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Linnae Harper had 12 points a career-high 14 rebounds in UK's win over Ole Miss on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Linnae Harper had 12 points a career-high 14 rebounds in UK's win over Ole Miss on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
The absence of Bria Goss and Kentucky's young complement of post players has forced Matthew Mitchell to adjust.

UK is now relying on a shorter rotation than at any time in recent memory. Most notably, UK is relying on a core of top producers -- Jennifer O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper -- to carry an abnormally heavy load.

"Right now, where we are without Bria, you have to do what you do and you have to do it well," Mitchell said.

In Mitchell's mind, offensive rebounding tops Harper's list of strengths, but she wasn't getting the job done early in the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference home opener against Ole Miss. That's when he challenged the sophomore to do what she's capable of.

"Linnae's standing out around the perimeter and I just told her she had to get on the glass because she is an incredibly gifted offensive rebounder," Mitchell said. "She went from standing around to eight offensive boards like in a blink of an eye."

Harper had five of her eight offensive rebounds in the second half, including three in a 12-second stretch. It was no coincidence that No. 11 UK (13-2, 2-0 SEC) outscored the visiting Rebels (11-4, 1-1 SEC) by eight after halftime to complete a comeback from six points down with 15:53 remaining in a 64-58 win to overcome a short bench and 30.8-percent shooting.

"We are not as good a team when she doesn't understand how important that is," Mitchell said. "She's gotta get in there and get some boards for us."

All told, Harper had 14 rebounds, a career high, to go with her 12 points in her third career double-double. On the strength of her big afternoon, Harper surged into the team rebounding lead with an average of 6.9 per game even though all but two players on UK's roster are taller than the 5-foot-8 Chicago native.

"I think it's just really passion," Harper said. "I love rebounding and I've always loved rebounding even when I was younger. But as I get older and play on the college level, it gets harder. It's just really about focusing, just a mentality that if I just want to go get. In this game, I just think I had a lot of opportunities and I just went for them and did the best that I can do."

Harper is still working on making that mentality more consistent, but the ability has always been there. Four years ago, Mitchell was watching Thompson when her younger teammate announced herself loudly.

"I was recruiting Janee really hard to try to get her when Janee was a junior," Mitchell said. "And then this kid who was a sophomore is 5-3 or whatever she is and I was sitting under the goal one day at an AAU game and the kid just gets up off the floor and takes it off the rim and I'm like, 'What just happened right there?' "

What happened was Harper took advantage of her explosive vertical leap and uncanny sense of timing.

"You can't teach it," Mitchell said. "There's nothing--Victoria Dunlap had it; Linnae has it. It's a gift, is what it is."

Harper's timing was once again on display in the waning moments.

Even as UK built a five-point lead at the 4:18 mark, Ole Miss wouldn't back down. The Rebels rallied to tie the game, but Harper had two of her game-high four steals a decisive 57-second period.

"Game could go either way," Mitchell said. "Somebody's gotta make a play. Who's going to make a play? These kind of games go that way all the time and she made two huge defensive plays and I just can't tell you how proud I am of her. That was crucial to us being victorious today."

Harper, who hasn't always been a defensive standout, stopped short of saying she couldn't have made the plays a season ago, but did acknowledge her improvement.

"Today in the game I was just really anticipating, just waiting for it and it was all about timing," Harper said. "I just think over time I just got better at playing defense and anticipating and trying to get steals."

Thanks in large part to Harper's tireless effort on the offensive glass and clutch plays on defense, the Cats survived another hard-fought SEC battle to move to 2-0 in league play. For the time being, that's the way it's going to have to be.

"You gotta do what you can do right now so we can some games until we can smooth this thing out a little bit and become a more complete team," Mitchell said.

UK is now relying on a shorter rotation than at any time in recent memory. Most notably, UK is relying on a core of top producers: Jennifer O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper.

"Right now, where we are without Bria, you have to do what you do and you have to do it well," Mitchell said.

In Mitchell's mind, offensive rebounding tops Harper's list of strengths, but she wasn't getting the job done early in the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference home opener against Ole Miss. That's when he challenged the sophomore directly to do what she's capable of.

"Linnae's standing out around the perimeter and I just told her she had to get on the glass because she is an incredibly gifted offensive rebounder," Mitchell said. "She went from standing around to eight offensive boards like in a blink of an eye."

Harper had five of her eight offensive rebounds in the second half, including three in a 12-second stretch. It was no coincidence that No. 11 UK (13-2, 2-0 SEC) outscored the visiting Rebels (11-4, 1-1 SEC) by eight to complete a comeback from six points down with 15:53 remaining in a 64-58 win to overcome a short bench and 30.8-percent shooting.

"We are not as good a team when she doesn't understand how important that is," Mitchell said. "She's gotta get in there and get some boards for us."

All told, Harper had 14 rebounds, a career high, to go with her 12 points in her third career double-double.  On the strength of her big afternoon, Harper surged into the team rebounding lead with an average of 6.9 per game even though all but two players on UK's roster are taller than the 5-foot-8 Chicago native.

