Eight players were ejected after a scuffle broke out during an SEC women’s basketball tournament first-round matchup Wednesday between Florida and Kentucky.

Four players from each team were thrown out of the game at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. The conflict started when Florida forward Tatyana Wyche took issue with a handoff from Kentucky forward Ajae Petty in the middle of the second quarter.

After the Wildcats scored a basket, Petty rolled the ball up Wyche’s face as she handed the ball off for the in-bounds play. Wyche threw the ball toward Petty’s back and then ran after her and toward the Kentucky bench, where the fight escalated.

Ejections followed, including for Wyche. For Florida, Faith Dut, Ra Shaya Kyle and Taliyah Wyche also were ejected for exiting the Gators’ bench. For Kentucky, Cassidy Rowe, Eniya Russell, Zennia Thomas and Saniah Tyler were ejected for exiting the Wildcats’ bench, per Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Caroline Makauskas. Petty received a technical but was not ejected.

The game was delayed for 22 minutes after the altercation, but No. 14 seed Kentucky (11-18) went on to take a 72-57 win against No. 11 seed Florida.

The Wildcats advance to face No. 6 seed Alabama in the second round Thursday, though they may be shorthanded if the conference decides to hand out suspensions to players involved in the incident.

When Atlanta Dream rookie Rhyne Howard dropped 33 points Sunday against the Indiana Fever, she did so in front of a sea of Kentucky blue.

A group of over 60 Kentucky fans got on a bus to Indianapolis to watch the guard play in her fourth professional game. After the game, Howard called the experience “super special.”

“They made this game feel like a home game,” Howard said. “It just shows how much love they have for their players — not just me, but if it was anybody else they would have done the same. So it just speaks a lot on Big Blue Nation and how they care for their players.”

Howard celebrated with the group after the game, with Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy thanking those that attended.

“We always have to take care of our own,” Elzy wrote on Twitter.

Howard, who continues to make her case for Rookie of the Year, was selected No. 1 overall out of Kentucky and now has the Dream (3-1) off to their best start since 2017.

With the No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, the Atlanta Dream selected Rhyne Howard out of the University of Kentucky.

The Dream acquired the pick via a trade with the Washington Mystics last Wednesday, trading away picks No. 3 and No. 14 in exchange for the top spot on the board.

Howard was the consensus top pick in the draft by multiple mock drafts, including Just Women’s Sports’ mock draft.

As a senior, Howard was named a first-team All-American – her third such honor, which made her just the ninth player to achieve that marker – after averaging 20.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

“This is a dream come true,” Howard told Holly Rowe on ESPN.

Kentucky has extended the contract of coach Kyra Elzy through 2027 following the team’s first SEC tournament championship in 40 years.

While full details of the contract are not yet available, they will be posted to the UK Office of Legal Counsel’s website.

Elzy initially started as interim head coach, taking over for Matthew Mitchell, before being hired on in the official role in December 2020 following a 6-0 start. This season, the Wildcats finished 19-12, including a 64-62 upset over top-ranked and eventual national champion South Carolina in the SEC tournament title game.

Since then, three starters have entered their names into the transfer portal, while Rhyne Howard has declared for the WNBA draft.

Kentucky was the second-lowest seed ever to win the championship and the fourth to defeat the No. 1 team in the country in the SEC tournament finals.

En route to the championship, Kentucky also took down Mississippi State, No. 6 LSU, and No. 18 Tennessee.

Elzy is just the fifth coach in SEC history to win the tournament just two seasons into the job, joining Joe Ciampi (Auburn), Jim Foster (Vanderbilt), Melanie Balcomb (Vanderbilt) and Holly Warlick (Tennessee).

She is the first Kentucky coach to start their tenure with back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.

In a release, athletic director Mitch Barnhart called the turnaround “impressive” and a strong step in building the program’s championship vision.

“We’re excited to extend Kyra and continue our investment in women’s basketball and in her as a coach and positive role model in our community,” he continued. “After the adversity the team faced throughout the season, the turnaround at the end of the year was impressive – defeating the eventual national champion and winning our first SEC Tournament Championship in 40 years.”

Elzy thanked Barnhart, President Eli Capiluto and women’s basketball administrator Tiffany Hayden for their shared commitment to the program.

