College

Out of the Blue: Kentucky shocks No. 1 South Carolina and wins SEC title

Kentucky’s dream run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament had one last fairy tale moment.

In the last seconds against the best team in the country, Dre’una Edwards made a three-pointer to win the SEC Tournament title for the Wildcats.

Edwards was in tears after the game, celebrating the most unlikely of wins for the UK women’s basketball program.

Kentucky was down as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter to No. 1 South Carolina, but it completed a stirring comeback with Edwards’ shot just before time expired.

UK didn’t lead for more than two quarters of game time, but that all changed with Edwards’ shot.

Kyra Elzy’s Kentucky Wildcats beat Mississippi State, No. 6 LSU, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 1 South Carolina to win the SEC Tournament and book their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Welcome to March.

Kentucky is now 2-4 all-time in SEC Tournament championship games, and UK’s SEC Tournament titles have come in 1982 and now in 2022.

Kentucky 64, No. 1 South Carolina 62

The star: Dre’una Edwards kept the Cats in the game and then she won it for them. Edwards finished with 27 points.

The stats: Joining Edwards in double digits in scoring was Rhyne Howard with 18 points.

The status: Kentucky is 19-11 overall and 12-8 against SEC schools. South Carolina is 29-2 and 17-2 against SEC schools.

Three takeaways

1. DRE’UNA EDWARDS HITS THE SHOT OF HER LIFE.

What a season it has been for Dre’una Edwards.

She emerged as one of the standout players for Kentucky during the early part of the season, racking up double-double constantly in non-conference play and showing off her increased motor thanks to offseason conditioning.

But then Edwards’ season hit a rough patch.

She was suspended once in December for a game, and then again for four games in January.

Without her Kentucky sputtered, as too much offensive responsibility fell on the shoulders of Howard and UK’s play suffered at both ends of the court.

But since rejoining the team at the end of January, Edwards has played at an elite level.

On Sunday, she was Kentucky’s leading scorer against South Carolina, finishing with 27 points along with nine rebounds.

The final three points, of course, were the biggest.

UK had the ball with 11 seconds left, and a masterful out-of-bounds set let to an open, rhythm three-pointer by Edwards to win Kentucky the SEC championship.

2. UK’S SEASON COMES FULL CIRCLE WITH SOUTH CAROLINA COMEBACK.

Earlier this week, the reason for Kentucky’s late-season surge has been pinpointed.

The Wildcats held a team meeting after their last loss, a 59-50 defeat to the Gamecocks in Lexington on Feb. 10.

That meeting was an honest and frank discussion, where Elzy and the coaching staff spoke individually to players about what they needed from them, and also redoubled their efforts as coaches.

UK nearly came back against South Carolina in that February loss, trimming a fourth-quarter deficit from 18 points to seven. Elzy liked the way her team fought back and recently said she could see the confidence return to UK in that moment.

The natural completion for this turnaround was to stage another crazy comeback over South Carolina, this time ending in a win.

UK trailed by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday against South Carolina, slowly chipping away at the lead until Edwards made her winning shot with just four seconds left.

Things come full circle sometimes.

3. UK IS GOING TO BE A PROBLEM IN MARCH MADNESS.

Kentucky hasn’t lost in March so far this season, and it’s anyone’s guess when or if they will.

Simply speaking, South Carolina is the best women’s basketball team in the country. They probably still are. And UK found a way to win at the third time of asking against the Gamecocks this season.

UK’s NCAA Tournament résumé — a somewhat elementary collection of stats now that the Wildcats have secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament — is now chock-full of quality statistics.

UK’s ranking in the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool), a metric that ranks college basketball teams and is used significantly by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, has already climbed four spots to 36th since the SEC Tournament began, and that’s without taking into account the South Carolina win.

The Cats have gone from the fringes of the NCAA Tournament discussion to an automatic bid, with ESPN’s Charlie Creme projecting UK as a No. 8 seed in the tournament on Sunday morning.

Expect the Cats to at least jump up another seed line in Creme’s next projection.

Kentucky has now won 10 straight games, all against SEC teams, including victories over South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee, considered the cream of the crop in the best women’s basketball conference in the country.

SEC Tournament scores

At Bridgestone Arena in Nashville

Wednesday

No. 13 Vanderbilt 85, No. 12 Texas A&M 69

No. 11 Alabama 75, No. 14 Auburn 68

Thursday

No. 8 Arkansas 61, No. 9 Missouri 52

No. 5 Florida 53, No. 13 Vanderbilt 52

No. 7 Kentucky 83, No. 10 Mississippi State 67

No. 11 Alabama 74, No. 6 Georgia 62

Friday

No. 1 South Carolina 76, No. 8 Arkansas 54

No. 4 Ole Miss 70, No. 5 Florida 60

No. 7 Kentucky 78, No. 2 LSU 63

No. 3 Tennessee 74, No. 11 Alabama 59

Saturday

No. 1 South Carolina 61, No. 4 Ole Miss 51

No. 7 Kentucky 83, No. 3 Tennessee 74

Sunday

No. 7 Kentucky 64, No. 1 South Carolina 62

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Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball program, in addition to other college, high school and professional sports in the area. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University in 2020. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas.
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