but obviously that doesn’t work,” Hunt said. “When Rhy is hitting her shots we try to get it to her to keep shooting and when everybody is on her, we just get open and knock down our shots just like Rhyne.”

Though Howard’s 32 contributed most for the Cats in the win, three other Wildcats scored double-figures in the victory.

Junior forward Dre’una Edwards took the title of co-second leading scorer with 13 points, also securing 10 rebounds to record her 11th double-double of the season.

Despite LSU entering the contest as the No. 6 team in the country, according to the AP Poll, Kentucky took the lead early in the first half, eventually going on to lead for 38 minutes and never trailing for a second.

The victory wasn’t just earned by Kentucky in scoring, as the Cats also out-rebounded, out-blocked, out-assisted and out-stole LSU, all whilst recording less turnovers for a well-rounded and dominant victory.

“We were just clicking on all cylinders,” Howard said. “We were very aggressive from the jump and we knew that we could force a few turnovers and take the lead on some easy buckets.”

Though the final margin of victory was 15 points, Kentucky led by as many as 22, handling the Tigers with relative ease for what is arguably its best win of the season.

More importantly than that, the win over LSU solidifies UK as a NCAA Tournament team, already having been projected as in the field and defeating a No. 2 seed to add to the resume.

Kentucky celebrated accordingly throughout the contest, continuing its recent trend of shot celebrations and dancing after the win, with broadcasters going as far as to say it is the best chemistry and energy the team has had all season.

“When we celebrate, it brings a lot to us,” Hunt said. “I would say it makes us play better and play harder to continue our run.”

Kentucky hopes to continue its celebrations on Saturday, March 5, as it takes on No. 3 Tennessee in the semi-finals of the SEC Tournament.

The Cats battled the Vols once prior, losing by 26 points in Knoxville as part of its infamous 1-8 losing period that saw the team go as far as to have an overall losing record.

Despite that, Kentucky’s dominant win over the Tigers as well as its recent 8-0 run makes the result of the semi-final matchup less obvious to predict.

“As a coach there’s always room to grow,” Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy said. “I thought we started standing offensively a bit in the third quarter, but I’m proud of this team. The resiliency, the toughness, the togetherness. They believe in each other. No matter who wins tomorrow, we have to do what we do best and that’s transition offense and being relentless defensively.”

No. 7 Kentucky against No. 3 Tennessee is scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. EST. again from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, with the game also airing live on ESPNU.