News broke earlier on Thursday that Kentucky women’s basketball star Rhyne Howard would sit out with a dislocated pinky finger. The No. 13 Wildcats face the Missouri Tigers later on Thursday night at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network and have a difficult stretch of games coming up in the next couple of weeks.
According to UK, Howard is expected to return in mid-February.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 30, 2020
So what does this mean for Kentucky in tonight’s game? They’re in Columbia, MO to face the Tigers who are currently 5-15, who have a record that might be deceiving. You can check out the Missouri preview post from earlier by clicking here. But they also have a lot of early-season losses to bad teams, as well. Their resume isn’t exactly one of postseason potential. A loss would look bad for Kentucky with or without Howard. Mizzou’s chances to steal a win against a ranked opponent just got a lot higher.
The immediate impact obviously puts Kentucky in an awkward position tonight. Howard is the leading scorer in the SEC and third in the nation at 23.2 points per game. She accounts for a majority of the Wildcats offense and defense. Howard ranks in the 90th percentile among the nation in both steals and blocks per game. According to Her Hoop Stats, out of 3,308 possible Divison I players, Howard ranks 11th in total offensive usage at 35.3 percent. This essentially means there are only 10 other players in the country that control a team’s offense more often than Howard does. She is Kentucky’s offense and has been for most of the season.
Kentucky played on Monday – the night Howard injured her pinky – and have only had a few days to prepare for a game without their leading scorer, rebounder, and defender. Missouri might not be a strong team, but they aren’t playing the normal Kentucky.
As for the longterm impact, Kentucky has some important games coming up. After the game against Mizzou, they’ll host Florida (11-9) and Alabama (12-8) in Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 2 and 6, respectively. Those games will now be tighter contests than they would have been a few days ago. Following the ‘Bama game, the schedule heat up.
The ‘Cats will travel to Fayetteville on Feb. 9 and take on the No. 25 Arkansas (16-4), then host No. 9 Mississippi State (18-3) on Feb. 16, head to Oxford to face Ole Miss (7-13) on Feb. 20 before coming back to Lexington for a rematch agaisnt No. 1 South Carolina (19-1) on Feb. 23.
If we read alllll the way into what UK announced via social media, mid-February should be approximately the 14th. So Howard should be back between the Arkansas and Mississippi State game. In an ideal world, she would come back before the meeting against a ranked Razorbacks squad. Kentucky will definitely need her when they take on the Bulldogs.
Someone is going to have to step up in the coming games, especially scoring the ball. A couple of first-thought options are sophomore Blair Green, redshirt senior Sabrina Haines, and junior Chasity Patteson. All three have shown the ability to score in bunches and the team has never needed them more than they have right now. In the few instances this season where Kentucky has played without Howard, the offense hasn’t played up to expectations. They won’t have any choice for at least the next few games.