SEC play has finally gotten underway and the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats are coming off a big win over the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks. Can Chasity Patterson and Rhyne Howard keep it going for the Wildcats? Or will Jessika Carter, Rickea Jackson and the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs remain ahead of them in the rankings by defeating them?
The No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (8-1, 1-0 SEC) are coming off Thursday’s big emotional win over a higher-ranked team in the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks, a victory that improved them to 2-1 against the Top 25.
In that game, the Wildcats really got their superstar Rhyne Howard going offensively as she reached a season-high 24 points. Her presence is going to scare the Top 5 teams if and when they meet Kentucky and she has a supporting cast that is making a name for itself as well, particularly Dre’una Edwards and Chasity Patterson.
Kentucky’s high ceiling will be put to the test against another team ranked ahead of it in the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Mississippi State (6-1, 1-0 SEC) also picked up a win on Thursday — its came over a solid Georgia Bulldogs team.
Mississippi State started the season ranked No. 6 and Kentucky was ranked No. 11. None of the Wildcats’ opponents so far have been perennial powers the way that Bulldogs have been recently and are trying to remain in their first year with Nikki McCray-Penson taking over for Vic Schaefer.
However, Kentucky does have the experience of beating Mississippi State just last year:
Mississippi State returned the favor by eliminating Kentucky in the semifinals of the 2020 SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs haven’t faced any difficult competition outside of their games against Georgia — the first team out of the rankings — and the No. 21 South Florida Bulls. They were upset by the Bulls on Dec. 5, making them 0-1 against the Top 25.
While Kentucky is led by Howard, a 6-foot-2 nightmare in the backcourt, Mississippi State is led by their frontcourt of Jessika Carter (6’5”) and Rickea Jackson (6’2”), which should return the nightmares to Edwards (6’2”), though she is currently outrebounding both Bulldog stars with 8.6 boards per game.
Carter (16.7 points per game) and Jackson (16.6) do the bulk of Mississippi State’s scoring, while Howard (16.7) has finally pulled away from the pack to lead the Wildcats as she was expected to do. Edwards and Patterson both average just north of 14 points per contest, but also watch out for potential X-factor Robyn Benton, who is second on the team in 3-pointers made after Howard.
No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (8-1, 1-0 SEC) vs. No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-1, 1-0 SEC)
When: Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, MS
Key to the matchup: Field goal percentage defense. Kentucky has a lot of momentum and positive energy coming into this game. What’s the best way to stop momentum? Force your opponent into cold shooting. And that’s what Mississippi State is good at doing. They have held their opponents to 31.3 percent shooting from the field — good for No. 8 in the country. Rhyne Howard is good at hitting momentum-changing threes, but if the Bulldogs can prevent those and keep the Wildcats’ field goal percentage low overall, they may have an edge in what should be a close game.
Reason to watch: It’s a great SEC showdown between two Top 15 teams. Tune in to see if Kentucky can put together back-to-back wins against ranked teams and avoid a letdown like it had on Dec. 16 against the then-No. 24 DePaul Blue Demons.