Matthew Mitchell on Rhyne Howard: ‘She has a whole lot of talent’
On a day when it was missing a starter and its three leading scorers struggled to find their rhythm, the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team got a huge lift from a different trio.
Tatyana Wyatt scored a season-high 17 points while Amanda Paschal and Jaida Roper added eight points apiece to lead the 11th-ranked Wildcats to a critical comeback victory at Georgia in Sunday’s regular-season finale. The 58-53 win locked up the No. 4 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which gives the Cats a double-bye into the quarterfinals.
It was a fitting day for Wyatt to put on her best offensive show of the season. The sophomore forward is from Columbus, Ga., about three hours south of Athens.
“I just came out here playing my best, playing hard,” Wyatt said on the SEC Network postgame broadcast. “I’m at home so the crowd was lovely. I’m just happy to be back.”
Wyatt’s production was especially crucial because starting forward KeKe McKinney, who averages 25 minutes per game, was held out of the contest due to an undisclosed injury. The Wildcats struggled to find their footing early on with a four-guard lineup in McKinney’s absence, as Georgia used a 7-0 run to take a 7-2 lead.
“Georgia really jumped out really hard, really aggressive so we had to adapt to that,” Wyatt said. “Coach told us pregame that (McKinney) wouldn’t be playing so I just took that as a challenge to step up and be there for my sister.”
Wyatt hit six of 10 shots from the field and five of six free throws. She also grabbed four rebounds and had UK’s only block of the game, giving the Wildcats a sorely needed presence in the paint.
“I’m not a big post player, so size is a big difference for me. I just try to be more physical and use my quickness or my ability that I have to be able to score over defenders and make plays for my team,” Wyatt said.
Georgia (18-11, 9-7 SEC) led by five after three quarters, but the Wildcats found their offense in crunch time. Kentucky (24-6, 11-5 SEC) went on a 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter and grab a 43-39 lead. The Bulldogs cut the lead to one before Rhyne Howard hit a three-pointer. Another three from Roper put the Cats ahead 55-51 with 36 seconds to play. Wyatt rebounded a missed three-pointer by the Bulldogs, then hit one of two foul shots with 10 seconds left to seal the win.
Starting in place of McKinney, Paschal hit three of eight shots and grabbed three rebounds. Roper played 26 minutes off the bench. She hit two of three shots from behind the arc and added three assists and four steals.
Howard went 3-of-9 from the field for seven points, while Maci Morris went 2-for-10 for six points. Taylor Murray scored just three points but dished out six assists.
With the win, the Wildcats earned some time to heal up before making their postseason run. The SEC Tournament begins in Greenville, S.C., on Wednesday, but UK won’t take the court until the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Friday when they’ll face Missouri, Mississippi or Florida. The Wildcats defeated both Florida and Missouri by 11. They lost to Mississippi, 55-49, in a game Morris missed because of a knee injury.
SEC Tournament quarterfinals
No. 11 Kentucky vs. TBD
2:30 p.m. Friday in Greenville, S.C. (SEC Network)