LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Rhyne Howard hit three clutch free throws, collected a steal and blocked a shot in the final 29 seconds as the No. 13 Kentucky women held off Auburn, 68-61 on Monday night.
The Wildcats dropped to 13th in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Then ranked No. 11, Kentucky suffered a tough loss at LSU on January 18, a game in which they rallied from an 18-point deficit to trail by just two possessions late. Auburn was its first game after a seven-day layoff.
Auburn, coming into the game after winning its first Southeastern Conference game of the season, a 59-43 victory over Mississippi, and rallied after falling behind by as many as 20 points in the first half and faced a 44-28 deficit at halftime. But the Tigers outscored Kentucky 19-7 in the third quarter and tied the game at 51-51 on a pair of free throws by Unique Thompson with 8:40 remaining.
Kentucky (16-3, 5-2) got 3-pointers from Amanda Paschal and KeKe McKinney along with a McKinney layup in an 8-2 run to retake control, but Auburn rallied behind a Robyn Benton 3 and a Daisa Alexander layup and trailed by one, 59-58 with under four minutes to play.
Thompson hit the second of two free throws with :54 left to get Auburn within two, 63-61, but the Tigers could not score again. Howard hit two free throws, then split a pair from the line after drawing a foul following a steal to make it 66-61 with :20 left, then blocked Alexander's layup attempt with :13 left.
Sabrina Haines hit 4 of 8 from distance and scored 17 points to lead Kentucky, with McKinney adding 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench and Howard contributing 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Thompson, a preseason All-SEC second team selection, put up 27 points and pulled down 15 rebounds for Auburn (7-11, 1-6), but was the only Tiger to score in double figures.
Kentucky plays at Missouri Thursday. Auburn is at No. 9 Mississippi State Thursday.
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