Perseverance has Kentucky freshman Harper poised for breakout

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2014 

  • Lineups

    KENTUCKY

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (8.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., G; (9.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.1 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (9.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (11.4 ppg, 674 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.0 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (5.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (4.2 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (4.0 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    MISSISSIPPI STATE

    Starters: Savannah Carter, 5-9, Jr., G (6.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.4 apg); Katia May, 5-2, Sr., G (7.4 ppg, 5.2 apg); Dominique Dillingham, 5-9, Fr., G (9.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Breanna Richardson, 6-1, Fr., F (9.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Martha Alwal, 6-4, Jr., C (15.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg).

    Key reserves: Ketara Chapel, 6-1, Fr., F (4.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Kendra Grant, 5-11, Jr., G (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Jerica James, 5-5, Jr. G (4.7 ppg); Sherise Williams, 6-1, So., F (3.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    SEC standings

    Conf. All

    South Carolina 13-1 25-2

    Texas A&M 11-3 21-7

    Tennessee 11-3 22-5

    Kentucky 8-6 20-7

    LSU 7-7 18-9

    Vanderbilt 7-7 18-9

    Florida 7-7 17-10

    Auburn 6-8 15-12

    Alabama 6-8 13-14

    Georgia 6-8 18-9

    Mississippi St. 5-9 17-11

    Arkansas 5-9 18-9

    Missouri 5-9 16-10

    Mississippi 1-13 10-18

    Thursday's games

    Alabama at Auburn, 7 p.m.

    Georgia at South Carolina, 7 p.m.

    Kentucky at Miss. State, 8 p.m.

    Arkansas at Texas A&M, 8 p.m.

    Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m.

    Mississippi at Missouri, 8 p.m.

    Tennessee at LSU, 9 p.m.

    UK RESULTS, SCHEDULE

    Home games in capital lettersAll times p.m. and Eastern

    Date Opponent Result

    Nov. 8 At Marist W, 75-61

    Nov. 10 At Wagner W, 96-57

    Nov. 13 GEORGIA SOUTHERN W, 103-38

    Nov. 17 CENTRAL MICHIGAN W, 96-74

    Nov. 21 LIPSCOMB W, 116-49

    Nov. 24At Middle Tennessee St.W, 84-72

    Nov. 27 BRADLEY W, 117-77

    Dec. 1 LOUISVILLE W, 69-64

    Dec. 6 a-Baylor W, 133-130 (4OT)

    Dec. 12 At DePaul W, 96-85

    Dec. 15 EAST TENNESSEE ST. W, 73-56

    Dec. 22 b-DUKE L, 69-61

    Dec. 29 GRAMBLING STATE W, 109-46

    Jan. 2 At Alabama W, 85-63

    Jan. 5 FLORIDA L, 83-73

    Jan. 9 At South Carolina L, 68-59

    Jan. 12 MISSOURI W, 80-69

    Jan. 19 At Auburn W, 73-71

    Jan. 23 ALABAMA L, 57-55

    Jan. 26 ARKANSAS W, 68-58

    Jan. 30 At Georgia L, 58-56

    Feb. 2 LSU W, 63-56

    Feb. 9 At Florida L, 86-80

    Feb. 13 MISSISSIPPI W, 108-78

    Feb. 16 At Tennessee W, 75-71

    Feb. 20 SOUTH CAROLINA L, 81-58

    Feb. 23 At Texas A&M W, 83-74

    Date Opponent Time

    Feb. 27 At Mississippi State 8

    Mar. 2 VANDERBILT 4

    Mar. 5-9 c-SEC Tournament TBA

    a-At Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium); b-At Rupp Arena; c-At Duluth, Ga.

  • Thursday

    No. 12 Kentucky at Mississippi State

    When: 8 p.m.

    Records: Kentucky 20-7 (8-6 SEC), Mississippi State 18-10 (5-9)

    Series: Kentucky leads 22-17

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 100-47 on Jan. 17, 2013, in Memorial Coliseum

    TV: None

    Radio: WWTF-AM 1580

For some in Kentucky's Joe Craft Center, being a freshman means having one year to figure things out. Those highly touted players make mistakes on the court for the world to see.

For freshmen on the other side of the basketball facility, learning is often something that happens on the bench.

And that's not easy either.

It's been that way this season for freshman Linnae Harper, who came to UK as the highest-rated female recruit in school history. She's had to learn to go from star player to role player.

"I didn't think it would be this hard," Harper said of making that transition. "It was hard. It was a struggle for me. Some days I was down."

Harper, a 5-foot-8 guard rated the No. 5 player overall in the country when she signed, has had games where she's played a handful of minutes followed by games where she's played 25 minutes.

And that was just last week.

"It's helping me mature as a player, just facing adversity and trying to get through it," Harper said before UK travels to Mississippi State to take on the Bulldogs on Thursday night. "We're very deep at each position, so there are players on this team that I can look up to and learn from."

Harper's time, and that of fellow freshman guard Makayla Epps may be coming now. The McDonald's All-Americans, who have struggled with consistency especially on defense, both were huge parts of the Cats' win over Texas A&M on Sunday.

After barely playing in the two games before that one, Harper played 25 minutes and made six of her nine shots, scoring 16 points, her second-highest total this season.

"Sunday was a big step forward for her confidence-wise," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Harper.

"She made three-point shots; she made a couple of perimeter jumpers; she gets to the basket. She's worked so hard on her shot. Earlier this season, teams packing the zone in, the perimeter shot wasn't her strength. She has worked tirelessly to improve that, and that showed up big time on Sunday."

Harper admitted time spent on the bench meant a drop in confidence, but she's starting to feel better about herself and her game again.

"I'm more decisive now," Harper said. "In the beginning, I was kind of hesitant. Now I'm starting to get back into my groove and back into my game, and my teammates have been helping me with that, too."

Former Whitney Young High School teammate Janee Thompson has been a big help. She went through similar freshman struggles just a season ago, including two games when she didn't even see the court.

Thompson, now the Cats' starting point guard, averaged just 10.7 minutes a game and four points last season, never playing more than 22 minutes in a game.

Thompson is in Harper's ear constantly, reminding her that she can be a factor, that the adjustment period is normal. She reminds that it's not about scoring 30 points a game, but getting wins.

"It's actually shaping me to be a better player," Harper said when asked about her time on the bench. "Coming out of high school, I never had to truly face adversity. I started in all the games. ... It was different."

The guard, who is averaging 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds while playing 13.6 minutes a game, doesn't expect to be seated next to the coaches much longer.

"I know my time is coming," she said. "I just realize the players before me, they've worked so hard and they've paid their dues. I'm waiting my turn."

Her turn is coming. Mitchell implied as much on Wednesday.

"She's been working hard," he said. "Real proud that she's hung in there. We've had a lot of meetings about where she should be productivity-wise. She has aspirations of being a great player. She's on her way to doing that."

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

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