Goss' quest for perfection paying off

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2014 

Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill (0) and Bria Goss celebrated late in the game as the Wildcats drubbed Wright State on Saturday. Goss is averaging 11.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in the post-season.

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  • SATURDAY

    Kentucky vs. Baylor

    What: NCAA Tournament Notre Dame Regional semifinal

    Where: Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.

    When: Noon

    TV: ESPN | Radio: WLAP-AM 630

    Records: No. 3 seed Kentucky 26-8, No. 2 seed Baylor 31-4

    Series: Tied 1-1

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 133-130 in four overtimes on Dec. 6, 2013, in Arlington, Texas

    At stake: Winner plays Notre Dame or Oklahoma State Monday

Bria Goss never, ever wants to get it wrong.

She wasn't born a perfectionist, but high school turned Kentucky's junior guard into a bit of one.

It was at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis that Goss learned that practice can make perfect. She lived it.

Coach Stan Benge was a bit of a perfectionist.

It rubbed off on the young guard.

"We'd just keep doing it until things get right: making a good pass every time, making stops on defense, just making the right plays," Goss recalled.

"It wasn't like dreadful. It was more like just a push: It can always be better. Let's make it even better."

Goss couldn't help but pay attention. It's tough to argue with Benge's methods as Ben Davis went 105-3 in Goss' career, including winning 81 in a row at one point.

The 2011 Indiana Miss Basketball will return to her home state this weekend to help lead Kentucky as it faces Baylor in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on Saturday.

The junior has been a big reason Kentucky has found success, especially in the post-season.

The junior guard is averaging 11.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in five tournament games so far, including hitting 42.9 percent of her shots and 44.4 percent from three-point range.

She's scored in double figures in six of her last eight games.

The self-imposed perfectionism is most evident when she gets to the free- throw line, where she's been a team-best 31 times in the post-season, making 11 of 12 in the second-round victory over Syracuse.

Goss can hear Benge's voice when she's alone in the gym shooting free throws in between classes.

The ball can't just go in the basket for the Southeastern Conference's best free-throw shooter, hitting 90.1 percent, improving that number to 90.3 percent in post-season games this season.

"I want it to just hit the net every time and then I know I'm getting it right," she said. "If it hits the rim, I'm doing it wrong."

But Goss doesn't stop at free throw perfection. She wants to be the best at everything.

So she takes hundreds of extra shots. She leads the team in taken charges with 30 already this season, that's 10 more than she took last season (also a team best).

"Her character really shows on the court," senior forward DeNesha Stallworth said of Goss. "She's just a hustle player and an energy player and one thing about her is she doesn't care about stats, she cares about doing things to help our team win."

Even UK's senior leaders want to emulate Goss.

"She's a hustle player that plays with a lot of heart," forward Samarie Walker said. "That's something that I look up to."

If the first game (a four-overtime thriller at Cowboys Stadium in December) is any indicator, Goss is going to have to play a near-perfect game as the lead defender on the Bears' Odyssey Sims.

The Baylor guard is scoring 28.5 points a game, second best in the nation. She dropped 47 on the Cats before fouling out in that crazy game.

Goss played 49 minutes in that game, struggling from the field (making just one of seven attempts), but she connected on all but one of her 12 free-throw attempts and had six rebounds, two blocks and two steals with just one turnover.

Even when Goss isn't scoring, she does so much on the floor that Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell doesn't want to take her out.

Earlier this season, Mitchell lamented not spending more time with Goss during her sophomore season.

She came to UK so mature that she got lost in the shuffle.

"It's easy to take the really, really good kids for granted at times," he said.

This season the coaches have worked to acknowledge Goss and her hard work, praise her leadership and make sure she knows she's an important part of what they're building.

Seeing her flourish, especially late in the season, has been awesome, her head coach said.

"When someone works hard like that and they see rewards from that hard work, it makes me very happy," he said.

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

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