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Can Kentucky make a run in NCAA Tournament?

About a month ago, Kentucky’s record was 9-11 and 2-8 in the SEC. Many, including myself, thought they were done. But since then, the Wildcats have won 10 games in a row, including their takedown of No. 1 South Carolina in the SEC championship last weekend.

Star guard Rhyne Howard said the turnaround happened when the team loosened up.

“We started having fun,” Howard said. “When things were getting tough, basically we acted like we didn’t want to be there. That’s how it looked and how it appeared to our fans. We had a team meeting where we were like, ‘This is it. We cannot end like this.’ Especially with a lot of us being seniors. We knew we had to get it together.”

It was the Wildcats’ first SEC tournament title since 1982, and it couldn’t have been in more dramatic fashion, as forward Dre’una Edwards hit an improbable three-point shot with five seconds left. She had a team-high 27 points, while Howard added 18 points to complete the comeback.

Howard and Edwards

On their way to the title game, Kentucky also took out No. 2 seed LSU and No. 3 Tennessee. Now they head to the NCAA Tournament with a 10-game winning streak, and could be a dangerous team. Howard averaged 20.9 points per game during the run, and had two 32-point games. Edwards has averaged 20.5 points per game off the bench to help the Wildcats.

Howard averages 20.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field, and 38.4 percent from beyond the arc. She is expected to be one of the top lottery picks in the WNBA draft. Edwards has been outstanding off the bench, averaging 16.9 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting for the field and 35.2 percent from three-point land.

Currently, ESPN bracketology has Kentucky as a No. 7 seed. Coming into the Tournament, they are playing their best basketball at the right time, and if Howard and Edwards continue playing at a high level, they have the potential to pull more upsets.

What Kentucky needs to do to make a run

The Wildcats need significant contributions from Jada Walker and Robyn Benton if they want to make a deep Tournament run. Walker averages 10.4 points and Benton, nine points per game this season. Both players will have to bring their numbers up.

Also, if Kentucky wants to make real noise, they will need to bring it on the defensive end. They gave up 65.5 points per game while scoring 72.5 points per game this season. They will need to hold teams in the high 50 to low 60s to make a run.

Coach Kyra Elzy said there is still work to do.

“Yes, we do have to have some recovery, rest, but we always do that coming off the SEC tournament, try to get people healthy,” she said after their win Sunday. “Then we go back to work. Our job is we’re going to celebrate this SEC championship, but our job is not yet done. We still have work to do. We look forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament and making a run.”

The Wildcats’ destiny is in their own hands. With Howard leading, it will come down to defense and role players stepping up to have a chance to win.

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