By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore guard Rhyne Howard leads the Kentucky women — and the SEC — in scoring at 23.2 points per game and also is the team’s top rebounder at 6.3 per game. However, she’s out now with a fractured finger in her left hand until at least mid-February.
Kentucky won at Missouri Thursday night without her but coach Matthew Mitchell understands how hard it will be to win without here because she dd more than just score.
“She is often times our team’s leading rebounder, often times our top shot blocker and best defensive player. It was more than just losing offensive production,” Mitchell said Friday.
The Kentucky coach plans to be much more open about Howard’s status than most major college coaches in any sport are now because he understands she has become an iconic figure to Kentucky fans.
““There is no exact science on it but it is a fractured finger and everybody heals a little differently. It will not be operated on and we will allow the bone to heal. The best guess we have right now and what we are saying is mid-February and not sure exactly what game but as of today it is not a season ender and we feel very fortunate for that,” Mitchell said Friday while previewing Sunday’s home game with Florida.
“We are looking around that four week mark to see if we can get her back. We are optimistic about that. The hand surgeon has looked at it and feels like that is a reasonable time table for us to put out there. We do not know exactly how everything will happen but we do know how important she is not only to our team but she has really captivated the Big Blue Nation and there is so much affection for her.
“We are not going to try to play any tricks or anything. We are going to try to keep everybody up to day and know how great of a season she is having and how much interest people have. We are going to keep everybody up to date, but that is the best we know right now.”
Mitchell also knows his team better understand the sense of urgency it must have with Howard out to avoid losses that will impact NCAA Tournament seeding.
“This one is very simple right now because the only way we can take care of anything is winning games. With Rhyne’s absence it puts everyone on high alert with a high sense or awareness and it reduces our margin for error so we have to be really focused and have great practices and come out and compete really hard,” Mitchell said.