Evans energizes Kentucky in return to starting role

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 22, 2013 

  • Sunday

    No. 8 Kentucky at LSU

    When: 3 p.m.

Like most basketball players, Kastine Evans came to Kentucky thinking she'd be a star.

She won four state titles in three different sports at Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut.

The 5-foot-8 forward averaged 20 points a game in her final two seasons of high school and finished with more than 1,700 career points.

But Evans quickly learned that it wasn't points that would get her on the court at UK.

"Everyone comes in thinking they're going to be the main contributor, that main person," Evans said recently. "But when you get to college, it's a whole different atmosphere, a whole different game."

So Evans had to settle for scoring just two or three points a game as a UK freshman, and she tried to find other ways to contribute. That led to her starting all but two games last season as a sophomore.

"It's just about accepting a new role," Evans said. "I've always wanted to win. You don't need five or six double-figure scorers on a team to win a national championship. It's just what my attitude is. ... I focus on doing the little things I can contribute to help us win games."

Her versatility, her intelligence, her scrappy play all earned her a place on the court. She was third on the team in minutes per game as a sophomore.

But those humbling moments as a freshman came in handy for Evans this season when she saw those minutes drop like a rock. In the first nine games of Southeastern Conference play this season, she averaged just 15 minutes a game. Against Georgia and Louisiana State, she played only 15 minutes total.

"I wasn't really worried about it," the junior said of her incredible shrinking minutes. "I knew as long as I kept working hard in practice, it was going to be fine and I was going to try to contribute in any way possible."

Evans' time came against Arkansas when Coach Matthew Mitchell put her back in the starting lineup to replace a slumping Bria Goss, whom he thought needed a change of scenery.

In the four games since she became a starter again, Evans is averaging 8.5 points a game on 56.5 percent shooting, including hitting 50 percent of her three-point tries.

She's also averaging 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and an assist in her four starts for No. 8 Kentucky (23-3, 11-2 SEC), which travels to Louisiana State (16-10, 7-6) on Sunday.

"She's seemed to have more of a sense of purpose and she's played much better since she's been in the starting lineup," Mitchell said of Evans. "She was able to elevate her game. It's really been a good result for us. ... She's playing great basketball for us right now."

When the Cats came back from 16 points down against South Carolina on Feb. 14, Evans scored 11 points in the pivotal second half, mostly playing out of position at the power forward spot.

"Shows you what a smart kid she is," Mitchell said of her adapting to a position for which she hadn't practiced this season. "She just wants to win so she'll do whatever it takes."

In the Cats' huge win at Texas A&M on Monday, Evans matched her season high with 12 points, including a couple of key baskets to hold off Aggies rallies.

Mitchell found himself singing the junior's praises again.

"Kastine had a couple of just really big, big deflections and layups there where we really didn't have our full press on, just being in the right place and hustling and being down in the stance and those types of things add up in a game like this," Mitchell said in College Station. "You need those kinds of plays."

And you need those kinds of players.

"She's a winner in every way imaginable," Mitchell said. "I've told her many times, we're really fortunate she decided to come to Kentucky because she is one of these kids that helped us change the culture here."


Sunday

No. 8 Kentucky at LSU

When: 3 p.m.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com

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