Kentucky-Ohio State Postgame Quotes

2017 NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
First Round • No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
Sunday, March 19, 2017


POSTGAME QUOTES – Kentucky


Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky Head Coach


Opening statement ...
"Give credit to Ohio State. They played hard and are a great team. We dug ourselves in a big hole and fought hard to get out of it. We weren't able to make it all the way back, but I'm really proud of their effort. It's been a special experience coaching them. I'm proud of our two seniors. They battled through real adversity since the end of last season to spearhead an effort to create a true team. That's what we were. We were a group of flawed individuals that came together. Our sum ended being greater than our parts.  That's a testament to these young women. I don't know that I've ever been prouder to be the coach at Kentucky to have had the honor of coaching this group. We're sad today, but we'll hold our heads high, knowing that we accomplished what every university that has a program - I think you would want to have a team at the end of it. That's a tremendous accomplishment. It doesn't always happen, but it happened at Kentucky this year. I'm really proud of our players that became a great team."

On his team's mentality in the early minutes of the game ...
"I don't know what happened there at the beginning. I thought they were outstanding yesterday. We had a walk through yesterday and they were really in tune. They had a nice session this morning. We did get back on our heels, I'll have to maybe debrief them after the season to figure out exactly what that was. I don't if we were nervous. I asked them at the first media timeout, 'Are you nervous?' We did not have a lot of pep in our step. If we could've played with the same kind of energy that we had in the third quarter to start the game, then maybe things would've been different. I think you have to give a lot of credit to Ohio State. They were really aggressive and fast. They were making shots early on and shooting the ball well. When they're shooting the ball well, they're a very dangerous team."

On if he felt like the energy just wasn't there in the final minutes ...
"I thought the energy was there. We're wide open for several shots there to get over the hump, and we just couldn't get the ball in the basket. I don't think it was a lack of energy. I think we were going so hard for a couple of offensive boards there that (Ohio State) was able to run it out and make the margin what it was. They know they were in the game there in the second half and we worked hard. I don't fault their energy. I thought we were a little low-energy there in the first half. We've had so many great moments this year, but when we are not at our best it's when we're getting down and losing our poise offensively. We just didn't make Ohio State work very hard when they stretched out their lead. We were quick shooting the ball and not getting on the boards. I thought we turned that around in the second half, but credit (Ohio State). They had a great day and played hard. There's not a lot of difference between a four and a five seed, and they played better than we did today."

On what he said at halftime to his team to get them to hold Kelsey Mitchell to two points in the second half ...
"We tried to start the game bothering her and trapping her. I don't know if we were able to get better and adjust a little bit. She's so explosive. Some of those shots she made are hard shots. A lot of times, you try to figure out what's wrong with you and you don't give the other team enough credit. She just did a really good job."

On former UK guard Linnae Harper's performance ...
"I thought Linnae made some big plays, had a good day on the boards and made some timely, key shots. I thought that and-one where she got fouled - I don't think she made the free throw - that was a big play with Maci's (Morris) fourth foul. She's a good player - a really good player. You look at their team and there's a lot of balance. Everybody scored except for one player. They really brought it today as a team so you congratulate them."

On Ohio State switching up defenses on Epps ...
"We've seen that a lot this season. We're prepared for that. I thought that, mentally, all of us got back on our heels. I don't know if it was Ohio State's hot shooting that we were surprised by and let it affect us more than we should have. We lacked poise and execution there in the first half. I don't know that we could've done well against any of their defenses if we didn't have that. A lot of teams have chased Makayla and tried to make it hard on her, but that's a credit to how good of a player she is. Ohio State certainly did a good job today."

On what kind of legacy he thinks Epps and Akhator leave at UK ...
"Well, I've said this before. I'm so grateful for those two because they've taught me as much of anything that I've taught them. They gave me, and all of us here who have worked hard to build a good program that has integrity and develops people and isn't just about winning games. We also develop people. It looked very unusual last spring. To go through all of that and hear those two talk about their experience, it lets you know what Kentucky is about. And what all of us are about. They didn't just mention me. They mentioned their teammates and what kind of young women they are. No advancement in this tournament, no trophy we could've won can replace the gift that they gave me, which is that honesty, hard work, and discipline still work. Being in a program where the expectation for you is to be coachable, accountable, resilient still works. Those two will take those things with them when they leave. You can't haul out a trophy with you. Those things don't matter long term. What matters is the experience they had that helped them develop as people. I'm grateful for the hard work they put in. You couldn't have two better seniors. They're two real special people that did a lot for us, so we're grateful."

