UK Women's Basketball

UK women: Guards running on fumes in Goss's absence

Kentucky guards Linnae Harper, left, and Makayla Epps trapped Tennessee State's Zuri Frost last week. Coach Matthew Mitchell has installed a zone defense to ease the workload on UK's guards.
Kentucky guards Linnae Harper, left, and Makayla Epps trapped Tennessee State's Zuri Frost last week. Coach Matthew Mitchell has installed a zone defense to ease the workload on UK's guards. Herald-Leader

When you play a style you've dubbed "40 minutes of dread," it shouldn't be your players that dread it.

So one thing Coach Matthew Mitchell tells his players is to play as hard as they can for as long as they can and then ask for a sub.

But, lately, the problem is Kentucky doesn't always have one available.

With the injury to starting guard Bria Goss (broken thumb), a prolonged injury for forward Jelleah Sidney (knee) and a group of inexperienced post players, UK's backcourt is spread thin.

Not only is the nucleus of Jennifer O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper playing more minutes than normal, several of the guards are being asked to play wing positions as well.

After UK's second Southeastern Conference win in three days, Mitchell acknowledged he's asking a lot of his top players.

"Makayla is a big-time player, she has to step up and play big time," he said. "Linnae is a big-time offensive rebounder, she has to get up and get on the offensive boards.

"And that is all the way down the line with Janee Thompson, Jennifer O'Neill. You have to do what you can do right now so we can win some games until we can smooth this thing out a little bit and become a complete team."

Three of the four guards are averaging more than 34 minutes a game in SEC play, with Harper only missing that mark because of foul trouble at Alabama.

It's a dramatic change for Harper and Epps, who as freshmen last year averaged just 14 and 12 minutes a game, respectively.

Until Goss returns, which could be in the next few games, Mitchell said he's doing what he can to make things less difficult on his best players, including putting in a zone defense.

That's a rarity for a Mitchell team.

"We are trying to put in a disruptive zone that maybe you don't pick up full court but you still stay true to your identity and we got some good stuff out of it," he said, noting that UK had only worked on it for a few days. "We were able to get some stops and we had some mistakes there and we don't know exactly what we are doing so it will take some time to teach it."

But Mitchell thinks the zone lends itself to some of the "gifts" these players have, and it keeps them from having to play full-court every possession.

"I am trying to help them a little bit there where it is just not baseline to baseline for 40 minutes without Bria," he said. "When Bria gets back I think that we can maybe have a few more possessions of press."

Goss out of cast

Kentucky might not be improving for much longer with Mitchell confirming on Sunday that Goss is out of the cast on her broken left thumb and now is using just a plastic brace.

The plan is to test it at four weeks after the injury, he said, which could mean a limited return when UK heads to top-ranked South Carolina on Sunday.

"They did get an X-ray and it didn't get worse, which is good news," he said. "She is on the mend and it is a four-to-six week injury and we are just praying that it is four weeks and it may be six."

Goss is practicing with the team daily and is involved in some contact drills, but they are trying to make sure she doesn't do any that could reinjure her non-shooting hand.

While Goss is feeling better, she's still unable to catch a ball.

There has been some discussion about the senior guard and UK's best on-ball defender playing in a limited capacity, Mitchell said, but it hasn't happened yet.

Awards, rankings

Junior point guard Janee Thompson was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday after leading UK to two comeback league wins last week. The Chicago native averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 assists in those games.

Thompson, who was the Player of the Week earlier this season, is UK's third-leading scorer averaging 10.6 points and three assists a game.

■ Kentucky moved up one spot in the Associated Press poll to No. 10 on Monday. The Cats will face Auburn at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday and then travel to top-rated South Carolina on Sunday.

There are four other SEC teams in the latest poll: No. 7 Tennessee, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 14 Mississippi State and No. 20 Georgia. In state news, at No. 25 Western Kentucky moved into the top 25 for the first time since 1998; Louisville moved up a spot to No. 6.