Short-handed Kentucky lose 65-57 at Vanderbilt; Rhyne Howard reaches 2,000 points


Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard (10) tries to put the ball up during the UK vs. Merrimack women’s basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-56. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky (9-8) womens basketball fell short 65-57 at Vanderbilt (11-10) on Thursday evening, with the Cats only able to field six players due to injuries and suspension.

While Kentucky traveled to Nashville ready to play seven, sophomore guard Treasure Hunt was ruled out just prior to tip-off after leaving Kentucky’s prior win over Auburn with an injury. 

Hunt joined senior guard Blair Green, freshman guard Kristen Crenshaw-Gill, and senior guard Robyn Benton on the injured list for Kentucky.

Junior forward Dre’una Edwards once again did not travel with the team due to what is still being described as a disciplinary suspension.

Kentucky set a new season record for turnovers in one game, recording 25 turnovers in the loss, which beat out the previous record of 21 against No. 7 Louisville in the ESPN Jimmy V Classic. Vanderbilt was able to exploit 23 points off turnovers.

Being short-staffed, sophomore forward Nyah Leveretter earned her first collegiate start, replacing Hunt in the rotation. With Leveretter in the starting lineup, junior guard Emma King was the only substitute Kentucky had in Nashville.

All Wildcats played 26 or more minutes, just two days after their prior road trip, and three days before they battle No. 12 LSU.

“It’s a difficult time right now,” Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy said after the game. “But we have to be able to handle adversity. At the end of the day, we still had chances. It wasn’t a lack of heart or effort or want to win, we just didn’t execute down the stretch and the turnovers cost us.”

Elzy’s emphasis on the team still having chances to win is validated by Kentucky’s inability to make a field goal late, which could have closed the deficit on a Vanderbilt team who was also struggling from the field. 

Prior to Rhyne Howard’s final lay-up with 15 seconds to play, Kentucky had not have a made field goal for over five minutes when King recorded a lay-up with five minutes and sixteen seconds left in the quarter.

“We were turning the ball over,” Elzy said. “We needed to attack and go downhill. One of the things we talked about was trying to attack off the dribble and get open shots. The open shots we did have did not go for us.”

While the loss continues the downward spiral for the Wildcats, who have now lost five of their last six games since beating No. 15 Georgia at home, one silver lining for Elzy has been Howard, who finished tonight with 25 points.

The 25-point total allowed Howard the points she needed to reach 2,000 career points as a Wildcat, doing so in just 100 games played. The feat puts her as the third fastest Wildcat, between men and women, to reach 2,000 points, just behind Valerie Still (90 games) and Dan Issel (79 games).

Howard needs just 14 more points this season to become the second leading scorer in Kentucky womens basketball history, likely soon surpassing A’dia Mathies, who has 2,014.

“I’m so proud of Rhyne Howard,” Elzy said. “The accolades continue to roll in, but what she has done for Kentucky womens basketball and what she has done for womens basketball in general is so important. She has really stepped up and she continues to battle, even though this isn’t how you want your senior year to go.”

Howard, a candidate to be the number one overall pick in the WNBA draft, has started every game this season for the Wildcats.

Kentucky at No. 12 LSU tips off this Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. and will air on the SEC Network. It is one of two games Kentucky has left on its schedule against currently ranked opponents.