NASHVILLE — Dre'una Edwards wasn't intimidated by the No. 1 women's basketball team. With seconds on the clock she saw her chance and let the ball fly from behind the arc.
The shot fell, and No. 7 seed Kentucky (19-11) upset top-seeded South Carolina 64-62 at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday in stunning fashion in the SEC Tournament championship.
Edwards' dominant fourth-quarter performance led to Kentucky's first SEC Tournament championship since 1982. Kentucky went on an 8-0 run at the end of the fourth quarter to bring the game within one point when Edwards finished under the basket. The junior scored 12 of her 27 points in the fourth.
Aliyah Boston led the Gamecocks (29-2) with 21 points and 11 rebounds, her 24th consecutive double-double.
Edwards first sparked Kentucky in the fourth with a 3-pointer that brought the Wildcats within seven points with 6:49 left. Kentuky executed offensively in the last 10 minutes, shooting 60% compared to South Carolina's 14.3%.
The Gamecocks led by only five with 3:59 left in the game when Rhyne Howard took it to the rim, and neither team managed to score for two more minutes when Kentucky cut the lead to three with a layup from Edwards with 1:50 on the clock. Howard finished with 18 points.
Rhyne Howard's legacy at Kentucky
Howard entered her senior campaign under a mountain of pressure.
The guard from Chattanooga was selected by coaches and media as the preseason SEC Player of the Year – an award she had won two years in a row after unanimously winning National Freshman of the Year in 2018-19 – and the projected top WNBA Draft pick. Everyone expected Howard to lead the Wildcats to a top-five finish in the conference.
But 10 games into SEC play, Kentucky only had two wins. The 11-player roster had been plagued with injuries and COVID-19 cancellations at the start of SEC play, but no excuses were made. Kentucky coach and former Tennessee Lady Vols standout Kyra Elzy called a team meeting, the details of which she kept private. But Elzy said it was do or die for her team in that moment.
"I had to hold myself accountable along with this staff and each individual player, and we knew it was either we're going home and the season is going to end like this, or we're going to step up to the challenge," Elzy said after the semifinal win over Tennessee on Saturday. "I thought all year long we had enough, and even when we first faced adversity, I think that brought us together closer as a team because we didn't have anyone else but each other, and it's paying off now."
Elzy had a meeting with Howard as well. She could see the stress reflected in Howard's play, and she wanted to alleviate the mounting pressure and get her to have fun playing the game again.
"I just told her, I was like, 'What you have done for women's basketball? What you have done for Kentucky? If you don't do another thing, your accolades speak for themselves,' " Elzy said. "I knew in the back of my mind what the end game was, but wanted to free her, along with this staff, to let her have fun, enjoy her senior year – because these are memories in time she will never get back. It's good to see her having success but also having fun."
Elzy has Kentucky primed for NCAA run
To say Elzy has experience in March in an understatement. She was a part of UT's 1997 and 1998 championship teams, and both were completely opposite seasons. In the 1996-97 championship season, Tennessee was 29-10. The Lady Vols followed it up with an undefeated season en route to their third consecutive NCAA title.
Elzy also spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Tennessee and was on the staff when the Lady Vols won the 2014 SEC Tournament championship. After a shaky start to the season, Elzy has the Wildcats rounded into one of the hottest teams into the country in March.
With the win Sunday, Kentucky is going into the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak.
Kentucky was a projected No. 8 seed before Sunday's win and it will certainly rise with the performance against South Carolina.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Kentucky stuns No. 1 South Carolina, win women's SEC championship game