Kentucky-Ohio State Saturday Quotes

2017 NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
First Round • No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
Saturday, March 18, 2017


PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Kentucky


Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky Head Coach


On Makayla Epps comments about doing whatever it takes to win and his resulting smile …
“I was just thinking of all of her improvement over her four years and that’s her mentality. She wants to do whatever she can to help Kentucky win and that’s just a real team-first attitude. That’s what brought a smile to my face. That’s what you want your players to develop over their time here, that’s what you want their experience to be. To be a person who gives to the greater good of the group.

No matter where she moves on from here, she’ll play on another team, but then she’ll be, no matter what her profession ends up being in life, she’s thinking about being a coach, those lessons will be really important for her to carry on. Those are the things that are important to us and our program, so that made me happy to hear where her mentality is as a senior.”

On Epps’ versatility and whether she’s turned up her scoring late in the season …
“Well, I think that yesterday, there’s no doubt that there was some urgency that the moment brings. We’re all human, so maybe that urgency is not there in a non-conference game that you are a heavy favorite in. So maybe she didn’t play that way in November and December. So I think all of us, our human nature would kind of sense a moment and someone like her does rise to the occasion. But I think, as we’re looking at our team, I do trust her to figure out what does she need to do that day. What I liked about yesterday was that her mentality was aggressive. So tomorrow, she may need to score 30, I don’t know how it’s ever going to play out exactly. But it’s good to know that she has that capability and that she’s willing to do it. She’s not shying away from the moment. She’s had a lot of big games for us and I feel like she will, in some shape, form or fashion, will need to have a big game for us to win tomorrow. I don’t know what that means statistically, but I do know that she will be very important for us to move on tomorrow.”

On Evelyn Akhator’s play in Friday’s game …
“Well, Evelyn and Makayla are both very good players, senior players. I don’t think it’s unusual for you to, for really good teams to look toward their seniors. Sometimes, there’s an exception to that, but a lot of times, I think all of us are looking toward our seniors who are major players to kind of pull you through. And that doesn’t mean that our underclassmen can’t make contributions. But for our particular team, we knew that coming into the season, that Evelyn and Makayla were going to have to be major factors because of our lack of depth, they were going to have to produce, and they have. 

Tomorrow’s game, again, if you look at any extremely talented, gifted team that we’ve played against, when we’ve had success, Evelyn and Makayla have both shown up big for us. It’s the biggest game of the season because it’s the NCAA Tournament and that’s just the nature of this tournament and how our sport is structured. You get a lot of value placed on wins in this tournament. So it’s a huge game tomorrow. But in a lot of respects, we’ve played a bunch of these and we’ll have to be as close to our best as we can be. That’s the way it goes in March. I just told the team last night, we just have to show up today with a mind on preparation for victory. We don’t play until tomorrow and today really, really matters for us and we’ve got to be sharp and we’re going to have to do everything we can to prepare well for victory. We’ve done a pretty darn good job of that all season long. So I’m looking forward to today, it’s going to be a great day for us.”

On Linnae Harper’s rebounding ability …
“Yeah, the good Lord really gifted her with some amazing rebounding talent and not everybody has that. As a coach, you can set up some rebounding drills and you can teach people how to box out and you can do all of these things, but there are some people who are just gifted. And I don’t know of a coach who has been as blessed as I have to coach some of those people. Victoria Dunlap was just a really gifted rebounder. I’m coaching one now, Evelyn Akhator, who does things that I certainly can’t take credit for. And Linnae would be right up there with those people that I’ve been around and that I’ve had the blessing of coaching to just watch that every day. She would make plays in practice on the boards that nobody, big crowds weren’t there, people weren’t there, but I got to see that every day, and it was fun to watch. It’s not nearly as fun to watch when she’s on the other team because you know what’s coming with her. She can really, really jump, has incredible timing, has great strength, a really quick jumper off the floor. So, it’s unusual to see someone her height be able to do what she can do, but she can really rebound the ball.

