Columbus’ Joe Cherrone, Tatyana Wyatt react to team’s state championship
Tatyana Wyatt sat inside a locker at Bon Secours Wellness Arena with palms resting on her lowered chin and an ice wrap around her knee. There was a rather-distraught feeling for the Kentucky sophomore and her surroundings were silent as the Wildcats experienced only their seventh loss of the season.
Kentucky went one-and-done in the SEC tournament after a hard-fought 70-68 overtime loss to Missouri. It was a contest with a definite postseason feel, but the Wildcats fell narrowly short after surging back toward the top of the conference. The sadness was understood, but then a placard atop Wyatt’s locker that included “COLUMBUS, GA” made her smile.
As she continues her first postseason run as a collegiate player, Wyatt remembers her last one over two years prior. She hit the game-winning shot in a different shade of blue for Columbus High School to win the 2017 GHSA 4A state title over noted rival Carver, 69-67.
“That state championship was my favorite moment, for sure,” Wyatt said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Wyatt has come quite a ways since her prep days. She’s a formidable presence in the SEC, a key contributor on one of the nation’s top teams and has an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament with sixth-seeded Kentucky. The Wildcats face-off with Princeton in the tournament’s opening round on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2).
Wyatt has joined forces with freshman Rhyne Howard and senior Maci Morris to make the Wildcats relevant again amongst the national landscape. It has been a season of progression for Wyatt as she averages 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers, however, are lower due to a slow start. She recorded double-digit scoring tallies in her final four conference games, and Wyatt said it was all about gaining confidence.
“She’s just very aggressive for us when we needed her to get baskets for us,” Kentucky guard Taylor Murray said. “We were able to pass her the ball in the post and she was able to knock down shots.”
One of the sweetest moments of her sophomore year came in Athens — as close as Wyatt would get to home. Kentucky beat Georgia 58-53 to close out the regular season at Stegeman Coliseum, and Wyatt notched 17 points. That was her highest tally of the season and the second-highest of her career (20 vs. Evansville as a freshman).
Wyatt had about 30 family members in attendance, and that made things a tad more special for the sophomore. As she continued to outmaneuver the Lady Bulldogs, Wyatt could hear her support section get increasingly louder.
“It was nice to be at home,” Wyatt said. “I was trying to do whatever I could to get my team a win. I know my folks don’t get to come to my games often because it’s so far. It was nice to know they supported me over there.”
In that moment, Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell might’ve had a flashback to recruiting her from down in the Chattahoochee Valley. Mitchell engaged in recruiting the 6-foot-2 post presence, saw Wyatt play for her AAU team and was in attendance for her game-winning championship shot.
Kentucky and Wyatt were a match. She liked the academics as a biology major with aspirations to enter the medical field. She had a strong relationship with Wildcats’ assistant Kyra Elzy, and all parties are happy that Kentucky landed a prospect in Georgia. Mitchell did so again in the 2019 class by adding Villa Rica product Deasia Merrill.
“She really checks the boxes that are extremely important for us at Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “It was a great fit for us. There were a lot of schools that wanted her, great schools that wanted her. We feel very fortunate she chose Kentucky. She has been an awesome addition to our program.
“We’re excited about what she can do for us in the NCAA tournament. She’s had a really, really good year of progress.”
Wyatt will experience one of basketball’s most-thrilling events as Kentucky heads to Raleigh, North Carolina, with hopes of beginning a run amongst the best. Once she takes the floor, however, she can remember the smile on her face from a few weeks prior.
All it takes is a thought of being clutch once before. Her dream is to do the same again.
“I’m definitely excited, because we have a chance to compete for something bigger,” Wyatt said. “I can’t wait for the challenge and to do it with my team.”