No. 10 Kentucky Faces Tough SEC Road Test at Georgia Sunday
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fresh off its impressive victory over Alabama on Thursday in its Southeastern Conference home opener, the No. 10/9 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to the road Sunday when it faces Georgia, who is receiving votes in both national polls, at 2 p.m. ET at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+ with Matt Stewart (play-by-play) and Kiesha Brown (analyst) calling the action. SEC Network+ is available exclusively on SECNetwork.com and on WatchESPN via computers, smartphones and tablets. The game can also be heard live on the UK Radio Network with The Voice of UK Hoops, Neil Price, calling the action for the 11th straight season. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
“Well, we will have one of our toughest games of the year, I really believe that, in Athens on Sunday. I know Georgia is going to be very, very motivated to win and all of these conference games are extremely important,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I know Georgia is going to come out and play extremely hard and they have some really top-level players … Our team had a real challenge on the road last Sunday that we didn’t handle very well, so we are going to have to focus in here for a couple of days and prepare well and go play at our very highest level to get a victory on Sunday.”
After suffering its first loss of the season last Sunday at Auburn, Kentucky responded in a big way in its SEC home opener against Alabama, posting its largest margin of victory in a SEC game since February 2014 against Ole Miss. The Wildcats took down the Crimson Tide, who entered the game with a 12-2 (1-0 SEC) record, 73-48, behind a dominating performance inside. UK outrebounded Alabama, 45-30, including a 16-10 mark on the offensive glass. The Wildcats scored 30 points in the paint and had 18 second-chance points.
Junior forward Evelyn Akhator paced Kentucky with a career-best 21 points, adding eight rebounds and three blocks. Fellow post player Alexis Jennings recorded her second straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Three other Wildcats scored in double figures with senior guard Janee Thompson posting 10 points and seven assists, while junior guard Makayla Epps had 10 points, five assists and six rebounds and freshman guard Maci Morris had 10 points and a block.
The win continued Kentucky’s improved statistics from last season on both ends of the floor. Through 13 games last year, UK was shooting 40.7% from the field, which has been improved to 47.8% this season, while UK was shooting 26.7% from 3 last year, which has improved to 39.9% this season. Defensively, opponents were hitting 41.8% of their shots through 13 games last season, while UK’s 2015-16 defense has limited opponents to just 32.8% from the field and 24.7% from 3-point land.
The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 10 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and No. 9 in the latest USA Today/Coaches Top 25. The rankings continued Kentucky’s school-record streak of being ranked in 123 consecutive listings dating back to the 2009-10 season. Georgia is receiving votes in both rankings entering the week, collecting 12 votes in the AP poll and 14 in the Coaches’ poll.
Georgia enters Sunday’s game against Kentucky with a 12-3 record, including a 0-2 start in league action. UGA is 9-1 at home this season with its lone home loss coming on Thursday to top-20 ranked Missouri, 54-48. Kentucky will be the third straight top-20 ranked foe that Georgia has played to start league play. The Lady Bulldogs opened SEC play with a 73-62 loss at No. 16 Texas A&M before the home loss to Missouri on Thursday.
Georgia had a strong nonconference showing, entering SEC play 12-1. The Lady Bulldogs played two ranked foes in the early schedule, falling at then-No. 23 Michigan State, 66-45, before defeating then-No. 21 Seton Hall at Stegeman Coliseum, 70-52.
UGA is averaging 68.7 points per game this season, shooting 40.6% from the field and 31.1% from 3-point land. The Lady Bulldogs are outrebounding opponents by 8.3 this season, while forcing opponents into 17.1 turnovers per game. Georgia is allowing 51.6 points per game and limiting opponents to 33.0% from the field.
The Lady Bulldogs rank high in several national categories this season. UGA is 20th in the nation and first in the SEC in assists per game, 10th nationally and second in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense, 27th nationally and fourth in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game and seventh in the nation and first in the SEC in scoring defense.
Sunday’s meeting will be the 52nd meeting between Kentucky and Georgia in the history of the two programs. UGA holds a 36-15 advantage in the all-time series, including a 17-4 advantage in games played in Athens, Ga. The series has been evenly matched since Jan. 2010 with the two teams meeting nine times and UGA holding a 5-4 record.
Kentucky’s last win at Stegeman Coliseum came on Jan. 19, 2012 when the Wildcats earned a 69-64 victory over the Bulldogs. Georgia won the last meeting in the building between the two teams, taking down UK, 58-56, on Jan. 30, 2014.
