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Rhyne Howard is an Unstoppable Force Who is Just Getting Started

(UK Athletics)

(UK Athletics)

Kentucky’s superstar sophomore Rhyne Howard is no longer a secret. She came to Lexington as a severely underrated recruit and was an initial afterthought when opposing teams checked the roster.

She slowly gained her notoriety throughout her freshman season. It started before she even played a game in a Kentucky uniform, leading Team USA to a gold medal and winning tournament MVP. Once the regular season began, it didn’t take Howard long to announce herself to the women’s basketball world. She poured in 29 points in just her second game as a freshman against Southern University. From there, the awards started to roll in.

Howard set an SEC record for most conference Freshmen of the Week awards with eight by the time the season had ended. She would hit the 20-point mark nine more times as a rookie and finished as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. She was named the unanimous Freshmen of the Year across the country and became a member of the All-SEC team.

This was all as a freshman, having never played at the collegiate level before. Heading into her sophomore season, expectations were heavy and loud. Howard found herself on every preseason award list possible. The Wildcats started the season as a top-20 team, mainly due to the potential that Howard showed the year prior.

Now 14 games through her second year at Kentucky, Rhyne Howard is dominating, but still miles away from her ceiling.

The Tennessee native went off for a career-high 37 points against the hometown team that didn’t recruit her until the last minute. It marked the second time this season she’s hit the 30-point plateau and the NINTH time she’s topped 20 points in a game. Remember, it took her 32 games last season to score at least 20 points on 10 different occasions. She’s already hit nine of those performances not even halfway through the season. Sunday’s win was the fourth consecutive game Howard has recorded at least 26 points and the sixth time out of the last seven outings. She is the first UK player since the 1990-91 season to pull off four straight games with at least 25 points.

It seems with every passing game she gets better. You don’t even realize she has 20-plus points because of how quickly she can rain down shots from deep. She totaled 14 in the fourth quarter agaisnt the Vols and had 26 in just the second half. Even after missing eight straight shots int he first-half, Howard didn’t back down. Her teams relies on her way too much for her to sulk and bury her head into the hardwood.

“Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know she had 37 until before I walked in here,” Senior Sabrina Haines said following the game. “I was like, ‘You had 37… like 3… 7…’. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, she’s an amazing player and it is really an honor to be able to play with her. The fact that she’s also so unselfish along with that, like she had 37, but she will just make the best play for whoever and whatever is available. I’m just happy for her that she was able to do what she does.”

It wasn’t just the win over Tennessee that showcased Howard’s unlimited potential. Even in the 27-point blowout loss to No. 4 South Carolina on Thursday, Howard still managed 28 points and six rebounds with efficient shooting numbers. It’s becoming a given that Howard is going to get hers, it’s just a matter of how she goes about doing it and how many big shots will she hit in the process.

She missed the potential game-winning shot against in-state rival Louisville a few weeks back. But instead of doubting herself, she came back the very next game and hit the go-ahead shot to beat Cal Berkley on the road. The most important trait in a great shooter is confidence and Howard exudes it. It doesn’t matter how many shots she misses in a row, she’ll always think the next one is going in. And as long as she has that mindset, Kentucky will always have a chance to win games.

“She really did a good job, and we were still getting on her to play a little more defense there at the end,” Head coach Matthew Mitchell said in the post-game press conference. “We just ask her to do everything. It’s amazing. Amazing performance. It’s a really talented player who wanted to win today and wanted to help her team and she did it in so many other ways than scoring. I thought the steal there early in the second half really got us back going and got the crowd back into it. What a great crowd today, great energy in Memorial (Coliseum) today and Rhyne had a great game.”

Howard is far-and-away Kentucky’s leading scorer and best all-around scorer. Her 22.6 points per game are easily a team-high and she’s attempted more than twice as many shots (251) than the second-highest Wildcat (Haines has 103 shots on the season). Howard has more made shots this season (108) than any Wildcat has shots attempted. That’s insane volume. Like, James Harden-esque volume.

But she knows this is what is expected from her. Kentucky is a good team, but they can be great with Howard at her best. The scary part is she’s only getting better – on both offense and defense (she leads the team in steals and is second in blocks). If she stays on this path and continues to build off of her teammates and coaches, she’s in for a record-setting season.

“It was very important,” Howard said about the encouragement she got at halftime despite a 4-13 shooting clip in the first half. “I knew it was going to be a good game, and my coaches and teammates were telling me to keep going. That gave me more confidence in myself, just knowing that I can do this and I can keep going, and eventually those shots are going to fall.”

Howard’s 37 points were the most by an SEC player this season.

How soon before she crosses the 50-point threshold?

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR