Franklin has to cope with size disadvantage in SEC

UK guard Amani Franklin drives to the net against Miami (OH) Tuesday night at Memorial Coliseum. Photo by Scott Hannigan

Football is known as a game of inches. Basketball is not given the same moniker, but Amani Franklin, a senior for the UK women’s basketball team, may soon contest such a fact.

The 5-foot-11 Franklin, who primarily played guard prior to this season, has been forced to be the starting power forward for all of UK’s games because of a lack of frontcourt depth and experience.

During the nonconference schedule against schools from smaller conferences, Franklin’s athleticism could compensate for a one- or two-inch height disadvantage against opposing forwards. However, in the Southeastern Conference, versatile giants regularly roam the paint and pose more of a mismatch for Franklin.

“I’m extremely worried about (our frontcourt size disadvantage)… I cannot overstate how worried I am about that,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell.

However, Mitchell’s starting frontcourt isn’t fazed by the concerns over their size, or lack thereof, refusing to let themselves become intimidated

“Being that myself and (Victoria Dunlap) are so athletic, we can compete with anybody in the SEC,” Franklin said. “We don’t necessarily need to be tall as long as we can compete on daily basis.”

Although Dunlap, a junior forward, is also undersized for the SEC at 6-foot-1, she has the advantage of being an all-conference performer in a natural position.

In UK’s two SEC games thus far, Franklin’s height compared to her opponents seems to be a major factor in dictating how she competes. In the Cats SEC opener against Georgia, the Lady Bulldogs’ forwards all measured 6-foot-2 or taller, including forwards Angel Robinson and Porsha Phillips, who rank No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, in SEC rebounding. Franklin finished the game with just four rebounds in 38 minutes.

Conversely, when the Cats defeated Vanderbilt, one of the smaller teams in the SEC, on Sunday, Franklin recorded a double-double snatching 11 boards to go with 11 points in 34 minutes. The Commodores’ tallest forward who saw playing time was 6-foot-1, and the other was a 6-foot freshman.

When the Cats travel to Columbia to take on South Carolina on Thursday, slowing down freshman phenom Kelsey Bone, who leads the SEC in rebounding and Mitchell believes to be one of “the most talented players” his team will face the rest of the way.

“The huge worry in this game (against USC), is South Carolina, where Georgia and Vanderbilt were both big and talented they weren’t deep, but South Carolina can run a few (tall players) at you, which is of grave concern,” Mitchell said.

The solution to playing post defense, which seems to have worked so far, is a team effort, regardless of position.

“We talk all the time that our guards need to play post defense, our guards have to try get the ball, if (opponents) want to start 20 feet from the basket, we need to make them start 25 feet from the basket,” Mitchell said. “It’s five people guarding the post for us.”

Looking ahead, the biggest frontcourt challenge might come Feb.25 when the Cats face Tennessee, whose 13-woman roster consists of 10 players taller than 6-foot — a nightmare matchup for average-sized guards, let alone an undersized forward such as Franklin.

Until then, Franklin and company will have to maintain the defensive habits they’ve formed.

“It all starts with the guards, and if we can get good ball pressure, then it makes it easier for us to guard the post,” said Franklin.