The Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball team have won their first SEC Tournament title since 1982. This comes after the Cats have won ten straight games, including tournament wins over the 18th, sixth, and first-ranked teams in the nation. For a program starved of championship hardware for four decades, this SEC title run was one for the history books.
What is it that makes this title special, besides the fact it’s the first in 40 years? You have to backtrack to just before the season in 2020. Long time coach and fan favorite Matthew Mitchell was forced to retire after suffering a fall that resulted in a brain bleed. Mitchell went on to say the recovery process was “life-altering for me and my family.”
In steps the at the time assistant, Kyra Elzy. Fast forward through a few mediocre and uneventful years, and we land on a very important 2021-22 season. Elzy needed a good season to keep her job, and losing superstar Rhyne Howard after this year wouldn’t make her job any easier in the future. She had to win and win now.
At first, that was far from the case. After a 59-50 loss to SEC title favorite South Carolina, the Cats were 9-11 and fading fast from any hopes of clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The fanbase was getting impatient and things were bleak for the future of Kyra Elzy. After that, a switch was seemingly flipped.
A 67-63 win over Alabama kicked off six straight wins heading into the SEC tournament. One of the hottest teams in women’s basketball, the Cats entered the tournament as an eight seed and defeated Mississippi State 83-67.
Beyond that, is where things became special. With Rhyne Howard averaging 24.7 points per game over the stretch, Kentucky knocked off number 6 nationally ranked LSU, 18th ranked Tennessee, and number 1 South Carolina, with Dre’Una Edwards dropping 27 points and hitting the last-second game-winning three in the SEC title game against the juggernaut Gamecocks.
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Let’s circle back to the main question: What makes this title run extra special? Kentucky has always predominantly been a men’s basketball school. While they are powers in other sports, and the football team has ascended recently, this fanbase has always lived and breathed men’s basketball. What makes Kyra Elzy, Rhyne Howard, Dre’Una Edwards and the rest of this bunch so special is the capturing of energy and love of this fanbase in a way we’ve never seen from the women’s basketball team.
Watch parties were packed in local bars. Kentucky Twitter went absolutely nuts. Kentucky fans talked about the game at work and school the next day. This team did something historic- not only for the program, but for the entire Kentucky fanbase. Truly a special team, led by a special coach, and a special player.