Matthew Mitchell is 6-7 in his time at UK against Georgia, including a 2-3 record at Stegeman Coliseum.
The last time the two teams met was Feb. 1, 2015 in Memorial Coliseum when the No. 10/10 Wildcats earned a 80-72 victory over the No. 21/20 Bulldogs. Five Wildcats scored in double figures as Jennifer O’Neill posted 21 points, while Makayla Epps had 16 points and Alexis Jennings posted 10 points and four rebounds. UK forced UGA into 25 turnovers and scored 18 points off those turnovers. The Wildcats also had 20 second-chance points and 34 bench points.
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Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
“Well, we will have one of our toughest games of the year, I really believe that, in Athens on Sunday. I know Georgia is going to be very, very motivated to win and all of these conference games are extremely important. I know Georgia is going to come out and play extremely hard and they have some really top-level players. (Shacobia) Barbee and (Tiaria) Griffin and all of their kids, (Merritt) Hempe, the seniors Marjorie Butler, and all of their kids that have been there and know how to win I know are hungry for a victory. Our team had a real challenge on the road last Sunday that we didn’t handle very well, so we are going to have to focus in here for a couple of days and prepare well and go play at our very highest level to get a victory on Sunday. So that is what we will be working towards and what we will be intent on when we go down to Athens.”
On 10 teams being 1-1 in the SEC right now …
“It looks to be a year full of a lot of opportunities for a lot of teams. You just never know how these things go. I always point back to the year we were picked 11th out or 12 teams. You just don’t even know until you start playing the games and who would’ve thought that our team would look the way that we are looking right now at the beginning of the year. All the teams evolve and they change. This is one thing that I know about the conference. There is nobody sitting in there facility today even thinking about losing. Everybody wants to win in this conference. This is the most excellent athletic conference in the world and it is very, very competitive and tough. I am not surprised because I have been doing it long enough now in my ninth year as a head coach and several years as an assistant. It has always been a competitive league and this year appears to be a very competitive league.”
On if he is worried about the team’s performances on the road …
“I would need to see a couple more performances like that (Auburn game) on the road to think that it was a trend. I will go back and try to figure out what happened and what I can try to do as a coach and we have already addressed some of those things. I hope we all saw some results of us trying to correct some things we didn’t do well in the Auburn game, but I don’t think it is a road thing. Now, look, if you asked any of our players if they would rather play here in Memorial or rather go on the road (they would pick Memorial). The road is just difficult and has a lot of challenges no matter who you are. But I am expecting us to go down and play as hard as we can play and I don’t think we will play poorly just because it is in Georgia’s coliseum, I think it is just up to us right now to go down there and take Georgia out of what they want to do and do what we want to do just like any other game.”
On Maci Morris’ performance last night …
“What is more important than anything to me is my faith and then right after that is my family. We try to intertwine those two together to make strong people so we can do a good job here in our profession. She was hurting and it was a difficult time for her and her family so the first thing on my mind was to get her to her family so they could be together during a difficult time. So more so than anything that related to our team, I think that probably had to make Maci feel good about the week and I know she was playing in honor of her grandfather and that is where my mind was going, I was happy about that, first of all. But I will say this, when her shots started to go down I thought that our team kind of perked up and started to come to life. For our team, that was good. Mainly just happy for her. She has just been really, really sad, understandably all week, and that takes a lot out of you emotionally. So for her to perform as well as she did last night, I was really proud of that.”
On Maci Morris being able to contribute right away as a true freshman …
“Yeah, that has been a great development. You are exactly right, you don’t know how it is going to go. I never tell a player what she cannot do. I never start out from that standpoint. I start every year telling everybody what the opportunity available is and what you are going to have to do to realize success. But you don’t know and she has some physical limitations right now. She is young, she is not as strong as she is going to be, she is not as quick and explosive as she is going to become. All of those things are going to make her better and better and players develop in this program, that has just happened over the course of time. So we are confident that will happen, but I thought she had some intangibles and that is why we were attracted to her coming and playing and we wanted her to be here. But like you said, we never know how that will turn out. So we are really excited about the contribution that she is making now and she is doing a lot of it with mental focus and basketball IQ and grit and determination and I love those things. Those are things that we value and look for in our players. If you had asked me before the season if she would have been starting, I would have told you she would have an opportunity but I wasn’t sure she would be. I thought some veterans in front of her would have done that. But I am thrilled with where she is now and now she just has to stay really, really tough and hungry and coachable every day and I think she will have success this season and a fantastic career here at Kentucky. We are very excited that she is here.”