UK freshman Harper the toast of Chicago with career-best 18 points

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2013 

Kentucky DePaul Basketball

Kentucky's Azia Bishop (50) contested the shot of DePaul guard Brittany Hrynko as Samarie Walker closed in during the first half Thursday night in Chicago.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — AP

CHICAGO — It was a recipe for disaster for Kentucky, taking two young guards back to their hometown to play in front of family and friends.

Add to it that sophomore Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper had their jerseys retired the night before at their alma mater.

"This could've turned out to be a real poor showing for her, coming back to Chicago with all of the emotion tied into it," Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Harper, a true freshman. "So tonight was a result of how well she's been practicing and I'm very happy for her."

Maybe Harper wouldn't mind playing in front of friends and family more often. She scored a career-best 18 points, making seven of nine shots. She grabbed five rebounds and had just one turnover in 18 minutes.

"I was very nervous," Harper confessed after the 96-85 win over DePaul on Thursday night. "I haven't been home for a few months and I was really excited to be here and play in front of my family and friends.

"But it was more of a business trip. We were on the road and had to come out and play hard and bring energy."

Thompson, coming off of a career night against No. 9 Baylor last week in Texas, didn't have her best game.

But the sophomore point guard wasn't exactly a slouch, with eight points, four assists, two steals to go with an uncharacteristic six turnovers.

Thompson and Harper even got to play against former Whitney Young teammate Chanise Jenkins, who had six points, five rebounds and a whopping nine assists for DePaul.

In Thompson's senior season at Whitney Young, the guard led the school to an undefeated Class 4A state championship and a No. 2 national ranking.

In Harper's four seasons at Whitney Young, she led the Dolphins to four city championships and the 2012 Class 4A state title.

Going back home to be honored was neat, she said.

"It felt great," Harper said. "I have so many memories there, just walking in the gym and looking at the walls of that place. I have so many memories, bad and good, and I was happy to be there."

O'Neill kicks in late

Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill clearly wanted her dream game (school-record 43 points in a quadruple-overtime win over Baylor last week) to keep going and going.

The point guard did what she could early, taking shots every time she got space, which frustrated Mitchell.

"The only bucket she had in the first half was a layup and everything else was dancing and crossover and playground stuff," her coach said. "It was not crisp."

But Mitchell said he was pleased to see her settle into the flow of this game in the second half, when she had eight of her 12 points and three of her five assists.

O'Neill made just one of the six shots she attempted, but hit all 10 of her free throw attempts. The junior also finished with three rebounds in the win.

The guard has scored in double figures in all but one game this season.

Numbers game

Kentucky improved to 27-0 in the Mitchell era when scoring 90 or more points, which UK did for the seventh time this season.

   The Cats scored 96 points despite making only three three-pointers, two of which came in the opening two minutes of the game.

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

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