Kentucky upsets No. 18 Lady Vols 83-74 in SEC semifinals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Kentucky Wildcats are on their own personal revenge tour in the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament.
Now they have a chance to try and add top-ranked and regular season champ South Carolina to the list.
Rhyne Howard scored 24 points, and Kentucky never trailed beating No. 18 Tennessee 83-74 on Saturday night in the SEC semifinals after upsetting sixth-ranked LSU in the quarterfinals.
The seventh-seeded Wildcats (18-11) reached their first tournament championship game since 2014 and their sixth all-time. They did it beating Tennessee in the semifinals for the first time in three tries, and Kentucky will play top-ranked South Carolina, a 61-51 winner over Mississippi, on Sunday for the championship.
“We all know what this means,” senior guard Robyn Benton said. “We know what we’re playing for. We’re playing to win.”
Kentucky won its ninth straight overall after dropping eight of nine early in SEC play. That included losses at LSU, at Tennessee and twice to South Carolina — the last on Feb. 10. The Wildcats haven’t lost since.
“They can’t say we’re going to the ’ship like we are,” Howard said.
Benton added 16 off the bench, including four made 3s. Jada Walker also had 16, and Treasure Hunt 11.
This game meant a bit more. The Wildcats are coached by Kyra Elzy with assistant Niya Butts and both were teammates of Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper at Tennessee playing together on Tennessee’s national championships in 1997 and 1998.
Now Elzy joins South Carolina coach Dawn Staley in the title game a year after Staley and Georgia coach Joni Taylor became the first Black women coaches to meet in a Power Five tournament championship. Elzy said she was proud to get Kentucky back to the championship game and make a bit of history.
“ Representation matters,” Elzy said. “Coach Staley has been a voice for women’s basketball, women and women of color. I grew up respecting and idolizing Coach Staley, but tomorrow’s going to be two coaches, competitors and I’m glad people get to look on TV and see women of color in leadership roles. It matters.”
The third-seeded Tennessee (23-8) heads home not having played in the title game since 2015 at an event this program has won a league-high 17 times.
“Tough one to swallow,” Harper said.
Alexus Dye led Tennessee with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Rae Burrell had 16 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Walker had six points and 10 assists.
The Wildcats showed no signs of fatigue playing its third game in as many days coming off an upset of sixth-ranked LSU in the quarterfinals. They hit 12 of 24 from 3-point range.
“We just didn’t affect them,” Harper said. “They did exactly what they wanted to do with their pace.”
The Wildcats jumped out to a 14-3 lead and led 22-13 after a first quarter where six of their eight made baskets came from beyond the arc. The Lady Vols started knocking down shots themselves in the second, making 11 of 18 (61.1%) to pull within 36-34 on a layup by Brooklyn Miles with 2:08 left.
But Hunt hit a 3, Walker scored on a layup and Benton capped the scoring with Kentucky’s ninth 3 of the half for a 44-37 lead at halftime. Harper was not happy at a no call on Kaiya Wynn’s final shot attempt just before the buzzer, talking to an official before heading off the court.
Tennessee opened the third on an 8-2 run to get within 46-45. Howard started a 12-4 run for Kentucky with a three-point play, and the Wildcats led 61-53 at the end of the quarter. The Lady Vols got within 73-69 with 3:58 left, but Howard had 10 in the fourth to seal the win.
The Wildcats tied the SEC tournament mark for made 3s in a half. They went 9 of 15, matching the mark of nine made 3s Arkansas made in the second half against Vanderbilt on Feb. 28, 2018.
Tennessee awaits the NCAA Tournament bracket announcement, hoping to host first- and second-round games in Knoxville.
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