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Cats Remain Unbeaten, Surviving UCLA in Overtime Thriller

ST. THOMAS, V.I. – Freshman Rhyne Howard made one-of-two free throws with 3.1 seconds left in overtime to lift Kentucky to a 75-74 win over UCLA in Friday action at the Paradise Jam.

After Howard hit the free throw to put Kentucky ahead, UCLA had one last chance, but Japreece Dean’s jumper was short, and the Wildcats held on to win by one.

Howard led the Wildcats with 20 points, while seniors Maci Morris (17 points) and Taylor Murray (16) were the other Kentucky players reaching double figures in the contest.

The Wildcats were without inside threats Ogechi Anyagaligbo and Tatyana Wyatt, who were nursing injuries during the game. Anyagaligbo did not play, while Wyatt started, but played only one minute.

Kentucky (6-0) scored first in the game, on a three-pointer from Morris, but the Wildcats missed their next six shots and the Bruins took advantage, going on a 7-0 run. However, Kentucky got its defense going, with back-to-back steals that produced baskets, to tie the game 7-7 with 4:38 left in the first quarter.

UCLA answered by using their size advantage to go on a 6-0 run, taking a 13-7 lead with 2:47 left and forcing a Kentucky timeout. Kentucky would score the next seven points to lead 14-13 with 26 seconds to go in the quarter, but UCLA got a basket from Dean with 11 seconds left in the period to take a 15-14 lead after 10 minutes. Morris had 10 points in the period for the Cats.

Early in the second quarter, UCLA extended its lead to 21-17. But Kentucky assembled a 9-1 run, capped by a three-pointer from Howard, to lead 26-22. UCLA would tie the game at 29-29, but UK would score 12 consecutive points to lead 41-29 with 1:30 left in the half. The Cats would lead 41-31 going to the locker room at the half. Morris had 14 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, while Murray had 12.

Kentucky could get nothing going offensively at the beginning of the third quarter. The Wildcats had three turnovers and missed their only field goal in the first four minutes of the period. However, UCLA could only get three points closer, 41-34, because the Bruins struggled from the field (one of their first six) and the line (one of four). Kentucky was finally able to get on the board in the quarter on a pair of free throws by Murray with 6:03 left in the period.

UCLA would continue to chip away at the Kentucky lead, closing the quarter on an 11-6 run to trail 47-45 with 10 minutes to play. Kentucky hit only two of its 11 shots from the field while committing four turnovers.

The Bruins scored the first four points of the final period to lead 49-47. Howard tied the game at 49-49 on a driving layup, but UCLA took the lead right back on a Kiara Jefferson jumper. Howard, however, answered with a three-pointer to give the Cats a 52-51 lead with 7:04 left in the game.

UCLA had a 54-52 advantage when Jaida Roper nailed a three-pointer, giving the Cats a 55-54 lead. But UCLA scored the next four points to lead 58-55 with 5:22 left in the game. Kentucky would cut the lead to one point on three occasions, including at 63-62. Still trailing by that score, Kentucky got a steal and basket from KeKe McKinney to take a 64-63 lead with 1:40 to play.

The Bruins tied the score at 64-64, then took the lead on a putback by Michaela Onyenwere with 21 seconds to play. But with two seconds left, Howard rebounded her own miss and stuck it back in to tie the game 66-66 and to force overtime.

Morris gave Kentucky the early lead in overtime with a jumper that made it 68-66. After a UCLA turnover, Kentucky got a pair of free throws from Amanda Paschal to extend the lead to 70-66. UCLA’s Kennedy Burke cut the lead to two, 70-68, on a layup with 3:20 left in overtime. Paschal then converted two more free throws to make it 72-68 with 2:48 left.

UCLA scored the next four points to tie the game 72-72 with 52 seconds left in overtime. But with 27 seconds left, Morris was fouled and made the first free throw to give UK a 73-72 lead. Morris missed the second free throw, but Howard got the rebound and was fouled with 24 seconds left. The freshman converted the first free throw, but missed the second and Kentucky led 74-72.

With 17 seconds left, UCLA’s Burke was fouled, and she made both free throws to tie the game at 74 apiece. After a Kentucky timeout, the Wildcats were able to get the ball inside to Howard, who was fouled, setting the stage for her game-winning free throw.

Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, facing North Carolina in the Paradise Jam. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. and the game can be heard on the UK Sports Network.

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