“I am 100 percent confident in what we offer our student-athletes here at Kentucky,” she said. “We have a core group of talented and driven players returning along with an exciting group of signees that cannot wait to wear those eight letters across the front of their jersey.”

Kentucky’s team will look much different next year, with the Wildcats standing to lose four of their 2021 starters.

Dre’Una Edwards, Treasure Hunt and Jazmine Massengill all put their names in the transfer portal Friday, while Rhyne Howard will enter the WNBA draft.

The Wildcats were bounced by Princeton in the first round of the NCAA tournament after upsetting South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.

“I am confident in myself as a coach and a person, and what our staff does for our student-athletes on and off the court,” said Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy on the SEC Network Friday, addressing the news. “I have a group of athletes on campus and signees that are excited about Kentucky women’s basketball.”

Edwards, who hit the game-winner against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament final, is Kentucky’s leading rebounder with 8.4 per game and the second-leading scorer, with 16.5 points per game.

Massengill will be a fifth-year senior while Hunt is entering her junior season.

Elzy will have her work cut out for her this off-season, with the Kentucky coach already projected to have her largest recruiting class yet for the 2022-2023 season.

A’ja Wilson is looking ahead to the 2022 WNBA Draft, predicting Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard will go No. 1 overall to the Washington Mystics.

“Her speed and her IQ is really there,” Wilson says of Howard on the latest episode of NETLIFE with host Dawn Staley.

The Mystics, who won the WNBA draft lottery in December, have the opportunity to add to a roster that already includes Elena Delle Donne, Myisha Hines-Allen, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Alysha Clark and Elizabeth Williams. Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon and Ole Miss’ Shakira Austin join Howard as projected top picks heading into the 2022 draft.

“Our league is getting bigger, faster and stronger by the draft class, so you just have to focus on your game, make sure you put in that work,” Wilson says.

The Las Vegas Aces star opened up about entering the WNBA as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2018 and playing under the league’s rookie contract for four years. The league ratified a new CBA in 2020 that increased player salaries, scaled for rookies based on where they were selected in the draft.

“It wasn’t fun, because when the numbers come out and you see that someone that’s entered the league after you is making more than you and you’re a No. 1 draft pick, it makes you want to grind even more,” says Wilson, the WNBA’s 2018 Rookie of the Year and 2020 MVP.

Last season, her fourth in the league, Wilson focused on locking down her next contract. “Going into my fourth year, I was like I am trying to get paid,” she says.

In February, the Aces announced they had re-signed Wilson to a multi-year contract, reported to be worth $398,000 over two years.

Listen to the full conversation on the NETLIFE podcast.

Day 2 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was punctuated by a series of upsets, throwing brackets into chaos heading into the second round.

No. 9 Kansas State 50, No. 8 Washington State 40

Kansas State defeated Washington State 50-40 on Saturday to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Both teams struggled on offense, with Kansas State shooting 26.4 percent to Washington State’s 25 percent. Ayoka Lee led the Wildcats with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Brylee Glenn added 14 points and four rebounds.

Kansas State will meet No. 1 NC State in Raleigh on Monday.

No. 11 Villanova 61, No. 6 BYU 57

Villanova upset BYU 61-57 on Saturday thanks to a strong second half. Wildcats leading scorer Maddy Siegrist led the team with 25 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Kaitlyn Orihel added 10 points and four rebounds off the bench.

Villanova will face No. 3 seed Michigan in the second round Monday in Ann Arbor.

No. 11 Princeton 69, No. 6 Kentucky 62

No. 11 seed Princeton stunned No. 6 seed Kentucky 69-62, bouncing the SEC tournament champions in the first round. The Tigers dominated the game from the opening whistle, outshooting the Wildcats 49.1 to 35.7 percent and out-rebounding them 37-30. The win was Princeton’s second in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2015.

Next, Princeton will take on No. 3 Indiana on Monday in Bloomington.

Even as a little girl, Rhyne Howard had a high basketball IQ.

So when the second-grader started getting steals in her rec league, but pulling the ball back out short of the fast-break layup, her family was confused.

Rhyne wasn’t. She knew exactly what she was doing.

The league had a policy that if a player scored a certain amount of points, they had to sit out the rest of the game. The idea was to keep the competition fair, but Howard learned quickly how to cheat the system.

