After an extremely disappointing January for Kyra Elzy and her Kentucky Wildcats, any hope of postseason play seemed to be out the window. With a 9-11 record, a shorthanded and depleted Kentucky had Coach Elzy firmly on the hot seat. This team could have easily laid down and packed it in the rest of the season. However, great coaching, health, and effort has willed the Wildcats back into the NCAA tournament field and they had an opportunity to send a statement to the rest of the country in their matchup vs sixth-ranked LSU.
Rhyne Howard had a fairly quiet showing for her standards in the SEC quarterfinals. The projected second overall pick in the WNBA draft had just 14 points in Kentucky’s matchup against Mississippi State. In the first quarter vs LSU, Howard made it clear that Thursday’s performance was an anomaly as she came out and scored double-digits in the first quarter alone.
Kentucky’s offense was clicking on all cylinders in the first half on the back of Rhyne Howard. The Wildcats were also getting solid contributions from Treasure Hunt and Robyn Benton who have both struggled at times during the regular season. Threes were flying in from every direction and opened up plenty of opportunities to space the floor and provide offensive flow.
Not only was Kentucky executing offensively, their defensive intensity in the post was eye popping. LSU had the size advantage down low, but Kentucky made up for size with effort and made life very hard for the Tigers’ frontcourt. At the conclusion of the first half, Kentucky had a surprising 45-25 lead.
As you would expect with a team of LSU’s caliber, the Tigers made a run in the third quarter to put some nervous energy in Bridgestone Arena for BBN. Behind the offensive mastermind that is Khayla Pointer, LSU was able to end the third period on a 13-4 run and cut Kentucky’s lead from 20 to 11 heading into the fourth quarter.
With LSU’s run making the game within distance, Coach Elzy made a crucial in-game adjustment to switch to a 2-3 defense to slow down the Tigers’ offense that was gaining momentum at the end of the third. This decision did exactly what the Wildcats intended and slowed down Pointer and the Tigers and allowed Kentucky to pull away and outscore them 21-17 for the quarter. Rhyne Howard also hit a few shots in the fourth to clinch a 78-63 victory.
The star of the day for Kentucky was none other than Rhyne Howard. She put up 32 points for the second time in a week’s span following her 32-point performance on Sunday. The point total is obviously impressive, but what’s even more impressive was her efficiency in getting to that number. Howard shot 11-18 from the floor and 6-8 from three.
Kentucky will return to action in Nashville on Saturday night at 7:30. The Wildcats will take on the winner of the Alabama vs Tennessee matchup. The semi-final game will be aired on ESPNU.