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Preview: Rhyne Howard, No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats pay Tina Thompson’s Virginia Cavaliers a visit

Sophomore Rhyne Howard has the Kentucky Wildcats off to a good start. They’ll head into action Saturday against Tina Thompson and Virginia, who look to use this tough non-conference matchup as a building block.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 10 Women’s Kentucky at Tennessee
Rhyne Howard was spectacular as a freshman, and she’s off to a solid start as a sophomore for No. 13 Kentucky.
Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you haven’t yet seen Rhyne Howard play, you’re missing out.

Howard, a 6-foot-2 guard, has breathed new life into the Kentucky Wildcats program. As a freshman, she led the team in both scoring (16.4 points per game) and rebounding (6.6 rebounds per game), knocking down 38.7 percent of her 3-point attempts while ranking in the 95th percentile for steal percentage. Such impressive two-way play rightfully earned Howard the WBCA’s Freshman of the Year honor.

As a sophomore, Howard has picked up where she left off. Though she hasn’t been scoring as efficiently as last season, it’s only been three games, and she’s racked up six steals and six blocked shots in that span. Expect Howard to get her shot going sooner rather than later and improve upon her award-winning freshman season.

But if there’s anyone who knows about scoring, it’s Virginia head coach Tina Thompson, whose Cavaliers host the Wildcats on Saturday. The WNBA legend and Naismith Hall of Famer racked up 7,488 total points during her WNBA career, which ranks second all-time.

Now, of course, Thompson leads from the sideline. While her first season as the head coach of Virginia was a rough one — the Cavaliers went 12-19 and 5-11 in ACC play — she’s bringing back a good chunk of her squad for 2019-20. Most notably, guard Jocelyn Willoughby’s senior campaign has gotten off to an impressive start; she’s averaging 19.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in Virginia’s first three games.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 03 Women’s Virginia at Notre Dame
Virginia head coach Tina Thompson
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It will be up to Willoughby and the rest of the Cavaliers, then, to keep the explosive Howard from going off. Beyond the individual matchups, it would be a big win for Thompson if her team can upset No. 13 Kentucky — just the type of momentum the Cavaliers will need as they enter the toughest part of their non-conference schedule.

Game information

No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (3-0) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (2-1)

When: Saturday, Nov. 16, at 5 p.m. ET

Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

How to watch: ACC Network Extra