No. 12 Kentucky Hosts Vanderbilt on Thursday in Memorial
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Shortly after securing a thrilling one-point victory over Southeastern Conference rival No. 18 Tennessee on Monday, the Kentucky women’s basketball team is looking to make it two consecutive SEC wins with a Thursday night matchup against Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum.
Single-game tickets are $9 for all ages, while adult general admission single-game tickets are $8. For those aged 6-18 or 65-and-over, general admission costs are $5 per ticket. Children age five-and-under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.
The game will be live streamed on SEC Network+ with Dick Gabriel and Christi Thomas calling the action. SEC Network+ is available through Watch ESPN on computers, tablets or smartphones. The game can also be heard live on UK Sports Radio Network with Neil Price on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
“Vanderbilt is going to be a really tough game and a really big game for us,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We’re both coming off of a Monday night game, so preparation time is at a premium, I think for both teams. And Vanderbilt is just one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. They really, really play hard. They had 20 offensive rebounds on Monday night versus Alabama in a big win over Alabama, and they make it very difficult on you to score. They are doing a great job in moving the basketball and moving people on offense, and this will be an extreme challenge for our team. We tried to get some work in yesterday, and we will try to prepare really hard today, because we know this is going to be a battle. And we must be ready for this challenge. This is a tough one coming up for us tomorrow night.”
The Wildcats enter Thursday as the No. 12 team in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches Polls. Kentucky has posted a 15-3 record this year, including a 4-3 mark in SEC action. Most recently, the Wildcats downed No. 18/21 Tennessee inside Memorial Coliseum, 64-63, fueled by a 17-point second-half surge by junior guard Makayla Epps. Down by 10 points at one point in the first half, Epps led the Wildcats in swinging the lead to a 10-point edge in Kentucky’s favor by pouring in 14 of her 23 points in the third stanza alone. Tennessee went on to come within a point of UK, but relentless defensive pressure resulted in the clock expiring before the Lady Vols could attempt a game-winning shot.
Thursday will mark the 50th meeting between the Wildcats and the Commodores, with Vanderbilt holding a 27-22 edge in the all-time series. However, Kentucky has posted victories in the last nine matchups, including two last year when the Wildcats secured an 82-68 victory in Nashville before taking down the Commodores in the second round of the SEC Tournament, 67-61.
Epps currently leads the team with 16.6 points per game, and is the third leading scoring in SEC play. The junior has posted back-to-back 20+ point games, with 22 points and a flawless 12-of-12 performance from the free throw line in the setback to Ole Miss on Jan. 21 in addition to her 23 points in the victory over Tennessee. Joining Epps in the backcourt is senior Janee Thompson, who ranks 37th in the nation in assists per game at 5.3 helpers per contest and is second on the team in scoring with 12.4 ppg.
In conference action, sophomore Alexis Jennings has been solid in the post as she became the first Wildcat in the Matthew Mitchell Era to record three straight double-doubles to open up conference play. Jennings has also been impressive from the free throw line in league play, knocking down 16-of-16 shots. Fellow post Evelyn Akhator has recorded a pair of double-doubles alongside Jennings, accomplishing the feat against Auburn and Georgia (Jan. 10), and is averaging 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the 2015-16 season.
Vanderbilt enters Thursday’s matchup with a 14-5 record, including 3-3 in SEC play. The Commodores recently secured a 67-52 win over Alabama on Monday night, their third victory within the past four games. Vandy is currently ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense at 51.5 ppg, as well as No. 10 in field goal percentage after converting on 46.9% of its shots. Additionally, the Commodores rank 14th in the nation in 3-point percentage with a 37.0% success rate from beyond the arc.
Leading the charge for the Commodores are Christa Reed and Rachel Bell, averaging 10.9 and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Reed has been a sharpshooter for Vandy, having success on 39-of-87 shots from beyond the arc for a .448 clip. The Commodores also rely on Bell and Rebekah Dahlman for 3-pointers, as the two have combined for 50 triples this season.
Vanderbilt is coached by Melanie Balcomb, who has compiled a 306-150 record in her 14 years at Vandy, and a 468-224 career record in her 23 years as a head coach.
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @UKHoopCats on Twitter and Instagram, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.
Spectator parking is located in the following areas:
- All E-lots surrounding Memorial Coliseum are off control beginning 3 hours prior to tip. This includes the College of Education E-lots, located off Scott Street.
- The South Limestone Garage (PS#5, adjacent to Kennedy's Bookstore) and the Rose Street Garage (PS#2) are available 2 hours prior to tip-off.
- Lexington Authority Transit Center Parking Garage is available after 5 p.m. ET on weekdays and all day on weekends.
