North Carolina State, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, opened the fourth period Monday with five straight points, breaking the game open and going on to a 72-57 victory over No. 6 seed Kentucky in a second-round contest on the Wolfpack’s home floor in Raleigh.
Freshman Rhyne Howard led UK with 21 points, while senior Maci Morris added 18 for the cold-shooting Cats, who made just 31.9 percent of their shots from the field.
Morris, the Bell County product who will go down in the record book as UK’s most accurate three-point shooter, went 4-for-7 Monday. She shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc for her career.
“It has been a great blessing and I have met some of my best friends here,” Morris said in the postgame press conference. “It has helped grow me into the woman I am. I have learned so many things on and off the court. I will be forever grateful for Kentucky.”
N.C. State (28-5) shot 46 percent from the field and dominated on the glass with a 50-31 rebounding advantage. Kiara Leslie led the Wolfpack with 26 points. Elissa Cunane added 13. DD Rogers and Kai Crutchfield had 11.
“I am really sad tonight for this season to end mainly because of the quality of the people that have been involved in this season,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our players started back in June working extremely hard and have a great effort. Sad for this to end for our seniors, who are up here with me.”
Kentucky dug itself a hole in the first half, shooting just 30 percent from the field and going 3-for-15 from three-point range. N.C. State built leads of as many as 10 points twice in the first period.
But UK stayed in the game thanks to 15 first-half points from Howard and 11 points off N.C. State’s 10 turnovers.
A Howard jumper with 2:29 till half cut the Wolfpack lead to 34-30. A Rogers free throw for N.C. State made it 35-30 at the break.
Kentucky cut the lead to three twice in the third period, the first on a three by Howard to make it 38-35, and then again on a three by Tatyana Wyatt to cut it to 44-41 at the 5:24 mark, but each time N.C. State answered to extend the margin and UK got no closer.
A deep Jaida Roper three at the buzzer to end the third put the Cats within striking distance again, down 53-48, but UK got outscored 19-9 in the final quarter.
Kentucky (25-8) exceeded expectations coming into the season thanks in large part to Howard, who was named espnW national freshman of the year. Howard led UK with 16.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
The Cats graduate starters Morris and Murray off this year’s squad. Both are part of UK’s 1,000 point club.
“My parents always told me that when you leave a place you should make it better than what it was when you got there.,” Morris said. “I hope we did that.”