SEC CHAMPIONS: Kentucky stuns No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 in Nashville


Kentucky Wildcats guard Jazmine Massengill (3) and guard Rhyne Howard (5) walk onto the court to celebrate with their team during a timeout 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

For the first time since 1982, No. 7 seeded Kentucky won the SEC Championship, defeating No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 in Nashville on Sunday.

The win marked the first time in 40 years under then head coach Terry Hall that the Wildcats had claimed victory in the conference tournament, with current head coach Kyra Elzy leading UK to the title in her second season at the helm.

With the victory, Kentucky continued its now 10-game winning streak, a stark contrast to the 1-8 start to 2022 that the team suffered.

Though the Cats came out victorious, they trailed the Gamecocks for 36 minutes, taking the lead with the game winning 3-pointer by junior forward Dre’una Edwards.

“I told Dre, ‘If they go with [Rhyne Howard] and you are open, take the shot.’, Elzy said. “Rhythm Shots – I’m confident in that shot, she works on it, and when the shot went up, I knew it was good. I started running down the sidelines, I knew it was good.”

Edwards finished the game with 27 points, leading all scorers, and nine rebounds, one away from her 12th double-double of the season.

“I’m so proud of Dre,” Elzy said. “We did hit heads early on, but she came back a better person and a better player and more committed to what we needed to get done. She has helped this program move forward.”

Kentucky struggled for much of the game to contain National Player of the Year frontrunner Aliyah Boston, who recorded her 24th consecutive double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Despite Boston’s dominance for much of the game, Kentucky caught fire in the fourth quarter, finishing the game on an 11-0 scoring run and keeping the Gamecocks without a point for the final five minutes of the game.

Kentucky scored just three points in the second quarter of play, a dagger to most teams hoping to win a title in any league, but it ultimately outscored USC 21-7 in the fourth quarter to claim the victory.

Senior guard Rhyne Howard also finished the game with 18 points, the only other Wildcat to notch double-digit points in the win.

Howard, despite not leading the team in the box score, was arguably the most vital piece of Kentucky’s victory, playing all 40 minutes of the game, only resting during timeouts and halftime.

Kentucky struggled from beyond the arch in the victory, breaking away from what helped it beat No. 3 seeded LSU and No. 2 Tennessee in the days prior.

UK went 6-14 from beyond the arch, entering halftime with just one made 3-pointer, making Edwards’ game-sealing make all the more impactful.

The win marks the first time Kentucky has defeated the Gamecocks since February 2019, having been swept by USC in three straight regular seasons after, including this season.

The Wildcats and Gamecocks first met on Jan. 9 this season, where UK fell short 74-54, in what would be the start of the Wildcats infamous 1-8 stretch.

Round two took place on Feb. 10, with Kentucky having a strong fourth quarter comeback before ultimately losing by nine.

Since that loss, Kentucky has not lost another game, going 10-0, with it being a storybook ending heading into the NCAA Tournament, as the Cats finally overcame the Gamecocks in the championship game.

“We started having fun,” Howard said. “When things were tough we weren’t having fun. We basically acted like we didn’t want to be there and that’s how it looked. We had a team meeting and we were like, ‘All right, we cannot end like this’. We knew we had to get it together.”

With the win Kentucky awaits Selection Sunday where it will certainly hear its name called as part of the field of 68.

“We are not on the bubble, we have our ticket punched,” Elzy said. “We do have to have some recovery but we always do that after the SEC Tournament, then we’re back to work. We’re going to celebrate this SEC Championship, but our job is not done yet, we still have work to do and we look forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament and making a run.”

The selection show is currently scheduled to air at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 13, airing live on ESPN.