Kentucky-Oklahoma Postgame Quotes

2016 NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Second Round • Oklahoma vs. Kentucky
Memorial Coliseum • Lexington, Ky.
Monday, March 21


POSTGAME QUOTES – Kentucky


Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky Head Coach:


On the change in the game when Makayla Epps went out with a shoulder injury…
“Initially, I didn’t know.  The team did an incredible job.  We had Alyssa (Rice), Alexis (Jennings) and Evelyn (Akhator) out there.  We had three bigs out there, and Alyssa Rice was out there.  And they were switching out and I was really trying to stay in the game because it didn’t look good.  But I was so impressed.  It really made up for it; I think everybody started to feel better and that was a big moment for the game where they just sort of stated the ship there for a bit.  And then, when Epps came back the first time, you’re right, it looked like she was playing with one arm.  And I was trying to get her out.  I didn’t think it looked safe.  It didn’t look good to me.  Doctors know more than I do, but I just asked her, ‘If you can’t go and we can’t make it out there, I don’t want you to get hurt.’  What you saw, when she was hurt, she made a 3.  So it was functional; it was just very painful.  And I just didn’t want her to hurt herself further.  But man, she really gutted it out.  But I thought her teammates did a really good job.  You think about just from the technical standpoint and how difficult that would be to replace her, but the emotional hit you take with something like that.  And let me tell you something, this team loves one another.  It is a beautiful thing to be coaching this team right now, because these are great kids that really, really have come together and they are a true team.  And we talk about that all the time from the standpoint of ‘go make a play for your team,’ because not only is it good for you, your team cares so much about you. We really get excited when someone else does something great.  I mean we really get excited and I love that, but on the flip side, when one of them is hurt it’s difficult too.  So I thought we really kept our poise, and that was something I was proud of.  And I’m really proud of Makayla.  I think she’ll be pretty sore tomorrow, but we’ll shut her down tomorrow and let her take as much time as she needs and get her ready for Friday.”
 
On if there was any diagnosis on Epps’ injury…
“In the heat of the game, it was just more, ‘Can she go?  Is she okay?’ So I’m sorry I don’t have that information; we’ll get it to you.  It had to be something like, it was not a dislocation or anything, which would have kept her out of the game, which is extremely painful and there’s no way she could sit.  It must have been some type of blunt force trauma, a stinger or something. I don’t know, a strain or something like that.  But Dr. Hosey (?) was on the bench with us, and they went back in the tunnel a couple times.  So we’ll have a full report for you tomorrow.”
 
On who he has been targeting to step up and score so it isn’t always Epps…
“Well, I think what makes us successful at this point in time is we have a few weapons, and we’re playing well together.  I thought that we really shared the ball.  I thought that we had a lot of possessions where Oklahoma put a tremendous amount of pressure on us with some traps and some disruption, and we were tough enough to just get a layup at the end.  And so really, we have worked hard on our offense.  We’ve worked hard on our individual skills.  We’re not a real overly deep team like some teams in the past where we could play 10 or 12 people.  But the folks that we have, we don’t really have anyone on the team that can’t go in and give you something.  So it’s a balanced team.   Like I said a little bit earlier, we are a true team.  We play for each other.  They’re not overly concerned about who gets the credit. They just want each other to be successful.  And it’s a really fun, beautiful thing to be a part of right now.  

On the Epps trying to find an offensive flow and how the team picked up for her …
“I thought Maci gave us a lift early when she made her first four 3s. She was lighting it up in warmups. I told her I didn’t know that she missed a shot in warmups. You never know how it’s going to go in a game but man, she really did a good job there. I thought our bigs did an okay job getting to the line we just couldn’t finish around the basket. I thought No. 0 and No. 42, their size bothered us and we got a little big passive so when we called that timeout on the side, I was very upset. The only thing I’m going to get upset about with this team is when they don’t hustle or play tough. We were falling away and we looked scared and the momentum had shifted. It’s the first time I’ve really got on them in a long time and they came right out and Evelyn was strong, missed the shot but Alexis got the rebound and put back in. That really changed the momentum. Taylor Murray came down and made a tough play, Janee Thompson got tough so I think it’s more that this team has to keep a great attitude and they have to play their guts out and when we do that we have a chance. When we don’t, you see what Oklahoma did. They came right back on us. They were on our heels, we were not the aggressor. They really gave us some problems. I tell our team this all the team, it’s feast or famine. There’s no in-between for us. We can’t hope it goes well, we have to make it happen and that’s with toughness and a great attitude.”

