After suffering its first loss of the season last weekend at Indiana in a top-15 showdown, the Kentucky women’s basketball team rebounded Sunday afternoon with a comfortable home victory.
The No. 19-ranked Wildcats surged past the Winthrop Eagles 92-47 behind a commanding defensive effort that saw UK hold the visitors to just 34% shooting while also forcing 28 turnovers.
The game also featured one of the best individual performances in UK women’s basketball history as Rhyne Howard recorded a triple-double for the first time in her college career.
It was a “get right” opportunity for Kentucky, and something that head coach Kyra Elzy’s team took full advantage of after a week of practice.
Kentucky 92, Winthrop 47
The star: Rhyne Howard recorded the third triple-double in UK program history, and the first of her storied college career. Howard finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, in addition to five steals.
The stats: Dre’una Edwards (20), Robyn Benton (14), Treasure Hunt (11) and Jada Walker (10) also scored in double figures for the Wildcats.
The status: Kentucky improved to 3-1. Winthrop fell to 0-4.
1. SWARMING KENTUCKY DEFENSE FORCES 28 TURNOVERS.
While it came against an overmatched opponent, the idealized version of Kentucky’s fast and frenetic defense was on display.
The Wildcats forced 28 turnovers and UK scored 36 points off those takeaways.
But in a box score that was lopsided in many categories — including with the stats that produced Howard’s triple-double — turnovers were the statistical discrepancy that stood out.
Kentucky itself committed 11 turnovers, which Winthrop converted into only four points.
As for Howard’s triple double, the historic program moment felt great for the senior guard to accomplish.
“I just feel like I set a good example for my teammates today … show them just to work hard consistently,” Howard said.
In addition to her triple-double stat line of 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, Howard also finished Sunday’s game with five steals, reflective of the defensive dominance UK had over Winthrop.
Howard’s triple-double was the third in program history to go along with stat-stuffing performances by Makayla Epps in 2015 and Leslie Nichols in 1986.
Kentucky led Winthrop 77-32 after the third quarter, and Howard had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists at that juncture of the game.
“We knew. So heading into the fourth quarter we said ‘Rhyne, go get yours,’” Edwards said.
“She was all for it as well,” Howard said of Elzy’s stance on letting her play in the fourth quarter. “She was like, ‘So what do you need?’ I said I just need like two assists, two rebounds … then Coach Elzy was like, ‘You’re going to go back in.’”
Elzy said the triple-double was just another accolade to add to Howard’s lengthy list of honors as a Wildcat.
“That was big for her. That’s a confidence-builder for her,” Elzy said. “She was excited about it. It was something that was on her mind and I thought that made her play more aggressive today, which was good.”
2. WILDCATS CLEAN UP MISCUES FROM INDIANA DEFEAT.
When speaking to the media last week after the loss to Indiana, Elzy mentioned a laundry list of items that she wanted to address with the Wildcats this week in practice.
Among those things were defensive fundamentals such as doubling in the post, help defense outside of the paint and boxing out for rebounds and other loose balls. Offensively, Elzy said she wanted the Wildcats to work on their screening action and transition offense.
Despite the long list of things Elzy wanted UK to improve on, she also stressed that everything was fixable and that a benefit of having a week without a game to play was the chance to work on these things in practice.
This work was reflected in Sunday’s game, as the Wildcats not only had a stout defensive day, but they also outrebounded the Eagles 43-32 while UK shot 38-for-77 (49.4%) from the field against Winthrop’s zone defense.
UK’s three-point shooting also had an upturn in fortune on Sunday as the Wildcats went 10-for-23 (43.5%) on shots from distance.
“I thought we got some threes in transition, which is hard to guard when you can get out and run,” Elzy added.
Howard alone was 4-for-8 on three-point shots.
3. SOPHOMORE FORWARD NYAH LEVERETTER NEARS RETURN FROM ILLNESS.
For the first four games of the 2021-22 season, UK has been limited to just eight scholarship players and nine total players.
This comes as a result of several unexpected preseason roster moves: The dismissal of former player Erin Toller, the addition of walk-on guard Kristen Crenshaw-Gill, the loss of guard Blair Green to a season-ending Achilles injury and the loss of Leveretter just before the season opener due to a non-COVID illness.
But it appears the Wildcats will soon bolster their ranks by welcoming back Leveretter, a sophomore who played in 14 games last season.
On Sunday for the first time this season, Leveretter was seen on the Memorial Coliseum court standing with her teammates during warmups and she also sat on the UK bench during the game.
Elzy said after the game that Leveretter is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
Whenever Leveretter is able to play for UK, it will provide the Wildcats with more depth in the frontcourt, a position group where the Wildcats currently have limited options.
UK’s two listed frontcourt players on Sunday — forward Edwards and center Olivia Owens — combined for 26 points and 11 rebounds on 12-for-20 shooting from the field against Winthrop.
The Wildcats’ starting lineup Sunday was the same for the third straight game, with Jazmine Massengill, Benton, Hunt, Howard and Edwards beginning the game.
UK has almost a week off until its next game, against La Salle of the Atlantic 10 Conference, on Saturday night in Memorial Coliseum (8:30 p.m., SEC Network Plus). The Explorers are 2-2 on the season and have a home game Tuesday night against Lafayette.
La Salle at No. 19 Kentucky
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Online: SEC More
This story was originally published November 21, 2021 3:58 PM.