Kentucky loses to Princeton 69-62 in NCAA Tournament Round of 64


Kentucky forward Dre’una Edwards (44) reacts to a foul call during the UK vs. Princeton womens basketball game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 19, 2022, at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Princeton won 69-62. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—No. 6 seeded Kentucky fell short 69-62 to No. 11 Princeton in the Round of 64 in Bloomington, Indiana, ending the Wildcats’ season.

The loss ends what was a 10-game winning streak for the Cats, which built a tournament résumé after going 1-8 to start the new year, with UK winning an SEC Championship over No. 1 South Carolina in the process.

“Obviously it’s a disappointing day,” Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy said. “In this moment it hurts, but when we have a chance to look back, we did something really special to go on the run that we made to make it to the NCAA Tournament and win the SEC Championship. We have some things that we have done and accomplished down the stretch that we will be proud of, even though in this moment it’s hard to celebrate.”

The result likely stings more for Wildcat fans with the game also going down as the final one in a Kentucky uniform for senior guard Rhyne Howard, who fittingly led the team with 17 points.

Howard is projected to be a hot commodity in the upcoming WNBA draft, finishing her career at Kentucky with 2,790 points, putting her as the second all-time leading scorer in Kentucky basketball history across both the mens and womens programs.

“She’s a once in a lifetime type of player,” Elzy said. “Whoever is smart enough to draft her is going to have a talent. She’s going to make people better, she’s a competitor. Her basketball IQ is unbelievable, and I think in time she will be the face of the WNBA.”

Howard’s final game appeared to be in jeopardy early in the night, with the veteran leaving the court entirely after an apparent injury in the first quarter.

Luckily for Kentucky’s fighting chances, Howard was able to return to the court early in the second quarter and would finish out the game.

Oddly enough, Howard was only one of two Kentucky leading scorers to leave the game with injury, with junior forward Dre’una Edwards doing the same not long after.

Though she finished the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds, her 11th double-double of the season, Edwards left the game midway through the second quarter with an injury, not returning to the playing surface until the start of the third quarter.

Freshman Jada Walker also recorded a double-digit point total in the loss, scoring 11 points, all in the first half, keeping the Cats afloat during Howard and Edwards’ absences.

“Jada Walker is tough as nails,” Elzy said. “She’s a fearless freshman and it’s just everything she has brought to our team this year, everything we needed. She has a winning mentality, a toughness, loves defense, and the sky is truly the limit for her. Now that she has a season under her belt, y’all gotta watch out.”

Kentucky as a team shot 36 percent from the field and 27 percent from beyond the arch, a relatively lackluster offensive performance compared to prior games.

Despite the forgettable shooting performance, the Wildcats fought close for much of the game, getting as close as two points over halfway through the third quarter.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, Princeton shot 49 percent from the field, over 50 percent for the majority of the game, limiting the chances UK had to come back with strong offense, most notably that of Abby Meyers, who recorded a career-high 29 points for the Tigers.

“We were talking about being able to get a defensive stop and score, but today that didn’t happen for us,” Elzy said. “I always thought we were in the game with a chance to win, we’ve come from behind in a lot of games this year. Give credit to Princeton, they made some plays when they had to and we could not finish today.”

With its season concluded, Kentucky travels back to Lexington to prepare for the season to come.

While it’s all but certain Howard will be the WNBA next season, the same can not be said for Kentucky’s other seniors, who all have at least one year of additional eligibility stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With senior guard Blair Green out for the season before the first game even tipped off, as well as a Kristen Crenshaw-Gill stepping away from the team during the season, Kentucky had nine players suit up for the tournament game as opposed to Princeton’s 16.

While nine players is vastly better than the six healthy players UK dressed at times during the losing period, the roster still presents plenty of room for a veteran returner to make an impact next season.

Despite the first round upset, Kentucky showed promise and poise after appearing to be dead in the water early in the new year.

With only one guaranteed loss for the program, though it’s a huge one, Kentucky has the potential to return in the late fall and make an impact on the womens college basketball world once again.

“I’m proud of what Kentucky has done this year,” Elzy said. “Our work is not yet done, we’ll go back to work. This will be a program that the people of the Commonwealth will be proud of.”