January 5, 2021 

‘She’ll give me that look’: Rhyne Howard’s big game leads SEC opening weekend

Loads of action around the conference

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Alaina Rice and Javyn Nicholson, January 3, 2020. (SEC Media Portal)

The SEC’s first full weekend of conference games didn’t disappoint.

Records were made and broken, players set individual game and career highs in various categories, and the first OT game had viewers on the edge of their collective seats.

That last distinction belonged to the Kentucky Wildcats and Mississippi State Bulldogs, who battled it out on Sunday afternoon in a game that saw Rhyne Howard reminding everyone why she may be the best player in college basketball.

The junior guard for Kentucky — the reigning SEC Player of the Year — scored a season-high 33 points, going 10-of-19 from the field and 4-of-6 from deep with 10 rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal en route to leading the No. 11 Wildcats to a thrilling OT win over No. 12 Mississippi State.

Around the country, people are taking notice.

The Wildcats have defeated back-to-back top-15 ranked teams for first time since their 2013-14 season, when they took down No. 3 Louisville and No. 9 Baylor.

“She showed today why she is the best  player in the country and she can take over at any time,” Elzy said following the game. “What I love about  Rhyne is she is so gifted, but she is unselfish. She knows how to get her teammates involved and put them in scoring position. She has as high basketball IQ and is a great passer but when it’s time to take over — we have a great relationship — she’ll give me that look, she’ll call for a certain play and we just have that connection and we put the ball in her hands and let  her do what she does best.”

Howard was held to just four points in the first half, just eight through three quarters, before getting it going late. She had 15 points in the fourth quarter as UK fought back to tie the game and send it to overtime. Howard scored 10 of Kentucky’s 14 points in the extra session to lead the Wildcats to the win.

Howard has made 181 career 3s, which ranks fourth most in school history. She has 1,308 career points as a Wildcat, which ranks her 21st all-time in scoring at UK. She needs 10 points to tie Bria Goss for 20th. This was the third double-double of the year for Howard and the 14th of her career.

In Sunday’s game, Howard got into early foul trouble and the other Wildcats responded by making big plays to keep the game close. 

“My teammates are always ready and they  always keeping me encouraged — given how I was in the first half, I wasn’t doing much,” Howard said. “They knew I would get them looks and make open shots for them and just let it come to me then when I started hitting they were looking for me and setting my screens and just trying to get me the ball.”

Kentucky (9-1, 2-0 SEC) had three other players in double figures in the game. KeKe McKinney and Chasity Patterson each had 11 points and Robyn Benton had 10 points.

“We came into the season all along talking about the depth and versatility of this team,” Elzy said. “One thing I love is they are willing to play team basketball and buy into their roles and do whatever it takes for us to win and achieve our goal.

“There’s one basketball, five positions and 40 minutes. Some nights it might be you, and some nights it might be someone else.”


Don’t overlook Rickea Jackson

Despite the loss, State’s Rickea Jackson shined and gave the team much to look forward to this season.

The sophomore guard scored 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting on Sunday afternoon and gave the Wildcats plenty to handle. However, her hot hand fizzled out down the stretch as she scored four points in the fourth quarter and was scoreless in overtime.

“She’s still evolving,” McCray-Penson said. “And she’s going to continue to evolve.”

Texas A&M still unbeaten

The Texas A&M Lady Aggies improved to 10-0 on the year, while Florida fell to 7-3 and 0-2 in conference play, after the Aggies defeated the Gators Sunday afternoon, 92-67.

The Aggies are 10-0 to begin the year for the first time since the 2014-15 season and are now 7-2 in SEC openers. They hit the second-most 3-pointers of its season, going 8-of-9 and scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter, the most by the team in the final period this season.

Five Aggies scored in double figures for the fourth time this year, with N’dea Jones, Ciera Johnson, Aaliyah Wilson, Jordan Nixon and Destiny Pitts crossing the double-digit threshold.

N’dea Jones recorded the 32nd double-double of her career, which brings her within one of tying the program record set by Khaalia Hillsman. Ciera Johnson now moves into sole possession of third place in double-doubles, recording her 20th against the Gators.

Florida looking for first conference win

The University of Florida women’s basketball team (7-3, 0-2) is still looking for its first conference win after Sunday’s loss to A&M. 

The Gators saw a strong game from sophomore Nina Rickards, who recorded her first double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rickards, a guard, has 50 rebounds in her last four games.

Four other Gators scored in double figures, including sophomore Lavender Briggs (19 pts, 8 rebounds), senior guard Kiki Smith (16 points) and Faith Dut (11 points).

Auburn misses leading scorer

The Auburn Tigers, without leading scorer and rebounder Unique Thompson for the second straight game, fell 76-44 to the Georgia Lady Bulldogs at home. Thompson has been unavailable since the team’s holiday break. 

The Tigers (5-5, 0-2 SEC) struggled offensively and turned the ball over a season-high 27 times. Georgia (9-1, 1-1) converted those turnovers into 26 points and had seven players score at least eight points in the game.

 “Georgia is very good at scoring quickly, especially off turnovers,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “And we’ve got to have people shoot better. We have to be able to score. We knew (Georgia) was going to be very aggressive, especially in the half court. Their defense is really good in the half court, so we knew we had to pop to get open. 

“I thought we had a lot of unforced turnovers, and it’s the unforced turnovers where we have to get better. We’ve got to have some people to step up.”

Junior Keya Patton was Auburn’s only player in double figures with 12 points, going 6-of-7 at the free-throw line.   

Tasty games ahead

Auburn hits the road for the second time in league play, traveling to Oxford, Miss., to take on Ole Miss on Thursday night. Game time is 7 p.m. ET at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

No. 9 Texas A&M returns home for a top-15 matchup against No. 13 Kentucky on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on the SEC Network.

Florida takes on its third-straight top 12 team Thursday, Jan. 7 when it welcomes No. 12 Mississippi State.

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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