By LARRY VAUGHT
Can Rhyne Howard continue her hot streak today at Florida?
The Kentucky junior scored a then career-high 37 points in a win over Tennessee and then followed that with a 43-point performance at Alabama that tied the school record. She hit seven 3-pointers in both games and has now hit 53 3-pointers in 15 games this year.
Howard has scored 25 or more points in five straight games, the first time any UK player has done that. She is averaging 23.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but also has 38 assists and 34 steals.
“I think one of the things that you notice is she is shooting the ball really well,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She is the focal point of a lot of teams’ preparations. She has really had to work hard to play well.”
Mitchell praised his other players for things they did to help Howard have the chance to score so many points. However, he also noted that on the team bus after the win at Alabama the bus driver had the TV on and game highlights were shown of Howard’s 43-point game.
“Just the excitement on the bus of everyone really made me feel good. It was a special time,” Mitchell said. “I just think with the challenge that she poses, she is just so versatile. She has great size, speed, athleticism… all that. They’re putting a hand in her face, but she’s still big enough to be able to have vision and make shots that are some-what contested. She is playing with great pace off screens.
“She is scoring in all three levels – the 3-point line, the midrange jumper, and now what she has added to her game this year is the ability to score at the rim that she struggled with a bit last year.”
One of the most amazing things about Howad is that as much as she scores, she’s still a willing passer.
“We all either grew up around or knew about ball hogs. I was one when I played. I took a lot of bad shots,” Mitchell joked. “She doesn’t come off as anything other than the flow of the offense. She is taking really good shots. She is even having the patience, when she is guarded, to change pace, split double teams, instead of taking a contested 19 footer. She’ll find a way to get in and maybe get a 12 footer with the extra effort.”
Mitchell said there is “no jealousy whatsoever” by Howard’s teammates because they understand what a big part of the offense she needs to be. He said it helps when she makes key defensive plays or grabs crucial rebounds, too.
“She does not come off as just this high-volume shooter who is just trying to go get her … she is really doing it in the constructive of us winning the basketball game and that is fun to watch,” Mitchell said.