GREENVILLE, S.C. – Rhyne Howard (pictured) scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds, but the 13th-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team came up just short, falling to Missouri, in overtime, 70-68 in Friday's SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
For Howard, it was her ninth 20-point game of the season, and her fifth game with at least 25 points this year. The SEC Freshman of the Year hit 11 of her 18 shots from the field, despite missing all six of her three-point attempts. She made four of six at the free throw line.
Kentucky (24-7) got 14 points and four assists from Taylor Murray. Sophomore Tatyana Wyatt added 11 points for the Cats, who shot just 32.1 percent (32-78) in the game. UK was able to hit 18 of its 19 free throws (94.7 percent).
The Cats stayed in the game by forcing 26 Missouri turnovers and converting those into 22 points. Meanwhile, UK turned the ball over just nine times, and Missouri scored only eight points off the Kentucky miscues.
"You just have to give Missouri a ton of credit today," said UK coach Matthew Mitchell. "They were the tougher team. We knew coming into the game that it was going to be a game about toughness. Our team was tough today, but just not quite as tough as Missouri. You have to give them a ton of credit.
"They made one more play than we did. It was a really difficult ballgame to play in. Hats off to them. I was proud of our team from bouncing back from some really poor play at times, low focus. Got us off to such a bad start. To have the tenacity and the grit and the toughness to come back and have a chance to win the game says a lot about our team.
"We're really, really proud of the season we had in the SEC. It's an awesome conference to compete in. I thought our team really showed up well this year and worked hard. We're certainly disappointed to go home from this incredible tournament. That's a real credit to Missouri tonight."
Missouri got out to an early lead, scoring the game's first seven points. Kentucky finally scored, on a pair of Jaida Roper free throws, with 6:31 left in the period, but Missouri answered by scoring the next five to lead 12-2. The Cats would score the next five points, all by Murray, to cut the lead to 12-7. But the Tigers would hold a 15-7 lead after 10 minutes of action.
Kentucky hit just one of its 13 shots from the floor, a layup by Murray with 1:00 left, in the first quarter, but the Cats were able to stay in the game by hitting all five of their free throw attempts. Missouri hit five of its 13 shots from the field in the first period.
The Cats quickly cut into the deficit early in the second quarter. UK got baskets from Howard, Blair Green and Howard again, cutting the lead to 15-13. Eventually, the Cats would score four in a row to tie the game at 17 apiece. But Missouri answered in a big way, scoring the next 10 points to lead 27-17 with 1:23 left in the half. Kentucky got a pair of free throws from Maci Morris to cut the Missouri lead to 27-19, which would be the halftime score.
Kentucky hit just six of 32 (18.8 percent) from the field in the first half. The Cats missed all seven of their shots from behind the arc, but were able to hit all seven of their free throws. Missouri made nine of 21 (42.9 percent) from the floor, including four of nine (44.4 percent) from behind the arc. Murray led the Cats with five first-half points.
In the third period, Missouri scored the first four points to lead 31-19. Kentucky would battle back, behind Howard and Murray, mounting a 9-3 run to cut the deficit to 37-32 with 5:52 left in the third period. Missouri would score the next four to lead 41-32 before Kentucky assembled an 8-2 run to get within three, 43-40. Missouri would hit a late three lead 46-40 after three periods.
Kentucky started the fourth period with a 5-0 run, capped by a Howard basket and free throw, to get within one, 46-45 with 8:10 to play. After a Missouri free throw, Morris scored in the lane to tie the game at 47-47. But the tie lasted just 15 seconds, as Missouri's Sophie Cunningham (pictured) scored a basket and added a free throw to give the Tigers a 50-47 advantage.
The Cats got a basket from Howard to trail by just one, then took their first lead of the game on a Wyatt basket in the lane with 6:00 to play. But again, Missouri answered with a quick score to re-take the lead, 52-51, with 5:26 to play.
Missouri extended the lead to 54-51 before Kentucky got consecutive baskets from Howard and Murray, the latter giving the Cats a 55-54 lead with 3:36 remaining. Once again, Missouri answered with a basket of its own, but this time, UK responded with a Howard basket, giving the Cats a 57-56 lead with 2:46 to play.
After a pair of Cierra Porter free throws gave Missouri a 58-57 lead with 2:35 to play, both teams struggled to score. UK called a timeout with 58 seconds left, setting up a play for Howard, who scored with 44 seconds remaining to give the Cats a 59-58 lead.
After a Missouri timeout, the Tigers got the ball to Cunningham, who was fouled by Howard. The Tigers' star missed the first free throw but made the second to tie the game at 59 apiece.
The Cats had a chance to win it on the last possession of regulation, but Howard missed, and Wyatt's putback attempt came after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
On the first possession of overtime, Howard hit a jumper to give the Cats a 61-59 lead. The teams then traded missed shots before Cunningham got loose for a layup to tie the game at 61-61 with 3:07 to play. This time, it was Kentucky with a quick answer, as Howard scored in the paint, giving UK a 63-61 advantage with 2:42 left.
Missouri would tie the score at 63-63 on two Lauren Aldridge free throws with 2:20 remaining. The teams then traded turnovers before Howard missed a three with 1:18 to play. Cunningham gave the Tigers a 65-63 lead on a jumper in the paint with 55 seconds left. Murray then missed a layup for the Cats and UK was forced to foul Aldridge, who made two free throws, giving Missouri a 67-63 lead with 19 seconds remaining.
With 16 seconds left, Howard was fouled and the freshman nailed two free throws to cut Missouri's lead to 67-65. Kentucky fouled Cunningham with 12 seconds remaining, and the senior hit both free throws to extend the lead to four. Kentucky would get an and-one from Wyatt with nine seconds left, cutting the lead to 69-68.
With six seconds left, Cunningham made one of two at the line, giving the Cats a chance to tie or win. But Howard's three-pointer from the left wing missed, and the game ended.
Missouri (23-9) was paced by Cunningham's 29 points.
Kentucky will find out its NCAA Tournament destination on Monday, March 18.
UK Athletics Photo
Missouri Athletics Photo