By LARRY VAUGHT
All she did last season was have one of the most incredible seasons in Kentucky women’s basketball history.
She averaged 24.3 points per game — second best nationally — along with 6.5 rebounds. She made 3.1 3-pointers per game, a top 10 mark nationally, and hit a school-record 84 3-pointers. She had 25 or more points in five straight games, something no UK player had ever done. She was also the first UK player to score 37 or more points in consecutive games.
So what can she do for an encore during her junior season?
“I don’t really feel any pressure because I don’t feel a reason to be pressured. I have my teammates behind me and we have a great team this year,” Howard said. “We are going to have a great team and they are there to lift the pressure off of me and if I do get pressured I know I can go to them or go to my coaches and they will make it easier for me you can say. They can make sure I am staying focused on making the right plays for my team.”
Howard has already scored 1,158 points and was the second-fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell says it is important for Howard to stay aggressive this season knowing defenses will be focused on stopping her again.
“When she is open she needs to shoot the ball. If a team leaves her open every possession, she needs to shoot it. She is such a great scorer and shooter it is just amazing. I used to get in trouble for shooting the ball when I played and Rhyne Howard is going to get in trouble for not shooting the ball,” Mitchell said.
“She just needs to shoot and fire away and have that aggressive attack mentality offensively. She is a very special player and any open shot for her is a good shot.”
Howard has no doubt she can be better after her historic sophomore season that has her rated among the nation’s top returning players.
“Nobody is perfect, especially not me. My coaches are pinpointing on the exact things that I need to work on and they talk to me after every practice and let me know what I am doing good and what I need to continue to do to be a great player,” the UK junior said.
Mitchell said the coaching staff needs to constantly remind Howard of goals she has set, including being the best player in the country.
“There are a lot of people that want to be that but she is one of the few people that want to do it and actually has the chance to do that,” Mitchell said. “For us, I think it just comes down to trying to hold her to a high standard every day. She is so gifted.
“It is a fine line between that talent being a blessing and that talent being a curse in some ways in how you approach it. If things come so easy to you, you feel like you are seeing results and seeing production but if you are not giving your absolute best that overtime will end up getting you to a spot where you are not the best.
“It is just a matter of reminding her that she is so competitive and so driven and that is the one thing I go into practice with every day is just trying to make sure I hold her to a very high standard. If I see something that she needs to do a little bit better, just encouraging her to do that. She is so well rounded and just makes such a difference in every phase offensively and defensively she can make game-changing plays.”
Mitchell says to be the best player in the country, Howard has to practice with “great pace and intensity” daily.
“I always think when the best player on your team is the best person in practice, it really elevates everybody,” Howard said.