Every time she approached the number, Howard would change the way she played. Instead of looking to score, she would set up her teammates. She still had a positive impact on the game, but she was also ensuring that she didn’t have to leave the court.

It was then that her mom, Rhvonja “RJ” Avery, knew Howard — a three-time All-American at Kentucky and a projected top pick in this year’s WNBA Draft — was special.

“That’s something you can’t teach,” Avery said. “That’s instinct.”

On and off the court, Howard never stops thinking. Her hobbies are all things that allow her to have quiet time and be alone with her own mind. She likes doing puzzles, and she loves to draw. It’s not uncommon, Avery says, for Howard to sneak away and take out her art supplies.

During the pandemic, Avery set up an art corner in her house so Howard’s creativity could run uninterruptedly wild. Sometimes she draws SpongeBob, her favorite cartoon character. Other times, she creates more serious artwork, like a piece entitled “Black Empowerment.” It depicts a Black woman with a flowing afro framing her face, and atop the black curls, a small yellow crown.

Off the court, it’s not uncommon for Howard to keep to herself.

“She’s a little bit quiet, a little bit shy,” Avery says. “Even if she says something funny, something witty, she usually does it in a whisper.”

When it comes to basketball, however, Howard does not whisper.

She never has. It’s the one thing that consistently brings the Kentucky guard out of her shell. Around the same time that she learned to work around her rec-league rules, Howard set the goal of playing in the WNBA.

And when people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Howard did not waver.

“Sometimes people were like, ‘You’re going to have to find a real job,’ And I’d say, ‘That is a real job, and I’m going to be getting paid,’” Howard said with a laugh.

Howard’s name is on every WNBA mock draft board, and it’s usually at No. 1 or No. 2 — switching off with Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith, depending on the analyst.

So yeah, she’s going to be getting paid. But when she was telling off her doubters, the draft or where she would be selected wasn’t on Howard’s mind at all.

“The goal is just to make it,” she says, “But to be a top pick, like, wow. As a young kid, I never would have imagined it.”

Maybe she should have.

Howard was heavily sought after in high school, but at first, she wasn't interested in the recruiting process. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Skills aside, Howard has always been too competitive to finish anywhere but first. Avery remembers taking her kids to the doctor, and to help pass the time, she would give them a big word and see how many smaller words they could find within the letters. Howard’s brother is five years older than she is, but she would still cry if she didn’t get more words than he did.

In middle school, Howard was doing a project on New York City. She made an origami replica of the Statue of Liberty, but couldn’t get the tiny crown quite right.

“She was frustrated and I had to calm her down,” Avery said. “I told her, ‘Rhyne, how many other kids in sixth grade are making 3D statues?’

“But she’s a perfectionist. She likes to finish. She’s a competitor.”

When she turned in the project, Howard got an A.

If Howard did something, she was going to be the best. Especially when it came to basketball. If you think spelling words against someone five years older is hard, try going at them on the court. And all of their friends.

“Playing with my brother, no one took it easy on me,” Howard said. “And my mom would be like, ‘Well you asked to play with him, so you can’t get mad.’”

She still did.

“I used to try and fight him all the time,” Howard says, breaking out into a giggle that sounds like she’s right back in the moment. “I’d be like, ‘Please, you’re doing too much.”

Eventually, Howard figured out how to beat her brother. Once she learned how to shoot, Howard no longer had to try to out-muscle him. Instead, she would stay outside of the 3-point line.

“I would do a few moves and then shoot it,” she said. “And then everyone would keep passing me the ball asking me to shoot.”

By the time college recruiting came around, Howard had plenty of suitors. Schools like Tennessee and South Carolina were eager to sign her, but she didn’t want to go through the recruitment process. Howard was confident that she would go to Florida, where Avery went, and play for her mother’s former teammate, Amanda Butler.

Growing up, Howard spent plenty of days on campus, painting her nails with Butler and dreaming of the day she’d play at her mom’s alma mater.

But Avery wasn’t having it. She’d been through college basketball herself, and knew how fickle it could be. If something happened, and Butler was no longer the coach, she asked Howard, would you still want to go to Florida?

Howard said yes, but Avery was not convinced. So she persuaded her daughter to go through recruitment.

“I said, ‘In the end, if you chose Florida, that’s a great choice,” Avery said. “It will be a great choice because it’s your choice. But don’t go just because you know it.”