On if Ohio State did something in the final five minutes that decided the game ...
"I'll have to go and see all of the shots. I know we had two - they didn't even guard two wide open 3s from (Morris) and Mackenzie (Cann). I'm not sure what the score was. I think it was around five. We ran the same play two times, got two wide open 3s that ended up running out and (Ohio State) scored both times. A five-point game goes to a double-digit game almost. They played hard today. It was real physical. I don't know that we've ever had 10 shots blocked in a game. Those kids really did a good job. I thought Evelyn (Akhator) took the ball in there strongly. They, evidently, blocked all of those shots. I'll have to see what happened there, but I'll have to go back and look at the film. I know we were trying. I'm proud of that effort to try to get in position to win." 

On if there were any emotions coaching against Harper ...
"I moved on from that so long ago, as far as the people who didn't want to be here. All of my emotion, effort, and work has gone into this particular team. This was a remarkable team, and I hope that this now puts all of this - finally, we can move forward. Kentucky is a great place. Some people decided not to be here. We treated all of those folks with a lot of respect and let them go and do whatever they wanted to do. I certainly know Linnae. I think she played great today. I wish her nothing but happiness and every other person that chose not to be here. I don't invest any time in that. I want to invest all of my time in Kentucky and the remarkable young women who were the 2016-17 team. I'll just have to tell you, I don't know that I've ever had an experience as a coach - and this is certainly not the most wins we've ever had - but you're talking about a great team, great group of young women, and that's where all my emotions are. That's where all my effort is. We wish everybody else in the country, wherever they are, the best, but I don't spend one second thinking about anybody but these 12 remarkable young women and what it took for us to be the team that we were this year. I was really excited about the game today and had no negative emotion going into it. I hope Ohio State has a fantastic weekend here in Lexington next week."

On if he had some sense of comfort during the stretch where UK got back in the game ...
"I was excited that we had been able to wake up and play the game how I thought we could play it. We were never a team this year that could get away with being a step slow or lacking focus - the little things. We weren't in the stance at times. We were slowly reacting. We weren't gritting our teeth so to speak. That's what I told them at halftime, 'We have to grit our teeth, get in a better stance, and just play. There's no magic pill here. We're just not playing hard enough defensively. I was excited for them. I never thought we were out of it. I told them coming up the tunnel when (the lead) was 15 that I thought we were right in it. We had to make some adjustments, but I thought we were right in it. I was just happy to see them play closer to their personality. They did that so many more times this year than they didn't. What a joy it was to coach them. A remarkable, high-character - great young women. Great students. It's like I told them there, I've never been prouder to be the Kentucky coach."

Evelyn Akhator, Kentucky Forward


On her time at Kentucky and thinking about the next level…
“I only spent two years here and it’s been the best two years of my life. I’m really close to the coaches but Coach Mitchell treated me like a daughter and I was able to open up to him. I don’t open up, I usually keep things to myself. He was able to get through to me which made much more comfortable with him and my teammates. I became so close to my teammates and I really opened up to them. Every time I was down they always knew something was wrong with me and they would try to talk to me about it and just get me to let it go. It has been a huge impact in my life and they became family to me. My two years here has been like four years not just in Kentucky but it’s like I have been here forever. Honestly, Kentucky is like my home away from home and I will never forget that.”

On her play in the paint…
“Offensively I would say I struggled a little bit with my finishes. The first half of the game I was taking quick shots not being patient and that really hurt my game, I think I still did the same thing in the second half. I mean, it was a game we needed to win, so I can’t hang my head. If I can’t score offensively I can’t let that affect my game. I have to keep rebounding and looking for players like Makayla. I was just going for the rebound because they were bigger players and if I don’t go for rebounds or if my teammates do go then we don’t win. I just have to keep pushing offensively. One of the scouting reports said that they don’t rebound, they don’t box out, and we just tried to used that to our advantage.”

Makayla Epps, Kentucky Guard


On UK’s second-half comeback...
“We had dug ourselves a 15-poin hole at the half. Coach told us that we could come back so we weren’t in the locker room defeated, we might have been a little deflated but we were never defeated going into the break. We were just trying to attack them in transition, it’s a really big part of our game. Then I started getting to the rim a couple of times, everything started opening up for the perimeter players and on the inside. Then when we got within one I was saying ‘keep attacking.’ Then we had a couple break downs, we didn’t score on our end, missed a couple of free throws but things like that happen but I never thought the team was out of it. Everyone kept their mentality about them, nobody got the down mentality even though we down big early.”

