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Steady as she goes: Evans a rock for UK Hoops

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Sophomore guard Kastine Evans is scoring 7.4 points per game for UK Hoops in 2011-12. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Sophomore guard Kastine Evans is scoring 7.4 points per game for UK Hoops in 2011-12. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With nine freshmen and sophomores on his roster, it can be tough for Matthew Mitchell to predict what he'll see in any given practice or game.

Sometimes, all of his players are locked in and ready to bring the kind of intensity that Kentucky's high-pressure style demands. Others, certain Wildcats have lapses in focus, much to his frustration.

In those moments, Mitchell doesn't always have to yell and scream to capture the team's attention. Often, he doesn't have to anything more than cite the example of Kastine Evans.

" 'Why does Kastine have to come in here every day and do the right thing and you don't?' " Mitchell said. "That's a powerful example and I don't have to say much more."

The sophomore guard is seemingly immune to off days. Assuredly there are times when flying around the practice floor at the Joe Craft Center isn't what she would most like to be doing, but you wouldn't know that from watching her go about her business.

"Kastine's not some kind of superhero or immortal," Mitchell said. "She has difficulties during her day and setbacks and she finds a way to come to the practice court every day focused and with great energy. She's a tremendous example and a tremendous example of the kind of kid that can thrive at Kentucky."

With her unwavering approach, Evans has become one of UK Hoops' most reliable contributors. Surrounded by an unprecedented level of talent at UK, she has started all but two games during the Wildcats' 18-2 (7-0 Southeastern Conference) start, playing fewer minutes than only leading scorers A'dia Mathies and Bria Goss.

Other players on the roster may be perceived to have better pedigrees and more raw talent, but Mitchell thinks she is as indispensable to the team's success as any Wildcat.

"We have to have her on the floor to win," Mitchell said. "She does so many of the little things that it takes when you have a style that requires energy. She's a real high-energy player, a very intelligent player and a very selfless player."

The reason Mitchell has come to rely on Evans as much as he has is simple. He does it because he knows he can. Mitchell is a firm believer that the way a player practices is the best indication of the way she will play in a game. Evans is unfailing in her effort in practice, which shows Mitchell she'll be the same way on game day.

"He takes a lot from what you do in practice," Evans said. "He always focuses on the fact that everything you do in practice is going to carry into the games."

Evans has proven Mitchell right.

She is averaging 7.4 points per game, tied for third on the team, and needed only nine games to match her point total (90) from all 34 games of her freshman campaign. She is also fifth on the team in rebounding (4.2 per game), fourth in assists (1.7) and third in steals (1.8), but it's the intangibles that make her so important.

"You need those kinds of kids on your team when you play this style," Mitchell said. "She can play multiple positions; she's smart enough to do that. She is a huge, huge part of the team and we're always better when she's on the floor."

Throughout most of UK's program-best start to SEC play, she has started as part of a four-guard lineup that often calls for the 5-foot-8 Evans to guard a significantly taller player. Evans, though, relies on her quickness, her teammates and, most of all, her trademark intensity to overcome any size disadvantage she may run into.

"A lot of that just comes with having a competitive attitude with who you're playing against and playing hard all the time," Evans said. "There have been situations where size has mattered, but my teammates help me out in different situations."

UK travels to face Auburn (10-10, 2-5 SEC), who boasts a starting lineup with three players standing taller than six feet, on Thursday at 7 p.m., so Evans will be in line for another such test.

Also helping her guard a bigger post player will be all the work she's logged in the weight room. Evans said she had never taken part in a strength and conditioning program prior to coming to Kentucky in the summer of 2010, but has responded well to the regimen instituted by strength and conditioning coach Stephanie Tracey-Simmons, particularly over the past six months or so.

"You might not be able to tell, but I lost 10 pounds between the summer and now," Evans said. "I don't think it was regular weight; a lot of it had to do with gaining muscle and toning out my body."

Her added strength has also helped her offensive game.

Mitchell said her shooting form has improved dramatically as she has strengthened her core and legs, resulting in a much more natural arc. After connecting on just 9-of-40 (22.5 percent) 3-point attempts a season ago, Evans is nearly 10 percent better this season at 12-of-37 (32.4 percent). Her free-throw shooting has also improved by over 11 percent.

"I think Kastine will probably be a player that's a bit streaky, but her shot is so much better and I think it has a lot to do with strength and her commitment to getting better," Mitchell said.

With dynamic offensive threats all around her, Evans knows she doesn't have to score for her team to be successful, but she has shown herself to be more than capable of stepping up. She scored a career-high 23 points in UK's season opener and has reached double figures four times since.

"We have players on our team like A'dia and Bria we can usually count on to score, but you can't count on that every game because people have different defensive strategies," Evans said. "As a team, we've come to the realization that we can't just depend on those two people and they're going to be waiting for us to back them up if we need us."

As you'd might guess though, Evans ultimately doesn't care much about who puts the ball in the basket, so long as the Cats do it more often than their opponents.

"At the end of the day, it's Kentucky vs. whoever we're playing against," Evans said. "It doesn't matter who scores, who does what, who gets the praise."

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