On the Janee Thompson because a calming force in the second half and UK’s defense in the fourth quarter …
“Janee took a couple of shots in the first half that were unsettled and she hasn’t been doing that. You must appreciate the enormity of the situation for these kids. We’re all watching 1,000 games and the men’s and women’s tournaments are going on and someone throws in a shot from half court and you’re like ‘oh, that’s neat, that’s cool.’ You’re kind of numb to it all. But, this is this kid’s career on the line. We’ve got a shot to go to Rupp Arena so, I was hoping all day that I could do something to settle her down and make sure she was confident that it was good enough for her to just to hustle. I’m just so proud, there were a few ill-advised shots, but she really was calm at halftime. When Makayla when out she was just terrific. I thought the start of the fourth quarter was amazing because we had just got done talking about being tough and we turned a two-point lead into a 10-point lead and then she comes out and goes to the line just on toughness plays three straight times and made them all. That was a really steadying factor in the game for us. It gave us a lift and a lot of confidence.

“Our defense we’ve really been fighting to get better at that. The team’s put in a lot of work. Six weeks ago we did not approach being a good defensive team, in fact; we were a bad defensive team with no identity. They’ve done defensive drills outside of practice. They just fought for this improvement. I thought we were really tough tonight. I thought we made it tough on Oklahoma at times to score and then I thought our tenacity and our pace had an influence in the fourth quarter. They were not beating us off the dribble and having to shoot jump shots. The defense continues to get better and that’s what I said yesterday. I was hoping we could win tonight because now I’m excited we have three more practices before Friday night. I’m telling you, I think our team’s getting better. We are improving and these kids are still excited to play. It’s a real, real blessing to be involved with a group of young people like this. They are fun to coach and we’re having some fun right now.”

On Oklahoma’s bigs getting frustrated…
“Oklahoma does a good job of scoring in transition and they also do a good job if you let them throw it into the post and you don’t disrupt them, it’s a problem. Those two kids are very good players and we have a lot of respect for them. If they get two feet in the paint, it’s over. Our players really had to battle tonight and try to establish early position and be tough. I’m really proud of them.”

Janee Thompson, Kentucky Point Guard:


On putting the team on her back after having a poor start…
“It really set in for me that I needed to step up when Makayla got hurt because she looked like she was hurting pretty bad and I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to come back. She’s one of the best scorers in the country and we were struggling to score so I tried to just attack and make sure we locked in on defense because if we couldn’t score, I knew that we could stop them and make sure that they couldn’t score.”

On what Makayla coming into the game while injured meant to the team….
“It shows the kind of heart and tenacity she has. We all care about each other a lot and it had to be real serious for her to not come back. She cares about her teammates.”

On the defensive performance in the fourth quarter…
“We started leveling off some drives and we were yelling at our post players because they were making some mistakes. But we’re going to make mistakes. I think overall we locked in and chased their shooters off the line and then we finished the play with a rebound majority of the time. And then we were able to get in transition. If we play defense like that and continue to get better, we’re hard to beat.”

On playing her final game at Memorial Coliseum with this win and getting her 1,000th point…
“It felt good. Coming into the game we were excited to play. I’m always excited to here with these fans because they love us so much and they always come out and support us. And I will continue to say that we have the best fans in the country. They were a big help today and it’s hard for opponents to play against a crowd like that. It was a lot of fun and it means a lot for me to be able to come out here and get a win. 

Maci Morris, Kentucky Guard


On what Makayla coming into the game while injured meant to the team….
“We knew we had to step up when she got hurt but Epps is a county kid; I know she’s tough. So she got back out there and she did what she had to do.”

On making shots early and doing the “arrow” gesture…
“The team realizes that we need to shoot and score and they tell me that if I’m open on the three-point line to be ready to shoot and knock down shots. And I’m just glad I was able to do that for them. Jamal (Murray ) obviously start that (gesture).  I think it’s okay for us to carry it over.” 

On needing to make shots when left open due to attention on Epps and the frustration of picking up early fouls…
“I noticed that the defense was going towards Makayla and I just tried to find that open spot and be ready to shoot. And my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball. I still have to work on my fouling. Coach gets on to me all of the time for it. But I’m just going to try to work every day in practice and just keep on trying to improve with that. ”

POSTGAME QUOTES – Oklahoma


Sherri Coale, Oklahoma Head Coach:


“I first want to thank the people of Lexington. Everybody here has been so terrific. Friendly folks and so hospitable and genuinely excited about women’s basketball NCAA Tournament. That’s been great so thank you for your hospitality. Kentucky just played better than we did tonight. They did, they just played better. I told our guys before the game if you have the most possessions you’ll probably win. That was a lie. We got 66 shots up and they got 58 and we lost by double-digits. We didn’t defend and we didn’t handle physicality the way we should have. We didn’t take physicality back at them and that’s sort of been an achilles heel for us this season. But I’m proud of our kids. I have a tremendous group of student-athletes that I wouldn’t trade for anybody on the planet. They work hard. They’re committed, and they’re united, and they’re earnest in what they do. It’s an absolute joy to coach them. I’m just sorry that the journey’s over because I think we had some becoming yet to do.”

