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Work paying off as freshman Harper emerges for UK Hoops

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The life of a freshman under Matthew Mitchell is not always easy.

The demands placed on newcomers in terms of effort and execution, particularly on the defensive end, make playing a major role from day one very difficult at Kentucky.

It didn't happen immediately for Linnae Harper, but the Chicago native is getting there 13 games into her collegiate career.

"I definitely think it took a lot of work, transitioning from high school to college," Harper said. "The speed is really different, but I'm now starting to get in my groove."

In a nonconference finale -- a 109-46 blowout win over Grambling State (3-8) -- Harper had 15 points and seven rebounds for No. 6/6 UK (12-1). After she scored in double figures just three times in her first nine games, the former McDonald's All-American has done so in three of her last four outings to boost her scoring average to 7.7 points per game.

The ability has always been there -- Harper, after all, is the highest-rated recruit in UK Hoops history -- but she is only now figuring out how to push through inevitable miscues.

"Really I think my mentality, just coming from high school to college and making a mistake and holding your head down," Harper said. "But I think each day in practice and the games and just having more experience is helping me with that. If I make mistake, just to know to push through it."

Harper's emergence has coincided with the absence of DeNesha Stallworth, who is targeting a return in the next two weeks. An injury to the star senior forward cut UK's rotation down to 10 players and opened up an opportunity for additional playing time. Harper, as well as fellow freshman Makayla Epps, has capitalized.

"We've had some injuries on this team and I think Makayla and Linnae have really stepped up," said Bria Goss, who posted a career-high 23 points against Grambling State.

Epps joined Harper in double figures with 10 points and added seven rebounds, showcasing the bright future, in both the short and long term, of UK Hoops as the Wildcats enter Southeastern Conference play next Thursday at Alabama.

"I think both of them have so much ability, so much talent and that's why we're so optimistic about their future here and so glad they're here," Mitchell said. "They're going to be really good players."

Neither Harper nor Epps, however, is hiding from the fact that there is a great deal of work ahead. That may be daunting, but it's also reason to be encouraged.

"I think that there's still a lot of room for improvement, although they're both doing so well right now," Goss said. "I think that just tells you where the team is. I'm really excited to see where they can be and where they will be. They're both very competitive and that's what we need on the court every day."

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