Seniors Deliver in Home Farewell
Sabrina Haines had been a little quiet as a scorer of late.
She was plenty loud on her Senior Night.
“My teammates just were able to find me and they put me in amazing positions and the coaches gave me some early play calls, which kind of helped me get going,” Haines said. “I’m just thankful for them that they were able to get me those open shots and luckily I was able to hit them.”
After she reached double figures in just two of her last seven games, Haines scored her 10th point less than halfway through the second quarter. By then, she was well on her way to a huge performance in her final home game as a Kentucky Wildcat. Haines scored 15 points to help lead No. 15 UK (20-6, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) to an 88-77 victory over Georgia (15-13, 6-9 SEC) on Thursday.
“She really came out on a mission tonight and just did a great job,” Matthew Mitchell said. “I thought her energy—when she’s energetic and making shots and really into it, it’s powerful for our team.”
Haines was joined in double figures, of course, by All-America candidate Rhyne Howard, who scored a coolly efficient 25 for the game and 13 in the fourth quarter alone. The backbreaker, in Mitchell’s mind, came when Haines snagged a steal and found Howard for an and-one with 3:22 left to stretch the lead to 15.
Also scoring 14 points was another senior, Jaida Roper. She took a more unconventional path to double figures, doing so even though she only tried two field goals. She did, however, make all 11 of her free throws.
“I try to relax myself,” Roper said. “That’s why I close my eyes. I kind of stole that from (Immanuel) Quickley. Just focusing my mind to hit a shot that I practice almost every day.”
When Roper did finally hit a field goal, she made it count. Roper drilled 3-pointer just before she checked out and got a big ovation with just under a minute remaining in the game.
“That was a big 3,” Roper said. “Shout-out to Amanda (Paschal) for finding me. I didn’t see a ball go through the hoop other than free throws today, so that 3 was pretty big to me. It also capped off the night. It ended a great night.”
The night began for Paschal, another senior, with some tears as soon as she woke up on Thursday morning. Haines, Roper and Nae Nae Cole all did their share of crying, but Ogechi Anyagaligbo managed to hold it together until the press conference after she tied a season high with 10 points.
“For me, my mom hasn’t watched me play in person since my senior year of high school,” Anyagaligbo said. “So her being there, I was so nervous. I just didn’t want to fail her. I’m just happy we got the win, because for me I have a weight lifted off my shoulders. I just really appreciated that I could pull it out like that in the end.”
Given the circumstances for all the seniors and especially Anyagaligbo, a little emotion is perfectly natural.
“All wins this time of year are outstanding and are great, but this one’s a little extra special just with it being Senior Night,” Mitchell said. “The seniors stepped up in a major, major way. All five of them really played some great basketball tonight to help us win. We needed to win badly and we certainly wanted to send them out on Senior Night with a victory.”
That’s exactly what the Wildcats did, keeping pace in the race for an SEC Tournament bye in the process. Though Thursday might have ended the home careers for these seniors – at least in the regular season anyway – they still have plenty to play for.
“I think this team is pushing it to another gear heading into the tournament,” Roper said. “We’re all mentally focused. We’re physically ready. I’m ready to go to war with these girls.”