By LARRY VAUGHT
Think Tennessee is having second thoughts about not recruiting Rhyne Howard any harder?
Howard had just six points before fouling out in last year’s 73-71 win in Knoxville but exploded for a career-high 37 points Sunday in Memorial Coliseum to lead No. 13 UK to an 80-76 win over No. 22 Tennessee. She tied her own school record by making seven 3-pointers.
Howard did more than just score, though. She had nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. She got to the foul line nine times, including four times in the final minute when she rebounded Tennessee misses.
Howard is from Cleveland, Tenn., but noted again that the Vols were “the last to recruit me” in high school.
“I didn’t want to go there. They were not really on my … I didn’t want to go there,” Howard said before insisting she would have the same fire for any SEC team that she does against Tennessee.
Howard, the consensus national freshman of the year last season, had 37 points despite going 1-for-10 from the field in the second quarter. The rest of the game she was 11-for-17 from the field.
“Before we went into half, she was getting a lot of open shots that she normally makes, and in that situation, you just have to keep going,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I just tried to tell her then and at halftime to the entire team that we were creating good shots and we had to keep our composure and keep our belief that we could make the shots. It was a great response by the team and by her in the second half.”
Howard said the coaches told her to “keep going” and she got off to a hot start in the third quarter.
“I thought the steal there early in the second half really got us back going and got the crowd back into it,” Mitchell said.
She hit a 3-pointer before the steal and after that the UK offense stayed in much better sync.
“I am so tired especially after two hard days of practice (following a loss at South Carolina Thursday),” Howard said. “This game, playing lot of minutes, more physical game, my legs are just dead.”
Probably the same way the Vols felt after trying to keep up with her and one of the more remarkable individual performances in UK women’s basketball history.
Just consider these numbers:
— Howard was 12-of-27 from the field, 7-of-13 from 3 and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line.
— Howard’s 27 field-goal attempts were the most for a UK player in a game since Makayla Epps had 30 against Mississippi State on Jan. 12, 2015.
— Howard’s seven 3s made tied the program record for 3s made in a game. She also hit seven 3s last season against Southern University. Sara Potts also hit seven against Chattanooga in 2005.
— Howard is the only UK player since at least 1990-1991 to score at least 25 points in four consecutive games.
— Howard’s 37 points is the most any SEC player has scored in a game this season.
— Howard has the most points ever scored by a UK player against Tennessee (37). The previous record was 34 by A’dia Mathies on Jan. 12, 2012.
— Howard has hit at least one 3-pointer in 41 of her 46 career games.
— Howard has scored 10 or more points in 39 of her 46 career games.
— Howard has scored 20 or more points in 19 of her 46 career games.
— Howard has led UK in scoring in 27 of her 46 career games.
— Howard has led UK in rebounding in 25 of her 46 games.
— Howard has scored 25 or more points 12 times in her career, including seven times this season.
— Howard has scored 841 points and needs 159 more to join the 1,000 point club.
— This was Howard’s second 30+ scoring game this season.
— Howard is the fifth player in program history to score 37 or more points in a game, joining Jennifer O’Neill, Valerie Still, Makayla Epps, Bebe Croley.
— Howard’s 37 point is the most points by a UK player in a game since Makayla Epps scored 42 against Mississippi State on Feb. 12, 2015.
— Howard is the first UK player to post multiple 30+ point scoring games in the same season since Makayla Epps did it three times in 2016-17.