Updated: Feb 28
Emotions were high for the Big Blue Nation on Sunday afternoon during the Kentucky women's basketball team as they honored the greatest all-around player in Kentucky history, Rhyne Howard. The star senior from Cleveland, Tennessee was honored in front of an impressive Memorial Coliseum crowd on hand to watch the Wildcats close out the regular season. Howard was showered with love, receiving hugs from her teammates, coaches, and family.
With her ceremony out of the way, Kyra Elzy's squad had an important task at hand to keep themselves on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
Rhyne Howard made it clear very early that the spotlight would not faze her. She came out of the gates on a hot streak, scoring back-to-back threes on the Wildcats' first two possessions. This was a sign of things to come as Howard would go 4-5 from behind the arc to ignite a season-high 30-point first quarter for Kentucky. Dre'Una Edwards and Jada Walker also made some valuable contributions for Coach Elzy, including a Sportscenter top 10 worthy crossover and buzzer beating three by Walker to end the first quarter.
Not only was Kentucky's offense hitting on all cylinders, but the defense was on their A-game as well. The Wildcats held Auburn to 15 first quarter points.
Kentucky came back down to earth in the second as they just put up 17. Howard once again led the way with eight points for the quarter to go along with her 16 first quarter points. Dre'Una brought her energy when shots were not falling. The emerging star had an impressive stretch of getting an offensive rebound and passing it out for wide open three-point shot by Howard. She followed that up with a steal and outlet pass to Treasure Hunt that resulted in a wide-open layup for Edwards. Despite getting cooler from the floor, the effort was still there as energy plays and defensive intensity allowed the Wildcats to extend their lead to 21 at halftime.
Auburn came out of the halftime locker room ready to play, getting off to 7-4 start. Their momentum did not last long as Rhyne Howard and Dre'Una Edwards both found their rhythm. Kyra Elzy's offense has found their flow and they found some balance as Jada Walker and Jazmine Massengill got involved in the action as well, complementing the stars and allowing Kentucky to pass the 70 mark in the third quarter. That statement being said about this team a month ago would sound unheard of.
With the game in hand for Kentucky, the fourth quarter was about getting out of Memorial Coliseum healthy and ending Rhyne Howard's home career on a high note. Howard entered the quarter with 29 points to go along with her two rebounds and two assists. She started the quarter with a three-point basket to close within eight of 40 points for the day. With six and half minutes to go, Coach Elzy made the decision to check Howard out of the game for the last time at Memorial Coliseum. After a 24-point first half, Howard cooled down with just eight in the second. With that said, Sunday was everything the BBN could have asked for in sending off one of the all-time greats. Her Wildcat teammates were impressive as well as she got another 20+ point performance from Dre'Una Edwards and a double-digit day for Jada Walker.
With the win, Kentucky closes the season on a six-game win streak and now turns their attention to the SEC tournament in Nashville. The Wildcats are squarely on the bubble and to ensure their spot in the big dance, it would be nice to at least win a game or two.