Kentucky-Washington Postgame Quotes
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Kentucky women's basketball team. We're joined by head coach Matthew Mitchell and student-athletes Janee Thompson and Makayla Epps. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH MITCHELL: Well, what a great game tonight for the University of Washington. Just congratulate them. They were outstanding. They were prepared and they played hard, and they made tough shots and big shots and really, really impressed with their performance tonight. So we congratulate them and wish them well as they move forward.
Disappointing night for us. We would have loved to have done better. We had some opportunities in the game, and so you just don't ever want it to end. You want to win the last game, and that was our goal with this team.
But I just have to tell you, this was one of the greatest experiences of my coaching career, working with this group of young women who really became a team. High-character people, came to practice every day and improved, and where we started on October 1st to what we've finished up tonight, the disappointment of this one game just cannot diminish how proud I am of our team. February 3rd we could have gone a lot of different directions and we chose a path to be standing in the Sweet 16. We would love to have advanced further, but it doesn't take away of how proud I am of our players. Really proud of Janee Thompson and the person she's developed into and the leader she's developed into for our team. Really proud of the progress Makayla Epps made as a person, so I'm proud to be up on the podium with both of them tonight. And we are disappointed, but we are proud of our season.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our student-athletes.
Q. Makayla, you got the lead down to about four or five at halftime from 13 or 15, and then it seemed Washington kind of stretched it out again there early in the third. What happened that you weren't able to build on that momentum early in the third quarter and continue that come back?
MAKAYLA EPPS: Like Coach said, you've got to give a lot of credit to Washington. They came out and played really hard tonight. A very well-coached team. Got a lot of respect for them and all their players. It's just like Coach said yesterday in the press conference: The tougher team would win. And Washington had moments where they out-toughed us. I just hope we can look ourselves in the mirror and just learn from it. We've got a lot of people coming back -- very young team. Got a lot of people coming back. Sad to lose my partner here, Janee Thompson, but we've got a lot of people coming back and we can watch this and learn from it.
Q. Janee, with this being your senior season, what can you say about this team and this season and what it meant for you to be a Hoop Cat?
JANEE THOMPSON: It's meant a lot to me seeing these girls grow and get better every day. It's been very fun. I've become really close with this team and they're like my family. They're like my sisters. I'm really proud of how far we've come and how much better we've gotten. I wouldn't rather be out here with anybody else. It's been a fun ride.
Q. Janee, it seems like it was a really physical battle out there, and Makayla talked about toughness, Coach talked about toughness. Describe how tough it was to be out there in the action on the floor?
JANEE THOMPSON: Well, that's the type of environment this tournament brings. You've got to be tough. People are playing their hardest, because they know if they lose, they're going home. Unfortunately we came up short today, but like Makayla and Coach said, you've got to give Washington credit. They played really hard. They wanted to win, and they just made a few more plays than we did, and they made some really tough plays. We're sad to lose, but we've got to give Washington credit.
Q. Can you talk about how tough and how much effort you put into this game? Obviously, the whole team, but throughout the injury, putting up the numbers that you did and trying to will your team through to the Elite Eight?
MAKAYLA EPPS: When I got out there I didn't think about my shoulder. I couldn't get that in the back of my head because that would be like a weak spot for me and a weak spot for Washington, and they'd see me stretching over my shoulder. So when the ball went up in the air, all I was worried about if I had to play the game through injury, I was going to do that for my team. I came back and faced Oklahoma for my team. Everything I did tonight was for my team.
At the end of the day it's not how many numbers I put up. As long as Kentucky's winning, I'm happy about that, and tonight that just didn't happen for us.
Q. Janee, tell us about your knee and what is the prognosis.
JANEE THOMPSON: My knee's OK. It's a little sore right now. It just bent back kind of funny when she hit me on the screen because I didn't see her. But I had a lot of adrenaline going at the time. I realized that it could be my last game, so I wasn't going to sit out no matter what.
Q. Janee and Makayla, you guys seem to do defensively a nice job on Kelsey Plum. Can you talk about No. 3 (Talia Walton) and No. 0 (Chantel Osahor)? Seemed to have big nights tonight, and maybe where that break down happened defensively?
JANEE THOMPSON: They're two really good players, really skilled, really talented. A lot of the focus initially was on Kelsey, but they really stepped up for their team and made plays every time Washington needed something. It seemed like it was zero or No. 3, and they wanted it. So you've got to give them credit for using the gifts that God gave them.
Q. Coach alluded to how far you've come as a person this year. As you reflect back on it, could you talk about that and the progress that you've made?
MAKAYLA EPPS: Yes, a lot of that credit goes to Coach Mitchell. He came in here over the summer and we worked together as a team, as a duo. He sat me down and we just talked about life and then a bunch of like growing, building activities, stuff that I really just needed to grow and mature, not just as a player, but as a person too.