On Kaylon Williams …
“Kay Kay’s growth has been phenomenal. She’s been with us for five years. She spent a season redshirted with a torn Achilles, which is an injury that a lot of athletes don’t return from period. Especially not post players. And so I have long admired her perseverance and her desire to compete at the highest level. Just coming back from that injury was something in and of itself, but to come back and play the way that she has. She’s just been terrific. I don’t know that, well no one here, would know about her growth as an individual. I could talk about what she’s done and how her numbers on the basketball court have improved every year. I could talk about how great her post moves are and even what a great vocal leader she is in practice and in the locker room. But that’s not even the most important stuff. The important stuff is Kay Kay Williams has learned how to be a winner. She’s learned how to affect people. She’s learned how to use her platform as a way to make people in the world around her better. She understands how to sacrifice. She understands what commitment is. She’s grown in so many ways. I could talk about her and how I feel about her for hours. She’s just a special kid, and she’s given her heart and soul to Oklahoma basketball. I will forever be grateful to her for that.“

On the game plan against Makayla Epps …
“Well the game plan wasn’t to give her 14 free throws, I can guarantee you that. That was a big problem. Never in a million years would I have thought they would have 29 points from the free-throw line. That’s crazy. I thought the point guard (Janee) Thompson was really key. I thought she really looked like a senior running her team. Third quarter we cut it to two. We’re doing everything right and she makes a couple of big shots and is just calm – her presence. It’s was just obvious that she was running the show there. But we had trouble scoring inside on their bigs, too. The defense they did on us at the block: we didn’t really have an answer for that. It was a collective effort. I thought Kentucky pulled together there late in the third quarter and got the fans behind them. That’s why you’ve got to play better during the year. You’ve got to play better during the year so you can play on your home floor in women’s basketball. They earned that right. They played better than we did and got to have it here. So they got all the fans pulling behind them and helping them. That’s what we have to do in the future.”

On what effect Oklahoma’s foul trouble had …
“Foul trouble kept us out of any sort of rotation all night long. It kept us from running things we wanted to run offensively. It kept us from doing the things defensively that we wanted to strategically. It affected us from the first quarter. We never were able to substitute for purpose. We were always forced to substitute out of necessity, and it was tough to recover from. Maddie (Manning) got a charge called on her, and then every time we went in to shoot a layup we’re jumping sideways afraid that we’re going to get another foul so it effects your shooting percentage. There’s not an element of the game that wasn’t affected by it.”

On looking ahead to next season …
“I appreciate that question. I always find it hard to answer because you’re just sitting on the broken pieces of kids right now. They’re just so disappointed. They’ll get back to work, and we’ll talk about it real soon, but right now my job is just to help them get through the disappointment.”

On if she’s ever been in a game where a team shot so many free throws …
“Yes, in the Virgin Islands (during the 2014-15 season) against Kentucky. I think they, literally, I think they shot 50, and tonight they shot 38. I don’t know that I’ve ever, I mean I’m sure it’s happened – you guys are the numbers people, 38 free throws in a NCAA Tournament game is a lot.”

On if there’s something about Kentucky that allowed them to get to the free-throw line so much both this year and last year …
“The teams are different. It just so happens that that’s the other high-fouling game that comes to my mind. We’ve been so much better this year in our discipline of not fouling. It was really a focus for us in the offseason so it’s a little bit of a surprise that we’d do this on this stage, but I don’t know that there’s any Déjà vu involved.”

Gioya Carter, Oklahoma Guard


On what made the difference in the game during UK’s late third quarter run … 
“I think for Kentucky’s run, we made a run and we had some miscommunications on defense and that really got them going and got the crowd into it and that just spiraled from there.”

On the physicality of Kentucky … 
“They were relentless on the boards offense and defense. They weren’t letting us get clear lanes to the basket. They were just very physical all the way around.”

On the meaning of senior Kaylon Williams … 
“It’s been an honor to play with her. She is a great teammate, my roommate, my sister, and I’m going to miss her.”

On what this team can do next year with so many returning players … 
“Every year is different, but we have things to work on like getting tougher. Being consistent is our big thing that we need to work on.”

Peyton Little, Oklahoma Guard


On the physicality of Kentucky … 
“They are just a physical team. Like coach said, it has been a downfall of ours all season. We’ll have to work on that for the next coming season.”

On the meaning of senior Kaylon Williams … 
“She has meant a lot to our team and she has been a pleasure to play with. She is so much more of a better person than she is a basketball player and she’s a great basketball player. It’s been a pleasure to play with her and she’s going to do great things with her the rest of her life.”

On what their gameplan was to slow down Kentucky’s Makayla Epps … 
“We just tried to make her go left and stop her in transition. That was our main focus. I think we did a good job with that.”

On what this team can do next year with so many returning players … 
 “Anytime you have a lot of the same people coming back, that’s something that you can build on. Every team is a new team no matter if you lose one or if you lose five. We’ll just have to get back to work.”