GREENVILLE, S.C. – SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard scored 26 points, but the third-seeded Kentucky women's basketball team lost to second-seeded Mississippi State 77-59 on Saturday night at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Chasity Patterson had 13 points for the Cats, who hit 22 of 64 (34.4 percent) from the field, including six of 24 (25 percent) from behind the arc in the game. MSU used its superior height advantage to control the game inside. The Bulldogs outscored the Cats 48-26 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 40-29.
Kentucky got off to a quick start, with Howard hitting consecutive baskets to give the Cats an early 4-0 lead. After MSU got a pair of free throws from Rickea Jackson, Howard hit a three to give UK a 7-2 advantage just over two minutes into the game. Kentucky would eventually lead 10-4 on a three from KeKe McKinney. The Bulldogs would cut into the lead, getting with 10-8 on a Jackson layup, but UK responded with seven straight, a layup by Howard, a three from Blair Green and a layup by Patterson, to lead 17-8 with 2:50 to play in the first. Later in the period, Patterson connected on another three, giving the Cats a 20-10 advantage. UK would lead 22-12 after the first quarter. MSU started the second period by scoring eight in a row to cut the lead to 22-20. Kentucky got a basket from Jaida Roper to stop the run. A Howard layup on UK's next possession extended the lead to 26-20 with 5:50 left in the half. With Kentucky leading 30-24, MSU went on an 8-0 run to lead for the first time, 32-30, with 1:43 to play in the half. Howard tied the game on a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left in the half, and the Cats grabbed the lead when Patterson hit a three with five seconds to play in the half, giving UK a 35-32 lead at the break. Howard led all scorers with 17 points in the first half. Kentucky got the third quarter started with an Ogechi Anyagaligbo basket to lead 37-32. But MSU scored the next five points to tie the game at 37 apiece. UK got the lead back on a Howard layup with 6:36 left in the period, but the Bulldogs got back-to-back baskets from Aliyah Matharu to grab a 41-39 lead with 4:31 to play in the period. Kentucky would get within one on three occasions, but MSU would score four in a row to lead 49-44 with 1:15 to play in the third. Kentucky would get a layup and free throw from Patterson to make it 49-47 with 29 seconds to play in the period, but MSU got a three from Matharu to close the period with a 52-47 advantage. That momentum seemed to carry into the fourth period, as MSU scored the first six points of the quarter to lead 58-47, forcing a Kentucky timeout with 8:00 to play. The Wildcats would get within nine on multiple occasions, but the Cats could get no closer. Kentucky will find out its NCAA Tournament seeding and opponent on Monday, March 16.