For the third time since starting her time with USA Basketball in 2018, University of Kentucky women’s basketball guard Rhyne Howard has helped the stars and stripes earn gold abroad as she powered the 2021 Team USA FIBA AmeriCup Team to a success 6-0 run over the last week in Puerto Rico.
Howard was brilliant throughout the event, averaging 13.2 points per game with 3.7 rebounds per game, 3 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game and 0.8 blocks per game.
. In the opener vs. the Dominican Republic, Howard scored four points with five rebounds, one block and one steal, while she followed that against Puerto Rico with 17 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. To complete the group phase, Howard had 17 points with four rebounds, two steals and hit a Team USA tying five 3s against Venezuela.
In elimination play, Howard scored seven points with three rebounds, one steal and one block vs. the Virgin Islands and followed with a stellar 12 points, four rebounds, one block and one assists in a come-from-behind effort vs. Brazil. In the final against host Puerto Rico, Howard set the tone early with 12 first-quarter points and finished the game with game-high 22 points, hitting four 3s with three rebounds, five assists two steals and a block.
For her performance, Howard was tabbed the FIBA AmeriCup Most Valuable Player and was named to the all-tournament team. She was joined on the team by UK alumna Jen O’Neill, who was a star for Puerto Rico during the event. With Puerto Rico, O’Neill averaged 16.8 points per game with 4.8 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game and 1.0 steals per game.
Ten nations from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean took part in the 2021 AmeriCup. The top four finishing teams advance to compete in one of four 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournaments in hopes of earning one of the 12 spots in the 2022 FIBA World Cup field. Australia, host of the 2022 World Cup, and the 2020 Olympic champion, earn an automatic berth to the World Cup, but will be required to participate in the qualifying process.
Howard has had a ton of success playing for USA Basketball as she led the Red, White and Blue in scoring on its way to winning the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup championship in Bangkok, Thailand in the summer of 2019. For her efforts, Howard was tabbed to the all-tournament team. Howard, who had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in the championship game, led the USA in scoring throughout the week averaging 13.1 points per game with 5.1 rebounds per game and hitting 44.7 percent from long range.
In the summer of 2018, Howard earned most valuable player honors in Mexico helping the U18 team to a 5-0 gold-medal run in the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championships. Howard shined in every game of the tournament, starting with eight points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in the quarterfinals vs. El Salvador before 14 points, including 4-of-7 from long range with five assists, two blocks and two steals against Colombia. She locked up the MVP honor after her five points with four rebounds, four assists and two blocks vs. Canada in the title game. Howard also recently competed in the 2019 USA Basketball Women's 3x3 National Championship in Las Vegas, leading her team to a second-place finish.
Howard’s junior season was one for the record books at Kentucky, earning first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, United States Basketball Writers Association and Wooden Award. She was one of four finalist for the WBCA Wade Trophy, one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, one of four finalists for the 2021 Naismith Trophy and a finalist for the 2021 Cheryl Miller Award. For the second year in a row, Southeastern Conference coaches named Howard the SEC Player of the Year, while she earned All-SEC First Team honors for the third straight season.
Howard – who was the only player in the nation this season to average over 20 points per game with at least 7.3 rebounds per game, 90 assists and 60 steals – had a great junior season for the Wildcats, averaging 20.7 points per game with 7.3 rebounds per game. She hit a team-best 56 3-pointers and had 91 assists, 61 steals and 19 blocks. Although her scoring average is two points lower from last season, Howard showed she is an all-around player and not just a scorer, upping her rebounds per game, assists per game and steals per game average from both her freshman and sophomore seasons.
The native of Cleveland, Tennessee, played 24 games last season with nearly half of those coming against top 25 ranked opponents. In those games, Howard showed she is the best player in the country with impressive numbers. In 11 games against ranked opponents, Howard averaged 22.3 points per game, hitting 47.1 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3 with 6.7 rebounds per game and 3.0 assists per game. Howard had four 30+ scoring games during the season with three coming against top-25 ranked teams.
One of her best performances of the year was when she scored 33 points at No. 12 Mississippi State, hitting four 3s with 10 rebounds and six assists. She scored 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Bulldogs, scoring 25 of UK’s last 31 points, including 10 of 14 in overtime. Other impressive performances on the biggest stage include 32 points with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals against No. 5 South Carolina and 24 points with four 3s, 10 rebounds and four assists against No. 10 Arkansas. She also posted 22 points against No. 13 Indiana and at No. 8 Texas A&M. Howard took over for Kentucky at No. 17 Georgia with 27 points, four rebounds, four steals, two assists and went 4-of-4 from 3 and then followed with her 33-point performance against the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament.
Howard’s career is already one of the best in program history. In 83 career games, Howard has hit at least one 3 in 73 games, including 20 games this season. She has posted 10 or more points in 74 career games, 15+ in 59 games, 20+ in 44 games, 25+ in 26 games and 30+ in seven games – including four times this season. The guard led UK in scoring in 54 career games, in rebounding in 44 career games, in assists in 29 career games, in steals in 30 games and blocks in 31 career games. She has 17 career double-doubles, including six this season.
For her career, Howard has scored 1,655 career points sitting seventh in UK history in points scored. She needs 37 more to tie Maci Morris for sixth. Howard is the second player in school history to reach 1,500 career points prior to their senior season with the other being All-American and UK all-time leading scorer Valerie Still. Howard ranks second in school history in career scoring average at 19.9, while she is third in career 3s made with 214 and third in career 3-point field-goal percentage at 38.1. She is also eighth in UK history in steals per game at 2.301.