On why Ohio State got that big lead in the first half…
“Just our scheme on Kelsey Mitchell.  She’s a phenomenal player, I have tremendous respect for her. I know she got hot early, she jumped out to 10 quick points early. They were getting some offensive rebounds and second-chance points early. Stuff that we were practicing was not how we were playing early.”

On her career at Kentucky and what it means to her…
“I don’t even know if I can put it into words. First off, I want to thank Coach Mitchell for giving me the opportunity to come here on an athletic scholarship. Those are not given, you have to earn them. A lot of credit to him, he has done a great job here at the University of Kentucky. My four years here were not easy. It was not just a joy ride the whole time I was here. I had some highs and lows, moments where I didn’t know if I was coming or going. He would take time out of his life, busy days, take time away from his family to sit up in his office and talk with me one-on-one, getting to know me and that is the type of coaches you need, the type that really get to know their players. Then my teammates especially this year, they made my senior year the best year here. It’s not the team I started out with but it is the team I finished with. Like Coach Mitchell said even though we didn’t get the win today, we’re a team. We made Memorial Coliseum rock today and I will never forget the players in the locker room. Maci came up to me a minute ago and hugged me telling me that I’m the best teammate she ever had and one of the best people she’s ever been around. It really means a lot to me. It’s a lot more than just basketball for me, basketball isn’t forever for me but just to know that I have made a huge impact on so many people’s lives during my four years here means the world to me.”

POSTGAME QUOTES – Ohio State


Kevin McGuff, Ohio State Head Coach


On Linnae Harper…
“She obviously was unbelievable today and she’s such a great kid and a team-first player that somebody else might have been trying to make this about themselves coming back to the place they transferred from, but not her. She just wanted to contribute to our success today and she was unbelievable. She played extremely hard, she made big plays, she moved the ball, and just had an overall amazing performance. She’s a really unique player because she’s the best rebounding perimeter player I’ve ever coached and so that allows her to do things like what you saw today.”

On having a season low in turnovers…
“We had stretches where we were really good on offense. Part of our issue was that we were settling for perimeter jump shots too much but overall our execution was excellent today, it resulted in a bunch of good shots and low turnovers.”

On what he told the team between the third and fourth quarters…
“I just told the team to get back to the things that we were doing. Kentucky has a great team with great players and they did a good job with giving it to Evelyn and Epps for a stretch. During that stretch, two things happened - we weren’t as good defensively, we gave up a couple of key rebounds and then we settled for jumpers. So what we talked about in timeouts was getting back to balancing our offense, making sure we get to the free-throw line and get to the rim, and ten we have to buckle down, get stops, and get some tough rebounds. We had been doing then but then we got away from that and that’s where they made a big run.”

On a freshmen guarding Makayla Epps…
“That was by design, that was who we wanted on her from the start. Our plan was to run multiple people at her and try to keep a fresh body on her to make it tough on her for 40 minutes. I knew we weren’t going to stop her, she’s too good for that, but we really wanted to make her work for everything that she got. Our depth was a big part of the game today. We had some people come off of the bench that played great roles and ultimately down the stretch I think that we were a little more fresh than they were because of our depth.”

On having Shayla Cooper on the court…
“It’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight but obviously once she joined the team right around Christmas I knew we had somebody special. But, this doesn’t happen overnight that she’s going to play in that first game and play to her maximum potential. So it has certainly evolved throughout the course of the year and I think probably more important than her, our team in general has played our best basketball from February now into March. We have played great basketball in February and just had the feeling that we were kind of peaking as we headed towards March. So I’m excited about that and hopefully we can have another great week of preparation, come back down here, and be ready to go on Friday.”

On establishing control at beginning of game…
“We had a great practice yesterday, so I knew we’d be ready. We had a great film session, great practice and the assistant coaches came in before the game saying that if we played like we warmed up we were going to win today. I just think our kids were really focused, locked in and ready. Kelsey didn’t have her best game against Western Kentucky so the last thing I told her was to remember that she was the best player on the court so she was ready and got us off to a great start. Our kids were just really fired up and we knew we had a big challenge in front of us against a great Kentucky team on their home floor so our kids were really focused and motivated to play well today.”

On grading Tori McCoy’s performance… 
“Tori was outstanding, she was great. I think Evelyn’s a great player. She’s so quick off the floor and she’s just an elite rebounder, one of the best in the country. But I thought we did a great job defensively. I think Tori’s length really bothered Evelyn. We just let her get too many rebounds after she’d miss shots but you cant keep her off the whole time, she’s just too good to limit her rebounds.”