Avery had Howard make pros and cons lists of every school she was considering. From the obvious: coaches, campus, style of play, to the not so obvious, like what kind of shoes the team wears. Howard, for the record, is a Nike girl. And Kentucky, for the record, is a Nike school. It didn’t come down to the shoes, though.

“I could visually see what they had going on,” Howard said. “They were going through kind of a tough time when I was getting recruited and I was like, ‘Yeah, I have to go here. I have to make a name for myself and for Kentucky. I have to be able to change the program.’”

Since she committed, Howard has been making a name for herself. She’s set essentially every record you can think of, and even some you can’t. On her senior day, Howard set a program mark for the most 3-pointers in a half with six, and the most in a game with eight.

She’s second all-time on Kentucky’s scoring list, and the guard helped propel her team to an SEC Tournament title with 10-straight wins to end the season and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats earned a 6-seed and will take on Princeton on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Howard’s legacy as a Kentucky great is already cemented, regardless of what happens in the tournament.

“I didn’t envision that I’d have this much of an impact,” she said. “But I’m really proud of myself, and I’m grateful to have brought some more attention to Kentucky. It’s a really good place, and there are people around me who deserve to be noticed.”

For Avery, it’s hard to envision what’s next for her daughter. Her career at Kentucky has been historic, and the WNBA is in sight. She knows Howard wants to end her time in a Wildcat uniform with a deep tournament run. But whatever happens, one thing is for sure: The basketball community knows Rhyne Howard, and it always will.

“It’s so surreal,” Avery said. “My daughter is a household name.”

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Kentucky senior guard Rhyne Howard is an AP First Team All-American for the third time in her career, making her just the ninth women’s basketball player to ever earn first-team honors for a third time.

“That’s huge,” Howard said. “Definitely selective company. To be a three-time, and one of nine, now that’s something you had to work for. I don’t know how to explain it. I was glad I was able to accomplish that.”

Howard had a standout season for Kentucky, averaging 20.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 steals during the regular season and helping the Wildcats upset South Carolina for the SEC tournament title.

The last player to earn three-time All-American status was Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu.

The team was announced Wednesday and also includes South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon and Stanford’s Haley Jones. Both Hillmon and Jones tied for the fifth spot, marking the first time that there has ever been a tie for AP All-American.

Boston, Clark and Smith were all unanimous choices.

South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw, Duke’s Alana Beard, Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris, and UConn’s Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore are also on the list of players to earn first-team honors at least three times. Boston has a chance to earn a third honor next year.

Boston has been a dominant force all season long for South Carolina, who spent the entire season atop the AP Poll and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Both she and Clark, who became the first women’s player to lead the country in both scoring and assists, are up for National Player of the Year. Clark averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists, helping Iowa win both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.

It’s Smith’s second consecutive first-team honors. The senior forward averaged 22.5 points and 11.5 rebounds to help the Bears win a 12th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship.

Hillmon is the first Michigan player to earn first-team honors, one year after being named to the second team. Jones, who won Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four, averaged 13.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

Howard, Clark, Boston and Smith were all named to the preseason All-America team. UConn’s Paige Bueckers was named to the preseason team but missed two months with a knee injury and earned honorable mention honors. It’s the first time since 2007 that the AP All-America team does not feature a player from UConn.

No. 7 seed Kentucky stunned No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 on Sunday to win the team’s first SEC tournament championship in 40 years.

The Wildcats, trailing by as many as 15 points during the game, came from behind to defeat South Carolina in Nashville. Dre’una Edwards hit the game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left to seal the upset win.

Edwards finished the game with a game-high 27 points to go along with nine rebounds and one assist. Rhyne Howard notched 18 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. The Kentucky senior was named SEC tournament MVP for her performance.

Howard and Edwards helped erase a 12-point South Carolina advantage down the stretch, with Kentucky holding the Gamecocks to just seven points in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats outshot South Carolina 42.1 to 33.3 percent and forced 13 costly South Carolina turnovers.

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston extended her double-double streak to 24 consecutive games with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds.

The Wildcats, who started the season 2-8 in the SEC, became the first team to take down the top three seeds on their way to winning the SEC tournament championship, the program’s first since 1982. Kentucky defeated No. 2 seed LSU and No. 3 seed Tennessee before upsetting South Carolina, officially booking their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.