So a lot of credit for my progress goes to him. Just me buckling down and looking at myself in the mirror and
taking the steps to make the changes necessary for me to become the person I am now.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Mitchell.
Q. Talk about the toughness of those two girls that just left here, Janee and Makayla, how tough they were to step out there and play through the adversity of injury.
COACH MITCHELL: Yeah, they really both have had a fantastic year in so many ways. The first place where they showed toughness was having toughness to develop their character and develop as people. It's what's made the year so enjoyable is that they had a high-character group this year that really showed up every day and did their best.
If they didn't, they would take direction and try to do better the next day. So they've both had a great year, and we wouldn't have been playing tonight if it hadn't been for their progress as people and leaders, so proud of both of them.
Q. I think Dayton shot like 60 percent in the second half last year and Washington was right there tonight. How much of that is better in execution? Is that when you decided to change the personality of your program kind of what you'd liked to work for?
COACH MITCHELL: Sure, I'd love to shoot 60 percent a half in every half, that would be great. We'd work toward that. But I think we got in the game tonight where those kids just locked in and made some plays. Then we just kept getting the ball at the rim time after time after time. I don't have a stat sheet here, but I think it was something like 13 more shots. I mean, we got a ton more shots.
We just kept working and battling, and the ball just would not go through the hoop for us so many times. So I thought Walton, that baseline back-down and fall- away jumper, those were tough shots. The ones I was disappointed in were just we were uncharacteristically out of position defensively tonight and they took advantage of it and put their head down and drove the ball. Then Osahor was 4 for 8 from the 3, and that's a great job by her. She just had a monster night too. She was so tough defensively.
But it was an impressive performance by the end. You have to really credit them for shooting the ball well and putting the ball in the basket, and that's what you have to do this time of the year.
Q. I think Washington in a lot of people's eyes kind of walked into this game somewhat of a Cinderella team. They had a big game against Maryland. But after watching them against Maryland and watching them today against you, what do you think this team's capable of?
COACH MITCHELL: They're definitely capable of going to the Final Four if they played the way they did tonight. They were just hitting on all cylinders. We ended up being a team that was defensively we needed to work real hard on one defense, and we couldn't really mix it up a whole lot on them. Our defense just wasn't there tonight, and it's sad for it to end that way.
I wish we'd have played better on defense. Give Washington a lot of credit; we just did not get into position to stop them. They got so many layups tonight where we've just been working and working on our defensive rotations, and they just weren't there tonight. So I think that if they shoot the ball the way they do and they've got three really big-time scorers, at least they did tonight, they can go a long way.
Q. Tonight's game was incredibly physical. Did you foresee that?
COACH MITCHELL: Sure. One thing we knew about Washington was how tough they were. They were really rough against Maryland. You know, it was physical tonight. We got the ball at the rim just countless times, and we needed to turn around there and make a two- or three-footer with somebody standing between us and the basket. But we were able to elevate up and they only blocked four shots. It wasn't like they were blocking shots. They were playing behind us. We were throwing the ball three feet from the basket and we just could not turn around and put the ball in the basket tonight.
So it was -- there were some physical moments in the game that we just could not get the ball in. Then we just did not play good enough defense to stop them. They were really, really tough tonight.
I just want to say we had a great crowd tonight. I really appreciate all the people in Lexington showing up. Washington is a team that certainly deserves people coming out Sunday and watching them play. Whoever wins that one out there now is going to be a great team. It's going to be a great game Sunday, and I would really be appreciative if we could show up as a community and support the game on Sunday and watch a really fine team, whoever advances to the Final Four will be deserving.
Appreciate all the hard work everybody in the community did to come out tonight and support us. We're deeply appreciative for that and hope we have a great day on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Washington women's basketball team. We're joined at the podium by head coach Mike Neighbors, Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton and Chantel Osahor.
COACH NEIGHBORS: Tremendous environment for an Elite Eight game. Our kids, when we walked into shootarounds the other day, all were taking pictures of the facilities, and a place like UK that has such a tradition-rich basketball environment. Our kids have been resilient whether we're playing on the road or a neutral floor all year long. Our folks were very good against a talented team. I thought our group today was about as good as we've played, and I think we're peaking at the right time.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our student-athletes.
Q. Obviously you three have kind of been the leaders all season for this team. But when all three of you are on the way you were, how dangerous a team are you? It seems all three of you have had it going?
TALIA WALTON: Yeah, we're extremely dangerous. We feed off one another. I hit a 3. Chantel hits a 3. Kelsey comes down and hits a 3. It flows. When we are like that, like you said, it's hard to guard us and play against us. So we just try to stay in attack mode and keep each other going.
