(LEXINGTON, Ky.) -- With only six games remaining in the regular season, Kentucky’s 66-62 victory over Alabama tonight takes on added significance. The win keeps the Cats in contention for the vaunted double-bye in the upcoming SEC tournament.

Kentucky (18-4, 7-3 SEC) remained in a logjam for that coveted 4th spot in the conference standings. (Teams finishing in the top four are slotted directly into the tournament quarterfinals.) Before games played tonight, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Tennessee were at the head of the class, with Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU left fighting it out with the Wildcats.

Obviously, Kentucky needs to keep winning to stay relevant. And what better way to do that than with the return of Rhyne Howard.

Kentucky’s all-everything sophomore has now missed 3 straight games due to a broken pinky. During warm-ups tonight, she was seen engaging comfortably with her teammates–the full cast she had previously sported on her left hand replaced with a partial splint.

According to Coach Matthew Mitchell, Howard remains on track for a mid-February return. It all depends on how she responds this week. “She wanted to play tonight,” Mitchell said in his postgame presser.

Without Howard, Kentucky struggled initially against the Crimson Tide (13-10, 3-7 SEC). The Cats missed 10 of their first 11 shots on their way to a 38% shooting night.

Sabrina Haines saved the day, leading Kentucky with 14 points on 4-of-7 three-point shooting. Her final bucket came on a huge steal and layup giving the Cats a 61-54 lead with just under a minute-and-a-half to go. Kentucky’s scrappy defense forced Alabama into 17 turnovers on the night.

How much have the Cats missed Howard?

In 51 career games, the reigning national freshman of the year has…hit at least one 3-pointer in 45 career games…made three or more 3-pointers in 22 games…made five or more 3-pointers in 9 games…scored 10+ points in 44 games…scored 15+ points in 35 games…scored 20+ points in 23 games…scored 25+ points in 15 games…scored 30+ points in 4 games…led UK in scoring in 31 games…and led UK in rebounding in 28 games.

Prior to her injury, Howard was averaging 23.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. She had 49 assists, 22 blocks, and 45 steals. Last time against the Crimson Tide, Howard tied the school record for most points in a game with 43.

Needless to say, Kentucky needs her back.

It’s 9-1-1.

PAGING RHYNE HOWARD!

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