By LARRY VAUGHT
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaeffer didn’t need a stat sheet to know when Kentucky upset his No. 6 Bulldogs 73-62 Sunday night in Memorial Coliseum.
Nothing against the 23 points and 10 rebounds Rhyne Howard had or the late game heroics by Jaida Roper that produced 14 points and five assists or the first-half production from Christy Patterson that gave her 15 points in the game.
No, Schaeffer knew UK won for one other reason that normally does not happen to the Bulldogs (22-4, 10-2 SEC).
“I just thought they were sensational. Thought they out toughed us. More physical, more aggressive,” the Mississippi State coach said. “That is what we built our program on. Ask any coach if his team is described as a tough, aggressive, physical team. You like that and we hung our hat on that. Kentucky just out toughed us today.
“Just tip you hat to them and how tough they were today and their competitive spirit. They were just tougher than us.”
Mississippi State is one of the nation’s most athletic teams and also was much bigger than the Cats. But UK got out rebounded just 36-35 and offset being outscored 38-24 in paint points by getting 20 points off 17 State turnovers. The Cats also went 6-for-20 from 3-point range while State was 3-for-9.
“We average 10 steals per game. We had two tonight,” Schaeffer said. “That’s how hard we didn’t play. Not taking anything from Kentucky but that’s it. When you are having to coach kids’ hearts instead of coaching their minds it can be a challenge.”
Howard was a star again. In just her second game back after injuring her left hand and still wearing a brace on the left hand, she got off to a slow start before hitting a 3-pointer to end the first quarter. She did the same thing again to end the third quarter.
“She’s just supremely talented,,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She’s an elite talent. She has an elite competitive spirit. She wants to win and she went out and make some big plays for us today. She’ll definitely be better once we can get that (brace) off, but she was awfully good with one hand today.”
It was her 15th 20-point game of the season and she also went over 1,000 career points in her 53rd game — faster than any other former UK player except Valerie Still who did it in 41 games.
“We know we have to stay focused and that all of these upcoming games are very important in seeding,” Howard said after UK improved its record to 19-5 overall, 8-4 in SEC). “We have to win and just be able to stay focused and not look too far ahead.
“I was just pumped to be back and play with my teammates again. We knew that these were going to be big games and I couldn’t come back and just think, ‘Oh, my hand’s broken. It’s time to take time off.’ I just gotta push through it.”
Schaeffer said not to underestimate what Patterson did, too.
“She really gives them a different dimension. She is another player who can create her own shot. Now you have her and Howard and that makes it really hard unless you have two defenders on the perimeter,” the Mississippi State coach said.
“In the SEC you win with guard play. You win championships with guard play and size. But you have no chance if you do not have guard play. We were undisciplined getting off somebody’s right hand. It aint’ rocket science.”
Just ask Howard about Patterson’s value.
“It takes a lot of focus off of me, and she can get to the basket, and she can shoot and do it all,” Howard said. “Most of the time I just want her to go out there and play her game. I’m looking for to be aggressive at all time.”