Q. Kelsey, obviously nothing different for you in the first half in terms of the attention you were getting on defense. But how important was it to find your teammates, find them open and get them going in the first half?
KELSEY PLUM: That was huge. That was going to be the game. So any time we did kick up or a run through they would double. Sometimes I didn't even look. I just threw it. Chantel, man, she was knocking those down. T was knocking those down. It makes my job so much easier. I think I was able to kind of just open up everything. Kelli Kingma hit a big 3. Chantel got doubled. Lex hit some big shots. It was just a complete team effort. The way we moved the ball tonight I think was really special.
Q. Chantel, y'all won at Maryland. You win in front of a hostile crowd here. How do you avoid getting intimidated or bothered when you're playing in front of these hostile crowds in these types of environments?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: My motto this year has been one. We just stick together as one. Always telling each other stay together through the ups and downs. There's going to be runs. There's going to be tough times during the game. If we just stick together regardless it will be OK, and that's what we did.
Q. Obviously you guys were excited to win this game and happy about it. But there was no epic celebration after that. It kind of seemed like, "Alright, next step. We can do this." Can you talk about your reaction to this win and your expectations going forward?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: I'm pretty sure everyone had the other team that's playing us winning every game besides this. We know how good we are. We have a chip on our shoulder, and we just know if we go play our game that the results will take care of itself. That's what we've been doing. That's what we're going to keep doing, and one game at a time. Now on to the Elite Eight.
TALIA WALTON: I also think for the Maryland game we celebrated a lot. Not that it wasn't classy, but at the end of the game you've got to shake people's hands. So I think for this game we kind of were like, okay, when the clock buzzes, everyone celebrate after. But we've got to shake everyone's hands because Kentucky played a great game and we we're grateful to be able to play in a Hall of Fame-type arena. So I think we were trying to be classy.
Q. Oftentimes winning comes down to who has the most rebounds. Rebounding margin was pretty slim in terms of who got the most. Talk about the battle of the boards and how tenacious and tough it was to get your rebounds?
KELSEY PLUM: When you have somebody like Chantel on your team, all we really think about is get a stop. Not saying put all the weight of the rebound on her shoulder. But we know if there is a miss, she's going to get it. If she doesn't, the rest of us will go down and help her. But I've never seen somebody with her height playing against the people we play against that are much taller or even stronger than her, she's just so tenacious on the boards, so a lot of credit goes to her, and we try to help her out so she doesn't have to do it on her own.
TALIA WALTON: I think people don't realize her tracking and her hands are phenomenal. If it touches her hands, it's a magnet. She's going to get that ball. So credit to her. She has absolutely amazing ability to go up and get the ball, which a lot of people don't have.
COACH NEIGHBORS: I hate to hijack the question, tut there were 34 missed shots and she had half the rebounds. Half. Seventeen defensive. There were 34 missed shots, and she got every other one. They were all tough.
Q. Has it sunk in that you're a win away from the Final Four, someplace the school has never been? Has it sunk in?
TALIA WALTON: I just think we're going to take it one game at a time. We've had a motto throughout the tournament: What is next? What is next is the next game that we're going to play on Sunday. Whoever we play, whether that's Stanford or Notre Dame, our coaches are going to have a great game plan. We're going to be ready and go out and gun sling like we always do. We're just taking it one game at a time.
Q. How good was Talia tonight in that first half when they were giving all the attention to Kelsey Plum?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I've only seen her better one time, and it was in a practice gym upstairs in the middle of summer, and she was probably 16 of 18 on the 3- pointers. We call it "Talia zone." Me and Coach (Fred) Castro said, "This is Talia zone here." When she started hitting those Carmelo fadeaways on the block, I always look to Coach Castro a lot of times when I get stuck for a play, nine times in a row it's something for Talia. So it's like oh, keep going.
I thought he called n good offensive game tonight. I thought we did a good job playing off the play before Davis. I thought we were counter punching a lot tonight. We scored on a couple of in-bounds plays. It
seemed every time we came out of the timeout we scored on actions. This group is really, really good at executing that. I would hate to try to have to guard us, because I think when we get going like that, you get so spread out. Then, Lex (Alexus Atchley), we had three for four from our kids from the bench from 3, and that's got to be pretty demoralizing.
Q. I was going to ask you about the shot at the end of the third quarter there. Obviously just a heave at that point. But it's got to feel good going into the fourth quarter with something like that?
TALIA WALTON: Yeah, it was good.
COACH NEIGHBORS: I don't think it was a heave. She shoots that a lot.
TALIA WALTON: She shot that with confidence.
KELSEY PLUM: Yeah.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Neighbors.
