Rhyne Howard again showed why she’s possibly the crown jewel of SEC and women’s basketball across the nation. The potential No.1 pick in this year’s WNBA draft, Howard torched reigning SEC champion South Carolina Gamecocks for 32 points, but it ultimately wasn’t enough, as the Cats fell to the Gamecocks 75-70 at Memorial Coliseum.
The outing capped off a string of four straight versus top-15 teams to open conference play, in which Howard averaged a shade under 28 points just over eight rebounds per game.
“Personally, I do think I’m the best player in college basketball.” Howard said almost as if she was disappointed in herself after not pulling the Cats to the win. “[I] think that I’ve proven it to everyone over these last couple games.”
Howard was magnificent from the start. She scored 11 out of the first 19 for the Wildcats, and finished the opening half with 19 while pushing Kentucky to a 41-32 halftime edge.
Kentucky was able to control and hold its lead through some stout defensive effort, holding Aliyah Boston and the Gamecocks to 43% shooting in the first half while forcing 12 turnovers in the process. Robyn Benton snagged three steals in only six minutes of first half action.
“We were not going to play afraid. We were not going to play timid. We were going to play aggressive, and for a majority of the game we did that,” Elzy said postgame. “I liked what we did offensively. We pushed the tempo, we played out of the ball screen extremely well. We executed a lot better today than we did at [Texas]A&M.”
South Carolina then turned it on in the second half, showing why they’re the No. 5 team in the nation. Boston had 10 points in the third quarter to a roaring comeback that had the Gamecocks in front at the end of the third quarter. The resurgence, mixed with the horrid shooting from Kentucky, allowed them to build a nine-point lead of their own. A pair of three-pointers from Chasity Patterson – snapping an 0-for-9 second half open from deep – gave the Cats some life with two minutes remaining, but a missed box out allowed Boston to get a lay in for a 73-70 advantage, essentially sealing things.
“We’re disappointed, we didn’t get the stops at the end. And like I said, South Carolina is a great team, our margin of error is so small,” Elzy said. “But make no mistake about it, we came here with intensity that we needed, and we did fight.”
A two-game skid, even against top-ten teams, could potentially divide a locker room. But the Cats top player doesn’t see that happening in the slightest.
“We’re definitely going to come together and bounce back.” Howard said. “We’re not going to dwell on it too long, we’re going to go over the mistakes the mistakes that we made and how we can improve on them… we’ll be back next game.”
That next matchup is a road contest with Auburn. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Robyn Benton, as she’ll face her previous school for the first time since her transfer. She and the Cats will attempt to get back to winning ways on Thursday at 8:30 E.T. The network the game will air on has not yet been announced.