Linnae was a great kid here, and I was really sad to see her go, didn’t want her to go. But when she came to me and said she felt like she’d be happier somewhere else, you have to allow people to chase their dreams and to go somewhere where they can find that happiness. And I’m sorry she couldn’t find it here. But it looks like she’s doing great at Ohio State and that’s what you ask for in this profession, you need to do it to try to help people. Hopefully, we helped her some while she was here and I hope she has a great career and I hope she plays really, really bad tomorrow and has, along with her teammates, has no success tomorrow (laughter). She was a lot of fun to coach and I think a lot of her.”

On his concerns about Ohio State …
“Well, they’re just so gifted and so talented and so deep and explosive. They are, when you think about in terms of athleticism, I don’t know how we could have played anybody from top to bottom any more athletic. South Carolina is incredibly athletic, Tennessee is incredibly athletic, Miami was really athletic. We’ve played some really athletic teams and I would say that (Ohio State) are, if not more athletic, they certainly are right there at that level. In some respects, I think they may be the most athletic team. Kelsey Mitchell gets a lot of the credit, as she should, she is tremendously explosive, really hard to stop in transition because she’s just so great handling the ball and can get what we call north and south drives, she doesn’t play laterally, she really plays explosively north and south and it’s hard to level her off. She is incredibly gifted and talented. But I’m telling you, their team has so many weapons, is so difficult to match up with. It’s a huge hill to climb tomorrow. They are a fantastic team, just score a boat load of points. So I think for us, going into the game trying to make sure we don’t have the lapses we had yesterday in hustle because they can just hang so many points on you, they can maybe put you in a hole you can’t get out of. Yesterday, we only got in a one-point hole and we got out of that one. (Ohio State) can really, really score and so I think, for us, the thing that would concern me the most, can we show up with a successful, hustle mentality that has made us the Kentucky team that we all love to watch. When we don’t hustle that way, we’re not very much fun to watch. So, I think that’s the major concern on my mind is, can we find some way as coaches and players to get our mentality where we’re just absolutely going to play our guts out tomorrow and see where that can get us.”

On facing a team you’ve never faced and the 48-hour turnaround …
“Well, it’s a challenge, but you can’t get too worked up about it and that’s why you practice so hard to try to establish an identity. The thing you can’t fall into as a coach is, you can’t try to get your team ready on the chalkboard or the grease board and say ‘hey, we can do this, and this would work and that would work’ and try to kind of win the game from and X and O standpoint because every team is going to have things they do well, every team is going to have places where you can attack them, but at this point in time, what our philosophy has always been and what it will remain, we better do what we do, and we better do it better than what Ohio State does well. It’s who plays their style better tomorrow, is really what these come down to. I don’t think you can change a whole lot at this point in time. So really, the focus, while you try to give your players information on Ohio State, the focus really has to be on, what do we do well and out of that, how can we attack Ohio State. I think it’s only challenging if you look at it from the wrong perspective. It’s now, what’s the quality of your, I think this is 134 for us today, our 134th practice. What’s the quality of those, will it show up tomorrow? And then, it’s two talented teams playing, who plays better tomorrow. I think that’s really where the game is won or lost.”

On the benefits of having a tough first-round game …
“I was thinking that, for the test we have tomorrow, that yesterday was a good day to get everybody where they need to be. To see what will happen if you’re not locked in, tuned in, focused and hustling. I think that was a great, great game to be in. And I tell you, we’ve been a four (seed) three times in the last eight years and those 4 (seed)/13 (seed) games have been really, it’s a significant difference between those and the 2/15 game, or even last year, the 3/14 game. It’s a tougher game. We had a really tough game with Liberty, and then the next year Hampton. I think Belmont would have beaten a lot of people yesterday. That was a tough 13 seed. And sometimes, you catch people like that who maybe were a little better than their seeding. I think they certainly were really, really a tough team yesterday. That happened with us I think in 2012, we caught a Green Bay team that was seeded seven, and they were clearly a top four seed. The tournament deals you those cards sometimes, and you’ve just got to play those cards you’re dealt. So I thought yesterday was a fantastic victory for us and a great, great preparation for the test we meet tomorrow. And it’s a very stern test tomorrow vs. a really, really good Ohio State team.”

