LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Rhyne Howard scored 24 points, including a key 3-pointer during a clinching 9-2 run, and No. 13 Kentucky topped No. 10 Arkansas 75-64 on Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Kentucky (8-1, 1-0) overcame a sluggish start after a 12-day break to eventually lead 57-48 early in the fourth quarter before Arkansas rallied to within 63-60 with 3:19 remaining. Blair Green then made a 3-pointer, Jazmine Massengill added a layup and Howard a 3 for a 71-62 cushion.
A technical foul on Razorbacks coach Mike Neighbors led to a free throw by Green and KeKe McKinney added another to make it 73-62 with :49 left before Green (10 points) made a layup.
Howard was 9 of 17 from the field, had four 3-pointers and scored 12 points in the second quarter to put Kentucky ahead. The junior guard also grabbed 10 rebounds as the Wildcats won the boards 37-28.
“I definitely felt in rhythm,” Howard said. “I was in a lot of good looks coming off the screen set by my teammates or just creating for myself. I did feel comfortable, especially with how hard we prepared for them and how well we came together at the end.”
McKinney had 10 points, and Olivia Owens and Robyn Benton added nine. The Wildcats shot 50% overall (29 of 58) and from behind the arc (10 of 20).
Chelsea Dungee had 20 points, Destiny Slocum 12 and Erynn Barnum and Amber Ramirez 11 each for the Razorbacks (9-2, 0-1), who had won their previous six games, including 83-78 upset of then-No. 4 Baylor. Arkansas was also held 27 points below its scoring average that ranked fifth nationally.
Neighbors praised Kentucky’s defense that making that happen.
“We knew they were good coming into the game,” he said. “They hit big shot after big shot and then came up with loose balls and stops when they really needed it. Took us out of everything we like to do offensively at times. … I thought they completely outplayed us, outprepared us, just about anything they can outdo somebody on.”
The game was tense, which Kentucky senior forward Keke McKinney cited after grabbing the face of reserve and teammate Robyn Benton to calm her down at one point.
“You know, in the heat of the moment everybody’s emotions are high and everything,” McKinney said. “She was just going and we were up and we didn’t need anything to to stop us. So I kind of just grabbed her mouth to be like, ‘all right, just chill out. We got it. Just calm down.’ ”
Kentucky has another ranked challenge on Sunday, but at least holds steady with a big win. The end of Arkansas’ win streak could mark the end of its top-10 stay.
Arkansas didn’t arrive in Lexington until late afternoon but stayed close for most of the game. But the Razorbacks shot just 39%, including 5 of 21 from long range after entering the game with 101 3s, which topped Power 5 schools.
Kentucky initially looked rusty from its long break before finding energy in the second quarter on both ends to seize the lead. Defense in the middle quarters was key in slowing the high-scoring Razorbacks, and their depth made a difference down the stretch, outscoring the Razorbacks 23-11 in bench points.
“We have really challenged our bench to step up, bring energy and be productive,” coach Kyra Elzy said. “Benton made some big shots early for us to get us going, Owens made some big plays around the rim and how she handled the ball screen, it was great to see her do her job.”
Arkansas hosts Missouri on Sunday.
Kentucky visits No. 12 Mississippi State on Sunday, replacing a previously scheduled game at Tennessee because of COVID-19 issues within the Volunteers’ program.
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