The last time the Kentucky Wildcats matched up against Tennessee, the Vols held then-Kentucky freshman Rhyne Howard to six points and five rebounds. This time around, the sophomore flipped the script.
In UK’s 80-76 win over the Volunteers Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum, Howard managed an impressive stat line that goes beyond just scoring. The 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year notched a career-high 37 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks, with just two turnovers. She was everywhere.
“I think she is a terrific scorer, to be honest with you,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “And I think she can score in several different ways, but if you leave her open, you might as well mark it down two points or three points. I thought we had some breakdowns and left her open, and she capitalized on those. But she can score without you guarding her.”
Tennessee has a lot of size inside, which forced Kentucky to take more outside shots—and they made them. The Cats were 11-of-15 from three-point range for 73 percent, with Howard sinking seven of those. Senior Sabrina Haines nailed three, KeKe McKinney had two and Chasity Patterson added another. Howard’s seven made threes tied a career high.
“I’m so tired,” Howard said. “Especially after two hard days of practice where we were just going at each other. This game, playing a lot of minutes and just a more physical game, my legs are dead right now.”
Those two hard practices Howard mentioned came after the Cats dropped their first SEC game to South Carolina on Thursday evening with a score of 99-72. Kentucky wasn’t near as efficient shooting-wise, going 39 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three. Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell says the difference against Tennessee was his team’s mindset.
“We obviously didn’t get a whole lot stronger or faster or taller between Thursday night and Sunday,” Mitchell said. “We needed to come in and get our minds on coming in and playing with a blue-collar attitude, with a really tough approach in everything that we did.”
Despite Howard’s impressive 37-point performance, it still doesn’t surprise her teammates. Haines called her an “amazing player” and pointed out that she’ll always make the play that’s best for her team, not herself.
“I knew it was going to be a good game and my coaches and teammates just kept telling me to keep it going,” Howard said. “That gave me more confidence in myself just knowing I can do this and I can keep going, and eventually those shots are going to fall.”
The Cats are back on the road for their next game, which tips off at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9 at the University of Alabama.