On if he appreciated the back and forth nature of yesterday’s game …
“Well, (Belmont head coach Cameron Newbauer) was looking at it a little different than I was. My idea of fun is maybe playing a round of golf or maybe going out and sitting on a beach for a few hours. That was a really challenging game yesterday. But, if you’re a fan, if I don’t have any skin in the game, and I’m just watching the men’s tournament or the women’s tournament and they’re going back and forth, like I heard yesterday Oregon State and Long Beach State was a great game. So as a fan, I might enjoy watching that. Maybe, at some point, I’ll put that game on and enjoy that because it was both teams really answering challenges in the game. I was so impressed with our team. I thought Belmont was fantastic and did some great things, but they really, really stressed and challenged our team. And with the response of our team, that was awesome to watch. It was a great game and we’ll need to play great tomorrow.”

Makayla Epps, Kentucky Guard


On highs and lows of game against Belmont ...
“The first quarter was in our favor so we started out the game playing hard and then the second quarter we got out-hustled and then coming into halftime and realizing that and taking that hit on the chin and just turning it around during the second half. Belmont played really hard and really aggressive. They’re a very tough team and I have a lot of respect for them. It wasn’t easy. I feel like in the past, our first round games were kind of blow-outs and we just cruised through, but that tough game against Belmont early is going to help us in tomorrow’s game against Ohio State because its going to be another tough game and we are going to have to battle. If we come out with a sharper mental focus, keep our composure, and communicate with each other better on defense we’ll be in better shape tomorrow against Ohio State.”

On Epps’ high scoring games towards end of season ...
“I just have a mentality that I don’t want my season to come to an end… ever, if that was possible. I’m going to do whatever I have to do. I’m still looking to be a facilitator, still looking to pass, but if I have an open shot, I feel like I have to take it. I’m just trying to score and if I have to score 30 points for us to win and advance then that’s what I’ll do. But if I don’t score a basket and I have to go get 10 rebounds then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just do everything I can to make sure Kentucky gets the win at the end of the day.”

On the hardest things about defending Linnae Harper ...
“She’s a great rebounder so when she’s on the floor you have to really focus on boxing her out. She’s 5-foot-8 but she reaches for rebounds grabing with one hand or two hands and that something she did a lot here at Kentucky. She got a bunch of big rebounds for us at times and she does that for Ohio State too so we just have to focus on boxing her out.”

On Kelsey Mitchell’s game ...
“I played against her once either my senior or junior year of high school during the AAU season. She’s a very high-volume player, very high-volume scorer and shooter. She looks to score. Her average is over 20 points per game so you have to respect her for that and just know that she’s going to attack the basket. She’s never met a shot that she didn’t like so we know that she’s going to put them in the air tomorrow so we just have to be ready to guard her and make every shot hard for her.”

On her relationship with Linnae Harper ...
“I was very close to Linnae when she was here. We were roommates for a year and she’s kind of like one of my best friends. Whenever the bracket was announced and Ohio State and Western Kentucky were playing in the first round in the Lexington region my phone buzzed immediately with Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and Linnae both sending me messages just excited to be back in Lexington and excited to see each other. It’s all good fun outside the lines but in the lines she knows that I’m going to battle and I know that she’s going to battle.”

Maci Morris, Kentucky Guard


On her fist impressions of Ohio State ...
“I got to watch part of the second half and I feel like we can just contain our dribble drives that we’ll be well off. They bring a lot of energy, but I feel like we can take advantage of some of the things that they don’t do.”

On guarding the opposing team’s best guards ...
“I’m just going to focus on making every shot hard for Kelsey Mitchell. I know she’s going to look to score so I’m just going to try to play the best defense I can and make every shot tough and make sure that she doesn’t get a second shot opportunity if she does miss her first shot.”

PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Ohio State


Kevin McGuff, Ohio State Head Coach


On what is most challenging about Kentucky…
“They’ve got a great team. They have a lot of big wins this year. They’ve beaten some terrific teams. They’ve got two of the best players in the country. They’re one of the best offensive transition teams that I’ve seen on film this year, so it’s going to be a real challenge for us tomorrow. 

And besides the two great players, they have a bunch of other people who, it seems like on film, really understand their roles. They play really well as a team and it seems like their chemistry is really good. I think Matthew and his staff have done a great job with the team this year because they don’t have a lot of depth, but they’ve really managed the season and game-to-game they’ve managed it really well. I’m very impressed with them and I know we’re going to have a tough challenge.”

On playing in a tough environment against Kentucky …
“It will be a great environment here tomorrow. The Kentucky fans are outstanding and I know they’ll come out and support. We’ll have to certainly battle those elements. But we’ve been in those situations before. I’m kind of thankful that we’ll be in an environment that will be as good as it will be.”

On potentially returning to Lexington for the Sweet 16 next week …
“You know what, we won’t even think about it too much. I don’t even know when those would be or anything like that. We’ve obviously, it’s such a quick turnaround from yesterday then playing to tomorrow. All we’ve done is focus on Kentucky and what we think our best preparation will be for that game. That’s pretty much as far as we’ve allowed ourselves to think.”

On if he has experienced with transfer players facing their former teams …
“Not really, no. I can’t remember a time when that has happened, actually.”

On advice he is giving Linnae Harper, who is returning to face her former team …
“I think the biggest thing is, Linnae is a team-first player, that’s the first thing for sure. She’s a great kid and her biggest thing is that we hopefully can have success tomorrow. So I know that’s where her focus is. But, it’s hard. It would be naïve to say there’s not going to be some emotion attached to it for her, coming back to a place that she formerly was. I’ll talk to her before that, but just to say ‘hey, play your game’. She’s going to play hard because she always does and she’s going to impact the game in positive ways for us like she always does. But to stay within herself, stay within the system and allow her talent and effort to kind of carry the day for her.”

On facing a team that is unfamiliar with only 48 hours of preparation …
“It’s hard. You have a quick turnaround, it’s obviously the same for both of us. I think what it comes down to is that we kind of have to be the best version of ourselves and really focus to make sure we’re doing the things that make us special. If we had a week to prepare for them, maybe we’d do some different things, but there won’t be a lot that we do differently because it’s such a quick turnaround.”

On Linnae’s importance to the team …
“Depth has been important, she’s a big part of that. She’s a unique player, too, because for 5-8 she is the best rebounding perimeter player I’ve ever seen in my life, so she brings a unique skillset. She plays so hard, too. She affects the game with hustle plays and effort. So she’s been really important to us. And will hopefully continue to be important as we move forward.”

On problems that Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator create …
“Epps is playing great. She’s playing fantastic basketball right now. The thing I really love about her, she really manages the game for Kentucky. She kind of has a knack where she knows when to speed it up, she knows when to slow it down, she makes sure everyone is in the right position. She’s displaying great leadership, so she’s playing really, really well right now. We’re not going to stop her, but we hopefully can slow her down a little bit and not let her go crazy. I’ve been really, really impressed with her.

Evelyn is so athletic and she plays so hard. She affects the game with her rebounding, her ability to score. She’s a really, really hard matchup.

I like the players they have around them, too. Maci Morris has had a great season. (Taylor) Murray seems to know what her role is and really fulfills it. Alyssa Rice plays really hard and gets a lot of tough rebounds. They’ve got a good team, they’ve got a really good team. Everybody seems to know what their role is, their chemistry looks like it’s great. They’ve played really good basketball lately.”

On Tori McCoy and her development this season …
“I’m really proud of Tori because we needed her to step her game up when Steph (Mayunga) went down and she’s done a great job. She’s played hard, she’s had a great presence around the basket both offensively and defensively, and that’s not easy. We were playing in really tough environments, tough games and for a freshman to step up like that has been great.”

