Dre’una Edwards made a three with four seconds left to lift the Kentucky Wildcats, who were not even on the bubble not long ago, to a 64-62 upset of the national championship favorite South Carolina Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament title game Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The Wildcats’ incredible run through the conference tourney as a No. 7 seed already had them in the ESPN bracketology projection but now they will go to the NCAA Tournament as an automatic bid and likely earned the right to not have to play a 1 seed in the second round should they advance.
Then again, they just beat the team that was supposed to be the No. 1 overall seed; an amazing accomplishment that gives them their first SEC Tournament title since 1982. In other words, they have been an automatic bid exactly two times in their history: in the first season the NCAA Tournament took place and in this current season. Kentucky made their first of four Elite Eight trips in 1982; it has never been to the Final Four.
South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson nearly made a half-court game-winner at the buzzer, but it hit off the back of the rim and missed.
Zia Cooke missed two free throws with 16 seconds left and Kentucky (19-11, 8-8 SEC) secured the rebound before calling a timeout, down one at the 11-second mark. The rest was Edwards, who finished with a game-high 27 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Kentucky had an earlier chance to take the lead, but a pass to superstar Rhyne Howard in the paint got lost and picked up by South Carolina, which called a timeout with 18.3 seconds remaining.
Edwards had her shot blocked out of bounds by national Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston and came back with a reverse layup right out of the inbound to cut it to three with 1:50 to play. She followed with another layup 37 seconds later that cut it to one.
Threes from Edwards and Robyn Benton both cut it to seven and then a layup from Treasure Hunt did the same before Howard was finally able to cut it to five on a layup with 3:59 to play.
Henderson’s first two threes of the game came in the first half of the third quarter and pushed South Carolina’s lead to 11 and 14, respectively.
The Gamecocks (29-2, 15-1 SEC) led by at least nine the rest of the third as Howard’s 10 points over that stretch (5-of-6 from the line) were not enough to get the Wildcats any closer. A coast-to-coast layup by Boston pushed South Carolina’s lead to 12 entering the fourth and she hit two free throws 46 seconds into the final frame to make it a 14-point advantage once again.
However, that’s when the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run capped by Edwards’ three that cut it to seven.
Howard finished with 18 points, two steals and two blocks. Boston notched 21 points, 11 rebounds to extend her SEC-record double-double streak to 24 games. Cooke managed 15 points.
The final 5:09 of the second was won by the Gamecocks 4-3, as both teams were struggling to score entering halftime.
South Carolina went on a 9-0 run from 1:10 in the first to 5:09 in the second to go up 26-18. Cooke made the three that capped that run to give her 11 points.
Edwards had gone to battle with the Gamecocks before the run with eight points that kept it close. Boston scored nine points in the first and Cooke had eight, while Henderson dished out four assists.