Kentucky again without Rhyne Howard for the third straight game defeated Alabama 66-62, improving to 18-4 overall and 6-3 in the SEC.
Even when the offense stalled in the first half for UK, as they started 1-11 from the field overall, the defense stayed steady once again, and the Cats finished forcing 17 Alabama turnovers (only six turnovers by UK) and creating 21 points off those turnovers (20+ points created off turnovers in 18 games now this season).
“17 turnovers to our six and then 21 points for us off the turnovers is just the name of the game,” UK Head Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Helps us so much when we’re missing our leading scorer when Alabama played really tough defense and we didn’t shoot the ball that great tonight, but we were able to manufacture some offense from hustle on defense and that’s a great development.”
The Cats maintained a lead for 31 minutes and 15 seconds of this game, but the game still remained close in the end, and UK had to make plays down the stretch in order to win. Senior forward Sabrina Haines came up with a lot of those plays, making threes and getting a big steal and layup that put UK up 61-54 with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter.
“That was a huge play for her,” UK Head Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the late steal leading to a layup. “A lot of her big moments have been some three pointers, she made some tonight, but that was a huge defensive play.”
Haines did not have much impact against Florida in the loss this past Sunday, as she scored only five points on 2-6 shooting and ended up fouling out. Tonight against Alabama, though, she bounced back, finishing with 14 points on 5-13 shooting overall and 4-7 from the three-point line, while also committing only one foul and playing 38 minutes in the game (played just 18 minutes in the last game).
“I think it was huge, not only for my team but for my personal confidence,” Haines said of her turnaround performance. “When you’re in foul trouble, it is hard to get in a rhythm. I talked to my coach, both Coach (Kyra) Elzy and Coach (Matthew) Mitchell, about how I can avoid those situations, so I really tried to apply those and luckily I was able to stay out of foul trouble this game.”
UK Head Coach Matthew Mitchell provided an update on when sophomore superstar guard Rhyne Howard, who broke her finger a few games ago in a home win against Auburn, will return from injury, in which he said the recovery process has been good and she should be on pace for a return sometime in mid-February depending on how her injured finger feels this week.
“She had a good week in the cast, so the cast came off and things looked good so no set back during that week,” Mitchell said. “It depends on how she responds this week and she’s very anxious and motivated to get back.”
Kentucky next faces off against SEC-opponent and No. 25 ranked Arkansas, and junior guard Chasity Patterson feels the team is ready for the road test.
“We got to have the mentality to just come in and focus in on us and just hitting first; punching first in their home,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be a big road game for us, just getting our game plan ready and battling It out.”
The status of Rhyne Howard for the game Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2 at Akarnsas seems to be doubtful, so the Cats will have to lean on a balanced overall performance to pull out a victory.