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Howard leads Kentucky to win over Stetson

It was a defensive struggle for all but one of the players suited up for Kentucky and Stetson Wednesday night.

Then there was Rhyne Howard.

“(Coach Matthew Mitchell) started calling my number a bit once I started hitting the shots,” Howard said.

With the Wildcats locking down the visiting Hatters on defense, Howard took control on the other end. The do-it-all sophomore took that descriptor seriously, scoring the first seven points of the game and 12 of UK’s first 13 as a team. For the game, she poured in 24 points as Kentucky moved to 3-0 with a 67-48 win over Stetson.

“I really wasn’t expecting to even shoot that well,” Howard said. “I was just focusing on having a faster pace and just staying active.”

By her own high standards, Howard had been relatively quiet as a scorer in UK’s first two wins. Averaging 11.5 points, Howard had shot only 23.1 percent from the field against Mount St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee. She surpassed her average within a quarter on Wednesday night and shot 11 of 21.

“I thought she was much more focused and we tried to move her around a little bit and be intentional about where we got her shots or opportunities early on, but I think it was really her,” Mitchell said. “Just was on a mission tonight.”

Howard was intent on bouncing back from a slow start and it showed immediately.

“You could see she had a lot of juice in her cuts,” Mitchell said. “She was really going and attacking the basketball and getting into her shot. Just had some great, great plays tonight and I thought it was an attack mentality from the first possession.”

It’s a good thing that was the case, because Howard’s teammates combined to make just 15-of-53 shots from the field. Included in that total was 2-for-12 shooting from 3-point range, though Mitchell is hardly concerned about that.

“We’ve worked hard at shooting,” Mitchell said. “We’ve spent a lot of time. We know that this is a good shooting team. We have to look at the things we can control. That’s being on balance, catching it ready to shoot.”

Mitchell is confident outside shots will fall and fall soon. The Wildcats shoot too well in practice for them not to.

“It’s just different whenever you get in a game,” Sabrina Haines said. “It’s a different type of feel and of course it’s a different team you’re playing against. So you gotta adjust.”

More importantly, in Mitchell’s mind, is the way UK is playing inside the arc.

“We’re rushing some shots around the basket and not playing with a lot of poise in the lane,” Mitchell said. “Some of those open jumpers I thought were good looks and didn’t go in. It’s the layups and the shots in the paint that are off balance. Those are the things we’ll go about correcting.”

UK is in need of some corrections after starting the season by scoring 67 points in three consecutive games and failing to shoot 40 percent from the field in any. On the flipside, UK has held three straight opponents to 38 percent or less from the field and forced a combined 72 turnovers.

Those numbers, in terms of what Mitchell has prioritized so far, are more encouraging than not. The Cats are succeeding in the areas he has emphasized so far, which leads him to believe they’ll do the same as his focus shifts to the offensive end.

“What I’m so happy about is I think our effort’s at a good spot,” Mitchell said. “I think our intensity’s at a good spot and the way that we play.

“Our offensive execution, as coaches we just have to do a better job of giving them opportunities to get better. We spent an awful lot of time on intensity and toughness and trying to be a pressure defensive team. I think we’re getting some good results there and I think over the next couple weeks we have to just slow down a little bit, give them the opportunity to execute our offense a little bit better.”