Q. What's the journey been for Talia?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, well, Kelsey never, I don't think, took anybody's team or role. She's been a great teammate along the way. But Talia came to UW at a time when they were winning eight games a year, nine games a year. They went through a coaching change and a second coaching change, and what I've said about her through every step of the way is in today's society and today's NCAA climate, most kids don't even stay under those circumstances. They change their commitment, they change their mind, they look around and look for greener pastures.
Talia didn't only stay, she kept improving and improving her body, working at it. She's become a great student. Everybody on campus can vouch for the village that has raised her. Everybody on our campus has touched that kid's life. She said it the other night when we were having a celebration. She said, "Reach one, teach one."
And that's kind of who she's been. She's been a great leader for us. So tremendous. Team captain for three years, and for her to do it on a big stage, I just couldn't be more happy for her.
Q. Three players scored three-quarters of your points this season. How much have they meant to you?
COACH NEIGHBORS: It puts a lot of pressure on them, and I'm not unaware of that. They can't get in foul trouble. Chantel got her second foul, she looked over, said, "I'm fine." Kelsey got her third. She said she's fine. Lex got her third, and she said she's fine.
But it puts a lot of pressure on them to know they have to perform every night, night in and night out. And for them to continue to do it and pick each other up.
This is the first time all three of them have played that well on the same night. That's what you're supposed to do when it gets to this point. It's usually been two people play well and the third one, OK. But one played extremely well and the other two OK. But they really have a bond. And Katie (Collier) and Lex filled their roles so well that that group -- the reason we didn't sub is not because Kelli's not good and Deja (Strother) aren't good and those kids on the bench aren't good. "Would you all sub?" If you've got a team that clicks like that team does, you don't disrupt that.
I think we over-coach this game so often, and we just decided to get out of the way and let them play and figure it out. Ever since for about the last month, they've really, really been efficient.
Q. They made their run when Chantel was on the bench late in that second half. Did you implore her not to foul? Was there any kind of strategy in the second half that you tried to make sure she used on the floor?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I didn't say a word to her. I didn't have to because she knows. She's a numbers geek like I am, and I've used the analogy a lot that she's a chess player playing basketball. She knows all that stuff. She knows our offense is more effective. She's that second point guard on the floor for us. All the passes and angles, and then her ability to score on the block as well, she had a couple of big, timely baskets around the basket, and we'd throw it in there to her. Didn't have to say a word to her. She knew. She said she's got it.
Late in the game I thought about going offense- defense. I was just afraid they might get an offensive rebound. She was getting every defensive rebound there for a four-minute stretch, and I wasn't about to take her out.
Q. Is the zone for you a matter of basketball philosophy or a matter of who you have on this team?
COACH NEIGHBORS: It's developed out of this team. We've put it in as a changeup a couple of years ago, and we were a pack-line defensive team -- we were at Xavier. We brought that out. We've always been that way. Just out of sheer playing it a lot, they got really comfortable at it. We kind of match-up a little bit out of it now. We kind of give it some different tweaks.
The philosophy becomes this: Most people don't have near as many zone plays as they do man plays, and it helps us in our preparation. We don't have to prepare as long, and we know that we can't be on the floor as long. It's become a confidence thing. I mean, if you were to ask me, I don't know how we run back in transition and get in zone. I have no clue. I've been to a thousand clinics and people tell you can't do it, but this group finds a way to do it. So it's them being confident in it and me trying not to overcoach.
Q. I know you guys are a 7 seed, but based on the last three games this does not look like a Cinderella story by any means. You guys are going on high seeds, home floors and crushing them. You mentioned before how you're built for this, but maybe you could reiterate that now?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, I thought our nonconference schedule was tremendous, and the conference schedule that we had was literally brutal. We had five straight road games in there where we really got tested. Our league is phenomenal this year, the Pac-12. We've been saying it on the West Coast all year long. I get it why everybody thinks it's not, but I've been in the Midwest, and I'm from the Midwest, and I've played in this time zone. So I'm not giving the company line when I tell you that our league was really, really good this year.
And we've been able to draw upon that and say in many conversations, does anybody think the team we're getting ready to play is any better than Oregon State? Do you think they're better than Arizona State? Do you think they're better than UCLA? And when you get this a lot, you know your team's on the road with a lot of confidence and a lot of experience of winning games. We've played, I think, 13 teams that are in the top 25 AP. If that doesn't prepare you for moments like this, and that's what we're built for.
We're built to be ready. We're always going to have double-figure losses, I think, because we're going to challenge ourselves. In the nonconference, we're never going to be one of those 31-1 teams, and that's kind of what you have to do to be a 1, 2, 3, 4 seed. I wanted to do everything we could do to avoid being an 8, 9.
That's our goal every year. Don't be an 8, 9. Be higher than that or lower than that but don't be an 8, 9. I think we are built for it. I think that's the way our program is built and obviously what we're going to continue to do.