UK Women's Basketball

Former Dunbar star Ebony Rowe feeling good ahead of matchup with Kentucky

Former Paul Dunbar star Ebony Rowe is averaging 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as a sophomore.
Former Paul Dunbar star Ebony Rowe is averaging 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as a sophomore. ASSOCIATED PRESS

It was after Kentucky narrowly escaped Middle Tennessee last season despite a big effort from star Ebony Rowe that UK Coach Matthew Mitchell found out Rowe was under the weather.

"I'm glad she wasn't feeling well; we'd have been in real trouble if she'd been feeling good," Mitchell said of Rowe's 25 points and 11 rebounds in the Cats' win at Memorial Coliseum.

As No. 6 Kentucky travels to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday, Rowe said she's feeling more than healthy for this game. And for a kid from Lexington, having a big game against UK is high on the season to-do list.

"It's always a little more exciting to play the hometown team," said Rowe, a former star at Paul Laurence Dunbar who is now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Blue Raiders (8-5).

With her 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, Rowe is a force inside, Mitchell noted on Tuesday.

"She never stops," he said. "She never, ever stops playing, working. She's such a tough competitor. She plays real, real big and tough in there and is great at rebounding her own misses and keeping the ball alive."

The Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and pre-season co-Player of the Year said she's just trying to help the Raiders win.

It was much easier to do that last season, she said.

"Last year, I was a freshman, and no one really knew about me, so it was easier to get open and get the ball," said Rowe, who's had seven double-doubles in 13 starts this season. "This year, it's been a little more challenging."

Rowe has seen her share of double teams this season, but she's still No. 4 in the Sun Belt in scoring and No. 1 in rebounding.

"People are definitely playing me different this year," she said.

But she's been most excited to get her teammates involved.

"There's been a lot of double teams and teams packing it in the lane, but that's just opened up our shooters," she said. "I've worked on my game a lot, and my teammates have really stepped up, so it hasn't been a problem."

Rowe's biggest challenge this season hasn't necessarily been on the court, it's been in her head.

"I've tried to learn to be more of a leader on the court, make the right decisions, know when I should score, when I should kick back out," she said.

Mitchell, who lightly recruited Rowe out of Dunbar, said the 6-foot-1 forward has been a difference-maker for Middle since stepping foot on campus.

"She had a fantastic game here last year," he said. "She's doing great things at Middle Tennessee."

Insell vs. Insell, part III

For the third straight year, UK assistant coach Matt Insell has had to do the game prep and scouting in advance of the Cats facing his father's Middle Tennessee team.

"He does a great job of helping us get prepared," Mitchell said of Insell. "The longer he's here and the longer this series continues ... everybody's sort of used to it."

It doesn't mean it's not a big game in the Insell household. Rowe admitted Coach Rick Insell seems a little more motivated for the UK game.

"He gets a little more excited, but we all do," she said. "He wants to beat his son, and I know a lot of the girls, too."

Poll position

When UK moved up two spots to No. 6 in the latest Associated Press poll, it was the Cats' highest rating since they were ranked No. 6 near the end of the 1982-83 season. Does this mean the bull's-eye is bigger when UK goes on the road to Murfreesboro, where the Cats fell 57-51 in 2010?

Mitchell said he doesn't think so.

"It's a wonderful thing for our fans and for us to look back on," he said. "Right now, I don't know what it does to the opponent. I don't feel (added pressure) much on our side."

He said UK's players have other things to worry about.

"Are the players fired up to be ranked sixth? If you ask them, they probably feel like they're ranked 60th right now because we have so many areas where we can improve."