By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — In her previous four games, Kentucky sophomore Blair Green was 6-for-31 from the field, including a dismal 1-for-11 at Florida Sunday. From 3-point range, she was 1-for-12 in those same four games.
Yet Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell thought she was doing everything else well and never lost confidence in her. She rewarded him in Thursday’s 76-54 win over No. 12 Texas A&M by scoring a career-high 13 points and made five of eight shots, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
She had eight points in the first half, including two 3-pointers in the second quarter when leading scorer Rhyne Howard had to sit on the bench for nine minutes with two fouls, that helped UK take control of the game.
“She gave us a big lift,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he was proud of the way Blair had played during No. 11 UK’s three-game win streak going into Thursday’s game because she “impacted the team defensively” and continued to hustle even when shots were not falling.
“I told her to be a top tier player you’ve got to put it all together,” Mitchell said. “It was unfortunate her shots were not falling but she was taking good shots. I was not overly concerned.”
He texted her after Sunday’s win at Florida to make sure she was in a “good spot” and to praise her defense.
“She came into practice with a lot of pep in her step,” Mitchell said.
He said the sophomore was “leading the charge” when others made up for Howard being on the bench in the second quarter.
Green admitted it helped to her first shot go in — “I wish I could have seen them go in a little bit sooner” — but said having a bigger role on this year’s team has given her more confidence and it showed in period two.
What was her mentality then?
“Just we’ve got to pick her up and just keep playing and just keep playing hard like she would want us to because she’s a big key to our team and gives us a lot of points, a lot of rebounds,” Green said. “So we really just had to step it up and keep giving her confidence.”
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said Green’s field goals came “late in the shot clock” and really hurt the Aggies.
“Then she hit a mid-range shot in there that was very good. That’s why she was on the All-Freshman (SEC) team last year. She’s just very solid,” Blair said. “You’ve got to have complimentary players (to go with Howard) and that’s what Blair Green is.
“She doesn’t try to do too much, too little, she does just enough. And that’s what you’ve got to have when you’ve got a star player. You’ve got to feed her the ball, let her create for others.”
Howard, also a sophomore, is the team’s star. Make no mistake about that. After going 1-for-7 from the field in the first quarter and sitting out almost nine minutes in the second quarter with two fouls, she still finished with 24 points — her seventh straight game with 20 or more points — by making eight of her last 12 shots. She also had 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal.
Yet in this game Kentucky needed Green to play like the star she was at Harlan County and she did.
“I think I’ve just been really letting the game come to me, just making that sure pass. If I’m open, taking my shot when I feel it. He (Mitchell) always gives me the green light to do what I need to do,” Green said. “I think he has confidence in me.”
Mitchell and her teammates certainly will have even more confidence in her play after the big win over No. 12 Texas A&M, who didn’t have all-SEC guard Chennedy Carter and her 20 points per game because of an ankle injury suffered in the previous game.
“It’s such a big, really big game for us. In the SEC, they’ve always been a top team,” Green said. “So to be able to come out here and beat them by double digits, that’s just a big confidence booster for us and that really looks good for our program.”