UK women's notes: Kentucky not sure it can slow Baylor scoring machine Sims

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2014 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Homer's The Odyssey was an epic adventure filled with twists and turns.

So is any attempt to guard Baylor's Odyssey.

In the epic adventure that was Kentucky's four-overtime victory over the Bears in December, the Cats threw four different defenders at Odyssey Sims.

Kentucky could have used about six more. In the losing effort, Baylor's senior guard scored 47 points.

"She was so hot that night that it didn't matter what we tried to do," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Sims, who is just four points from becoming the second player in NCAA Division I history to score more than 1,000 points in a single season.

For comparison sake, it took UK star Valerie Still 44 games to reach 1,000 and the Cats' second-leading scorer A'dia Mathies 74 games to do what Sims has done in just one season.

The only thing that slowed the Baylor star against UK (one of her four 40-point games this season) was fouling out in the first overtime.

Kentucky will attempt to slow Sims a second time Saturday, this time in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in the South Bend Regional.

"We need to try our very best to switch it up and try to break her rhythm," Mitchell said. "She does a great job figuring out what you are going to do and attacking the defense."

Or to put it more simply: "We have to find some way to have Odyssey play an average game," he said.

Even average is impressive for Sims, who is the nation's second-leading scorer, averaging 28.5 points a game as well as 4.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and two steals.

"She's had a phenomenal year; she's bailed us out of a lot of games," Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said of the 5-foot-8 phenom.

The Bears boss has seen teams try to stop Sims every which way, including every junk defense imaginable, but few have succeeded.

"She never can just be guarded normally like a lot of teams guard the opposing players," Mulkey said.

Kentucky's players are going to shake off the performance by Sims, who scored her 47 points in 41 minutes, making just one three-pointer in that spree. Sims, who shoots 44.5 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range, used every ball screen available to score at will.

"We just have to stay patient because she's just going to make you look bad sometimes," Mitchell said. "The whole team just has to do a good job trying to slow her down."

Bria Goss, who probably will draw the most time trying to keep step with Sims, said she knows the senior is one of the best in the country, but she has to not think of her that way.

"I'm just going to act like she is just another player," Goss said. "I can't go in too high or too low."

'She was just playing'

It wasn't just the Sims show in Dallas.

Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill nearly kept pace with the Baylor star by scoring a school-record 43 points in that game, which the junior guard downplayed on Friday.

"I didn't know I had 43 points at all," O'Neill said quietly. "I just wanted to win."

O'Neill's teammates did plenty of talking for her.

"Jen was really fearless that game," forward DeNesha Stallworth said of O'Neill's 43 points in 46 minutes off the UK bench. "She wasn't thinking; she was just playing."

O'Neill even did a little bit of coaching in that game, too, trying to calm down her coach when he got a technical foul late.

She steered the ship to victory, Goss said.

"Jen just really stepped up," she said. "Not only was she scoring, but she was being a leader as well by just talking to us and keeping us poised."

Kentucky's coach smiled when asked how that game changed O'Neill, who has had five 20-plus-point games since then and averages a team-best 12.7 points a game.

"The great thing about Jennifer is that her days are sort of 'to be determined,'" Mitchell smirked. "She may not even remember the game to be honest with you. She's fun that way."

Grind-to-the-line time

Baylor and Kentucky are two of the nation's best at getting to the free-throw line this season, with the Cats attempting 857 and the Bears 855.

So while it's unlikely that the teams will go to the free-throw line another NCAA-record 112 times like in December (the teams also combined for an NCAA-best 82 makes), there will be some trips there.

Sims predicted a "grind-it-out game. ... It will come down to rebounding and who can get to the free-throw line."

If that's the case, the edge goes to Baylor, which shoots 72.7 percent compared to Kentucky's 67 percent.

Breezing in from Chicago?

The only NCAA Tournament region location that could've made UK's Janee Thompson happier would have been her hometown of Chicago.

But the sophomore guard and her high school teammate, Linnae Harper, are excited they'll get to see some friendly faces who are making the commute from Chicago.

The former Whitney Young High School teammates have had to beg, borrow and steal tickets from teammates.

"I was really happy when I saw where we were headed," Harper said last week. "Hopefully we can get extra support."

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

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