On coming back to Lexington for the Regionals…
“It’s good. Hopefully we’re comfortable here but we’ll get back today, take tomorrow off, and start practice and preparation on Tuesday for whomever we play.”

On Stephanie Mavunga’s return…
“She’s close to coming back. She’s out of the boot, moving around and I think she’s really close. So I’m cautiously optimistic but we certainly wont know until probably later in the week.”

Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State Guard


On what it took to secure the win after Kentucky cut the score to one point ...
“With a team like that (Kentucky), you can’t let them get off but they did. One of the things that started that run for them was our defense and not getting rebounds and stuff like that. We tried to do our best in that instance to stay on the boards, get all the 50-50 balls, keep playing as hard as we could and I think we did that down the stretch.”

On getting out to a hot start but being limited offensively in the second half ...
“They changed things defensively so I had to get it inside to Shalya (Cooper) or whoever the four-man was and we played from there. We mostly got ourselves relaxed as far as them making that run and we got ourselves in the position to be as relaxed as possible and continue to run offense. So giving it up was one of those things that needed to be done and I think we stayed with the game plan and made sure that happened.”

On the importance of getting out to a big start on the road and containing Epps ...
“We’re in Kentucky. We’re in the state of Kentucky and a player like Epps, she’s a fantastic player and so you always want to try to make things alittle more difficult for her. Although she still plays good as possible and played a great game, we tried to do as much as we could to limit her shot selection and limit some of the things the team wanted to do.”

On being the Big Ten 3-point career leader as a junior ...
“All I can say to that comment is ‘survive and advance.’ It’s no longer about myself, it’s about us as a team and I think we want to advance as much as possible in this tournament. We want to survive in the toughest games and I think we need to stay together at this time.”

On if this game felt like the Maryland game where they had a big lead, lost it and had to take the game back ...
“The atmosphere is always crazy when you play big teams like that. When we were at home it was a big game and we played a great team at home. Then we came here to Kentucky, playing them on their home floor so the atmosphere and the environment was crazy. That’s what we play basketball for, that’s why everyone in America plays for, it’s the world of sport. Games like this and times like you can only be grateful for and so I think the environment only made a great atmosphere for us and we showed that we can handle certain situations.”

On McCoy’s key points down the stretch…
“It was fantastic. I gave every one of my teammates a hug. I was like ‘thank you’ because there was so much in that environment going on and people may say things about how our freshmen can’t make plays in crunch time but I think Tory (McCoy) did an amazing job and Asia (Doss) did an amazing job. I always look for my teammates as far as knowing what they an do. I think everyone on our team does something special. You guys heard me say that before and I actually believe that and I think that showed today.”

On if the team came out with a chip on their shoulder…
“I don’t know if you call it that but I do know that we needed to be focused, we needed to be dialed in. We were playing Kentucky at Kentucky. They have fantastic players. They have players like Epps and you have to be as focused as possible playing a person like that. You have a player like Evelyn (Akhator), fantastic player, fantastic program. You have a coach who has been in situations like this so I don’t know if it was a chip on the shoulder but we knew we had to be as focused as possible.”

Linnae Harper, Ohio State Guard


On beating Kentucky on its home floor with 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists ...
“There’s no words to even describe it. Just being back here on the court was a good feeling and getting a win overall was great for our team.”

On if it would have been easier playing this game somewhere else or if there was value in the experience ...
“Just looking in the moment right now, here with our team and the preparation we put in for this game and how well we played, that was the main thing for me.”

On almost having a triple-double ...
“Honestly, I didn’t even know until a few minutes ago but it was really about the energy. I know how tough Kentucky is as a team. They play hard for 40 minutes and I think that was one thing that I focused on coming into the game and that was bringing as much effort and energy that I could.”
On if knowing Kentucky’s team was an advantage ...
“I wouldn’t say it was an advantage because it’s March Madness so every team is going to play at their best. As far as our team, we just really focused on preparation and playing as hard as we could. Kuddos to our coach, he put us in the best position that we could possibly be in and our team just being very cohesive and staying together.” 

On if this game felt like the Maryland game where they had a big lead, lost it and had to take the game back ...
“I think both teams are great and are great programs. I think it just goes back to how we prepared for both games. (We had) a consistent effort on the glass, rebounding was a big key in both games.” 

On Ohio State’s defense…
“I think it was really us staying poised. I knew it was going to be a battle for 40 minutes and that it was going to be a good game. (It was also) attention to detail and trying to do the little things to stay as calm as possible so that we could stay on the right track.”