UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky's leading scorer O'Neill embraces role as spark off bench

Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill (0) went down hard as she was fouled by Baylor Bears guard Ieshia Small (24)  as Kentucky played Baylor on Friday December 6, 2013.  Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill (0) went down hard as she was fouled by Baylor Bears guard Ieshia Small (24) as Kentucky played Baylor on Friday December 6, 2013. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Even though Jennifer O'Neill scored more points than any player in program history last week, she probably will still come off the Kentucky bench Thursday night.

Even though the 5-foot-6 point guard started in 30-plus games last season, she's just fine watching the opening tip in her warm-ups next to her coaches.

At the start of the season, when UK Coach Matthew Mitchell informed O'Neill that she wasn't going to have her name called with the Cats' starters, she shrugged.

"When he first told me he was going to start Janee (Thompson), I just looked at him and said: 'OK. I don't mind coming off the bench,'" O'Neill said last week, before she came off that UK bench to score an unprecedented 43 points in a quadruple-overtime win over Baylor.

Even as national honors poured in, including conference and national player of the week, O'Neill will wait her turn.

"I'm fine with coming off the bench because I can bring an extra boost of energy," she said. "I don't think anybody on this team is worried about starting."

A couple of games ago, Thompson committed an early turnover in a game, and Mitchell yelled for O'Neill to sub for the Cats' starter.

O'Neill balked.

"You can put me in, but don't take Janee out," Mitchell said, recalling the conversation with the UK junior. "Don't put me in for Janee because Janee's balling right now and you need to leave her in."

It was Mitchell's grand plan to try to meld his two point guards into "the nation's best point guard," but it's the two players that have made it work.

"It's not difficult, especially when you genuinely care about somebody ... you're not selfish when it comes to stuff like that," said O'Neill, whose 43-point performance moved her to UK's leading scorer (14.7 ppg) for the season.

Thompson, a sophomore from Chicago, and O'Neill spend a lot of time together. They live in an apartment with two other players. They eat most of their meals together.

They sit next to each other on planes, like the one they're taking to play DePaul (4-2) on Thursday night in Chicago.

"We spend a lot of time together," O'Neill said. "You have to have a connection with somebody in order to have their back. ... We want each other to do good."

It's not just O'Neill, either.

"Jennifer and I have a really good relationship off the court and that just transfers onto the court," Thompson explained. "(Mitchell) knows that either one of us could be on the floor any time and he trusts both of us equally."

If Mitchell's mad scientist goal is to turn them into the nation's best point guard — maybe aside from Baylor senior Odyssey Sims, who dropped 47 points on the fifth-ranked Cats last game — he's getting close.

Together, the duo is averaging 25.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.9 steals. Together, they're shooting 43 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from long range.

Mitchell has regular meetings with his point guards, separately from the rest of the team. He's connected more to each of them as he's watched their connection grow.

He compliments them for not trying to outdo each other and wants to see them keep the team moving in the right direction, O'Neill said.

"At the end of the day, nobody on this team is like, 'I want this amount of minutes' or 'I want to score this amount of points' or 'I want to get a board this many times,'" she insisted. "Nobody's like that. Me and Janee are definitely not like that."

In the past few games, Mitchell may have discovered an even more important lineup: one that includes both O'Neill and Thompson on the floor at the same time.

"They're a lethal combination when they are on the court together," he said Wednesday. "When you play them both together it's really, really hard for the other team in transition because not only can both of them break you down off the dribble, but both of them can shoot threes."

O'Neill likes that lineup the best. "There are points in time when Janee needs a break and I can push the ball," she said. "We know how to play with each other and we like it."


No. 5 Kentucky at DePaul

When: 7 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 9-0, DePaul 4-2

Series: Kentucky leads 3-0

Last meeting: Kentucky won 96-64 on Dec. 7, 2012, in Rupp Arena.



Starters — Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. G (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (10.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.4 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (10.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (6.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

Key reserves — Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (14.7 ppg, 3.3 apg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (5.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (5.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.3 apg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (6.8 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. F/C (2.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).


Starters — Brittany Hrynko, 5-8, Jr., G (12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.5 spg); Chanise Jenkins, 5-5, So., G (9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.2 apg); Megan Rogowski, 5-9, Jr., G (14.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Jasmine Penny, 6-1, Sr., F (14.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Megan Podkowa, 6-2, So., F (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.5 spg).

Key reserves — ShaKeya Graves, 5-9, Fr., G (6.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg); Kelsey Reynolds, 5-7, Sr., G (4.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Brooke Schulte, 5-9, Fr., G (3.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg): Centrese McGee, 5-6, Jr., G (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Brandi Harvey-Carr, 6-4, Fr., F (4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg).

UK Scores, 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. 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)

Date Opponent Time

Dec. 12 At DePaul 7


Dec. 22 b-DUKE 3


Jan. 2 At Alabama 8

Jan. 5 FLORIDA 3

Jan. 9 At South Carolina 7

Jan. 12 MISSOURI 5

Jan. 19 At Auburn 2

Jan. 23 ALABAMA 7

Jan. 26 ARKANSAS 1

Jan. 30 At Georgia 9

Feb. 2 LSU Noon

Feb. 9 At Florida Noon


Feb. 16 At Tennessee 1


Feb. 23 At Texas A&M 2

Feb. 27 At Mississippi State 8


Mar. 5-9 d-SEC Tournament TBA

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

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