On rebounding over the last seven games …
“To lose your top rebounder and to still not get hurt that badly, I think Shayla Cooper was really good on the boards yesterday, she’s stepped up a little bit, too. So, you’re not going to compensate for Steph with one person, but collectively, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

On Shayla Cooper’s presence in the locker room …
“She’s been great. She has a sense of urgency that you would expect out of a senior playing in the NCAA Tournament. The thing that I’m really happy with her is that she has been doing a great job communicating with her teammates. Making sure everybody is on the same page, making sure people are focused and ready to go. She knows how important this stuff is and how important practice and preparation is, so she’s been really vocal in those areas, making sure people are getting prepared the right way.”

On Steph Mayunga’s status for Sunday …
“Yeah, she’ll be a game-time decision. It’s the same thing, she’s made a lot of progress, it’s really close and so we’ll see how she does today and how she feels tomorrow.”

Linnae Harper, Ohio State Guard


On her emotions being back in Lexington ...
“There’s definitely a lot of emotions, but it’s good to be here and we’re just getting ready for the second game of the tournament. So, it’s a good feeling.”

On being back in Memorial in a game setting ...
“We have a week off between Big Ten and NCAA play so it’s a good feeling just to be back on the court and competing at the next tournament. There was a little nervousness, but it was okay.”

On playing Kentucky ...
“It does change the dynamic. Yesterday, we had a good game against Western Kentucky, but I think it will still be a little different playing Kentucky.”

On providing information on how to play UK ...
“We have a great coaching staff and I’m sure the scout the provided us with will be helpful, but Kentucky has a great team so I know tomorrow will be a great game and definitely a battle.”

On texts with former teammates ...
“It definitely was friendly, we kept using the word ‘reunion.’  It was good to see them yesterday and we’re still texting, even last night, but it was definitely good conversation.”

On seeing written scouting reports ...
“It’s strange to see. Especially once being on the opposite end, it’s different but at the end of the day it’s just business and we have to just focus as a team and just listen to what our coaches are telling us for the game plan and just try to execute as much as possible.”

On guarding former teammates ...
“I think it will be a little different, but once the game starts and we’re in between those court lines it’s business.”

On transition as a transfer ...
“It’s a little harder going from one program to another but I’m just grateful that I have teammates like Kelsey to help the transfers and get us acclimated to how they play, the system, and overall at Ohio State. So the transition was pretty good.”

Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State Guard


On takeaways from Epps’ game ...
“I played Epps when I was in high school. She’s a really fantastic player, I think she does a great job with everything she does. She’s a very versatile player so congratulations to her on everything that she has accomplished.”

On how opening challenges help prepare for upcoming games ...
“We take what we can get. We came from the Big Ten tournament, took a couple of days off and had to regroup and get ourselves together. So everything’s going to be different but we’ll stay to the game play and stay to what coach has planned for us and just let everything take care of itself. There are going to be ups, downs, highs, and lows, so we’re just going to take everything in and try to be a successful as possible and stay poised.”

On confidence in shooting ...
“I think that any player that plays basketball or any player that plays a sport in general – once you see something go in and once you see a couple shots fall, it’s always good for anybody. But on the flip side of things, it was also good for our teammates to come in and do great things for us. Like I said before, we’re going to let everything take care of itself and hopefully everything can fall into place like we want to and if not, we still go with the game plan and stay confident in what we have going on.”

On turning the page from half to half ...
“I definitely think that I have matured in that area. There used to be times where I would get down on myself and cry and be emotional. I had a teammate, Lisa Blare, she played at Kansas this past year who told me that thing aren’t going to go as well as I want them every game and that just comes with who you are being a basketball player. So I’ve learned to turn the page over time and forget about the previous play and stay focus.”

On having veterans on the team ...
“It’s fantastic. We have players that been in positions like this and have experienced games like this and have been able to be a part of big programs which is always fantastic. So we take Linnae and we utilize her. I think she’s very important to everything we do and I know what shes capable of doing and I think she knows what our team is capable of doing and we believe in her. So we’re going to make sure that she has a good day tomorrow.”