This year coach Kyra Elzy has a lot more options and depth at Kentucky. Howard, a preseason All-American, has not had to carry as much of the load for UK to win. However, Elzy says not to doubt what Howard means to the team or how good the junior is.
“Let’s make no mistake about it, Rhyne Howard is still the best player in women’s college basketball, and the things that make Rhyne that is that she is so versatile,” Elzy said. “She can score on all three levels, but you look at the stat sheet and she might have 10 or 12 rebounds, she might have eight or 10 assists, or eight or 10 steals. She can do anything on the court.
“You have to look at her stat line across the board. Scoring wise, she is still scoring in double digits, but you don’t need her to score as much because now you have Blair Green who is shooting the ball well, Dre’una Edwards who is scoring on the inside. You have Chasity Patterson scoring. We’re more balanced scoring this year.
“But Rhyne is playing well. We will continue to challenge her to be the best version of herself, and right now, she wants to make sure this team is winning, whatever that looks like.”
All that was said before Kentucky went to No. 12 Mississippi State and won 92-86 Sunday behind a sensational game by Howard. She got in early foul trouble and had only four points at halftime and eight after three quarters but finished with 33 points on 10-for-19 shooting (4-for-6 from 3) from the field and 9-for-10 at the foul line. She added 10 rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal in 37 minutes – and never picked up another foul after getting two in the first five minutes.
“The second half they just started going to me more and my teammates kept looking to me to make plays and make plays for them,” Howard said. “I kept hitting and I just kept taking them (shots).”
Elzy said there was no doubt the Mississippi State win proved why Howard is the nation’s best player in case anyone had any doubts.
“She can take over at any time. She is so gifted but also unselfish,” Elzy said. “She has a high basketball IQ and is a great passer. When it is time to take over (a game), she just gives me that look. We just have that connection. When it is time to make big plays we put the ball in her hands and let her do what she does best.”
Perhaps the best news for Kentucky is that Howard has already decided she will be back at UK next year and not in the WNBA where Elzy knows she will be a first-round pick.
“Luckily for Big Blue Nation it will not be next year (when she is a first-round pick) because she is not going to enter the draft early,” Elzy said. “When it is her time, she will be a No. 1 pick.”