LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A heavily-bandaged left hand hasn’t stopped Kentucky forward Rhyne Howard from putting up big numbers.
Howard scored 26 points and led a third-quarter surge that sent the No. 18 Wildcats over No. 6 Mississippi State 73-62 victory Sunday.
Howard had 11 points to help the Wildcats (19-5, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) outscore the Bulldogs 22-9 in the third period. Amanda Paschal and Howard hit consecutive 3-pointers as Kentucky closed the quarter on an 8-0 run.
Howard was 10 of 22 from the field, including 3 of 9 from beyond the arc, and grabbed 10 rebounds in her second outing since missing the previous three games with a left finger injury on her non-shooting hand. Chasity Patterson made 6 off 11 off the bench and Jaida Roper had 14 points as the Wildcats avoided their first losing streak this season.
And most importantly, they beat a top-10 team above them in the SEC standings.
“We knew that these were going to be big games and I couldn’t come back and just think like, oh, my hand’s broke, it’s time to take off,” said Howard, who has 46 points and 13 rebounds over the past two games. “I’ve just got to push through it.”
Kentucky trailed 6-0 in the first 90 seconds before mounting a 14-2 run following a timeout. The Wildcats eventually built a 12-point lead in the second quarter before the Bulldogs whacked it to 35-32 entering the break and got a little closer in the third.
Kentucky led 61-41 early in the fourth before Rickea Jackson’s 10 straight points helped MSU (22-4, 10-2) get within 10. Roper let the Wildcats maintain a safe cushion with six consecutive points down the stretch.
Kentucky shot 44% from the field and outscored Mississippi State 20-14 off 17 turnovers. The Wildcats were almost even on the glass (36-35) but came up with several clutch rebounds.
“We had to fight hard to win it,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. “I just don’t know how you can ask more of the team. They really fought hard, battled. We had some great practices getting ready and went out and earned a big win for us.”
Jessika Carter had 18 points, Jackson 16 and Andra Espinoza-Hunter 12 off the bench for the Bulldogs, who had won their previous six. MSU had sought its third consecutive win over a ranked school but shot 39%.
“I just thought they were sensational,” Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said of the Wildcats. “I thought they out-toughed us, were more physical, more aggressive.
“We’ve been able to answer that most every night, and tonight we just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
Mississippi State figures to drop several spots but remain in the top 10. Kentucky could gain a few spots with the hard-earned victory.
Mississippi State had closed to 39-37 early in the third before Roper’s two free throws and Howard’s jumper provided a little breathing room. Kentucky guard Sabrina Haines followed with consecutive steals in the paint leading to layups by Patterson and Howard for a nine-point edge eventually stretched to 16 by the end of the quarter.
“That run absolutely was fueled by our defense and I told them that in the timeout,” Mitchell said. “That was an outstanding part of the game because we were sort of trading baskets with them.”
Mississippi State: A fast start gave way to missed shots and turnovers that forced the Bulldogs to play from behind for the rest of the game. Carter provided a lift in the second, but MSU was outhustled in the third and didn’t shoot a 3. Besides being held 18 points below their average, the Bulldogs managed just two steals after averaging 10 coming in.
Kentucky: A heavily bandaged left hand didn’t affect Howard as she made big jumpers and grabbed rebounds. The Wildcats endured several cold spells that allowed the Bulldogs to close the gap, but their big lead provided a cushion that Roper maintained with clutch plays in the final minutes.
Mississippi State visits Auburn on Thursday, seeking a season sweep of the Tigers. The Bulldogs won the previous meeting 78-73 on Jan. 30.
Kentucky visits Mississippi on Thursday before hosting No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.
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