"I think it's just really passion," Harper said. "I love rebounding and I've always loved rebounding even when I was younger. But as I get older and play on the college level, it gets harder. It's just really about focusing, just a mentality that if I just want to go get. In this game, I just think I had a lot of opportunities and I just went for them and did the best that I can do."

Harper is still working on making that mentality more consistent, but the ability has always been there in spite of her size. Four years ago, Mitchell was watching Thompson when her younger teammate announced herself loudly.

"I was recruiting Janee really hard to try to get her when Janee was a junior," Mitchell said. "And then this kid who was a sophomore is 5-3 or whatever she is and I was sitting under the goal one day at an AAU game and the kid just gets up off the floor and takes it off the rim and I'm like, 'What just happened right there?' "

What happened was Harper took advantage of her explosive vertical leap and uncanny sense of timing.

"You can't teach it," Mitchell said. "There's nothing--Victoria Dunlap had it; Linnae has it. It's a gift, is what it is."

Harper's timing was once again on display in the waning moments.

Even as UK built a five-point lead at the 4:18 mark, Ole Miss wouldn't back down. The Rebels rallied to tie the game, but Harper had two of her game-high four steals a decisive 57-second period.

"Game could go either way," Mitchell said. "Somebody's gotta make a play. Who's going to make a play? These kind of games go that way all the time and she made two huge defensive plays and I just can't tell you how proud I am of her. That was crucial to us being victorious today."

Harper, who hasn't always been a defensive standout, stopped short of saying she couldn't have made the plays a season ago, but did acknowledge her improvement.

"Today in the game I was just really anticipating, just waiting for it and it was all about timing," Harper said. "I just think over time I just got better at playing defense and anticipating and trying to get steals."

Thanks in large part to Harper's tireless effort on the offensive glass and clutch plays on defense, the Cats survived another hard-fought SEC battle to move to 2-0 in league play. For the time being, that's the way it's going to have to be.

"You gotta do what you can do right now so we can some games until we can smooth this thing out a little bit and become a more complete team," Mitchell said.


Video: UK Hoops completes comeback at Alabama

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Kentucky seemed in trouble in its Southeastern Conference opener, trailing by 10 at Alabama with 16:54 left, but the Wildcats stormed back for a 78-66 win. Alexis Jennings scored 21 points against her home-state school and Janee Thompson had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists. Check out highlights of the win below.


Alexis Jennings had career highs in points (27) and rebounds (eight) in UK's win over Tennessee State on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Alexis Jennings had career highs in points (27) and rebounds (eight) in UK's win over Tennessee State on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
If you had watched only the Kentucky bench, you might not have known Alexis Jennings was having a career offensive day.

"I was very hard on her today during the game," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I had no idea she was scoring 27 points because I was trying to coach her up on defense a little bit and it was just a tough game."

It was a tough game that, in large part, the No. 12/13 Wildcats (11-2) won because of Jennings. Along with the career high in points she scored on 8-of-15 shooting, the freshman post player added eight rebounds in UK's hard-fought 87-75 win over Tennessee State (3-8) on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.

The performance was the latest in a string of good ones by Jennings, who scored in double figures for the fourth straight game after not doing so once since her collegiate debut.

"I wouldn't say I saw it coming," Jennings said. "We had four days off and coming back I really wasn't expecting that. But as I got out there, I adjusted well and I was able to score offensively."

Jennings showed off a diverse skillset, burying three of her four tries from 3-point range and scoring on both post moves and put-backs off her five offensive rebounds.

"We would not have won without her and I've told y'all before: She is supremely talented and skilled on the offensive end and I am really seeing a lot of progress out of her," Mitchell said.

Her teammates are particularly impressed with that progress considering how hard Mitchell has been on her both in practice and in games knowing what she is capable of.

"I give Alexis a lot of credit being as whenever we're in practice Coach Mitchell is extremely hard on her," said Makayla Epps, who scored 16 points. "He's hard on all of us, but some days she gets it harder than any of us and she's got thick skin. She's a tough kid from Alabama and I give her a lot of credit because most players would get down and go in slumps."

Linnae Harper - who had a big all-around game with 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals as the Cats fended off a game Lady Tiger team - has seen the same. And with it, she's seen Jennings become more and more self-assured in her continuing adjustment to college.

"I just think, personally, her confidence level has just increased drastically day by day and it's making a difference in the game," Harper said. "She's more tough and I think that's really going to help us when we start SEC conference because we have the toughest conference in the nation."

With Bria Goss missing again due to a broken thumb and Jennifer O'Neill day to day with a strained patellar tendon, Mitchell knew the Cats would be tested on Sunday. With Jennings and others stepping up - including Janee Thompson with her ball pressure and career-high seven steals - they passed.

"Those are the kind of games we need while Bria's out to help us be stronger when Bria comes back," Mitchell said.

Now, when it comes to Jennings, Mitchell will continue to push her to improve defensively.

"I definitely believe that she's capable," Mitchell said. "There's no question. The reason I'm hard on Alexis is because her offense is a little bit further ahead than her defense right now. And so usually when I'm hard on her it's defensive driven."

Video: Highlights from UK's win at Louisville

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Video: Calipari's post-Louisville press conference

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Video: Towns, Johnson, Booker on win at Louisville

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Video: Another reason to get excited for UK-U of L

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