- When parking in the Transit Center, pull a yellow token from the dispenser and keep in your vehicle. See the event staff attendant at the entrance near Lexington Avenue/High Street to receive a free parking voucher before the game. When exiting the garage after the game, place your yellow token in the machine, then scan the barcode on your free parking voucher to exit.
- Disabled parking is available in the E-Lot (Employee Lot) north of the Joe Craft Center, adjacent to the metered spaces running along the front of the Craft Center with a valid, state issued disabled hang tag. These spaces are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis until full.
Please note: parking is prohibited in any R-lots (Residential). Vehicles parked in Residential lots without a proper permit, along yellow curbs, grass spaces, or other non-specified and unapproved areas may be subject to ticket and/or tow.
- Free shuttle services are available beginning 2 hours prior to tip off from the South Limestone Garage located off Limestone and Upper Street and the Transit Center Parking Garage located off High Street and Vine Street.
- The Parking Structure #5 shuttle (blue route) picks up/drops off on Administration Drive, at the end of the pedestrian sky bridge accessed from the 3rd floor of the parking garage. The pickup/drop off point near Memorial Coliseum is at the Euclid entrance.
- Transit Center Parking Garage (green route) picks up/drops off near the corner of High Street and Martin Luther King. The pickup/drop off point near Memorial Coliseum is near the Ticket Office at the Lexington Avenue entrance.
- Shuttles will start back up at halftime and continue until 1 hour post-game to return guests to their parking areas.
Game day Information:
- Doors to Memorial Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.
- UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
- Surface lots (i.e. Joe Craft Center North, Rose Street lot and the Alumni Center lot) reach capacity approximately 1.5 hours prior to tip-off, at which point vehicles should proceed directly to the South Limestone Garage (PS#5), Rose Street Garage (PS#2), the E-lots near the College of Education or the Lexington Authority Transit Center Parking Garage near High Street and Lexington Avenue.
For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit ukathleticsgameday.com/hoops.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell News Conference
“First thing is we had a situation yesterday where a radio show in Knoxville was talking about the game and it created a bit of an uproar yesterday. We appreciate the apology (by Jeff Jacoby), and I’ve known (Jacoby’s co-host) Mickey Dearstone for almost 20 years now. So when it was first reported to me, I assumed positive intent. I think it was a poor choice of words (by Jacoby), and I think all of us need to be aware of what we are saying, certainly if we are in the media and in the public and talking about kids and young people. There are so many issues in sports right now with violence in particular, so with all of that, you have to be really aware of what you’re saying. And we are appreciative of the apology and we are moving forward. We don’t believe anyone really meant any true harm or threat to anyone, so I think it was a radio show that just got a little fired up about a game. It’s a real intense rivalry, and it was a poor choice of words. And we accept the apology, and Makayla does, and we will move forward from it. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more to discuss unless there’s a specific question about it.
Moving to Vanderbilt, that is going to be a really tough game and a really big game for us. We’re both coming off of a Monday night game, so preparation time is at a premium, I think for both teams. And Vanderbilt is just one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. They really, really play hard. They had 20 offensive rebounds on Monday night versus Alabama in a big win over Alabama, and they make it very difficult on you to score. They are doing a great job in moving the basketball and moving people on offense, and this will be an extreme challenge for our team. We tried to get some work in yesterday, and we will try to prepare really hard today, because we know this is going to be a battle. And we must be ready for this challenge. This is a tough one coming up for us tomorrow night.”
On what makes Vanderbilt tough defensively despite not being near the top of the league in defensive statistics such as steals, blocks, etc…
“Well, they bring multiple looks, which can be confusing at times and you get more caught up in trying to figure out what defense they’re running, which slows you down. It slows the pace of the game down. There‘re less possessions. When they really do a great job on defense, it’s sort of a bit of a gridlock for you when you’re trying to focus on what they’re in. So they’re switching man, it’s an odd-front zone, an even-front zone, but it can be confusing. And I think that is what creates hesitation and doubt in players’ minds. So that’s our job as coaches, we really need to do a good job of how we’re going to attack them defensively and can’t get overly concerned about what defense they’re in. And I can’t be trying to call a bunch of plays. We’ve got to get some good, strong concepts in today. But it will be a hard game for us. It will be a real hard game. But they hustle, that’s another thing. They really, really hustle and they battle when that ball’s in the paint, they’re not giving and inch and they’re just swarming all over you. So they are a very, very good defensive team.”
On why taking charges is important…
“Well, it’s indicative of two things. One, they’re in proper position, and that really plagued us in the Ole Miss game. Really out of position for most of the game. And then two, it speaks to the tenacity that you possess, that you care more about your team than your own physical comfort. There’s one reason that Evelyn takes more than anyone. She’s willing to sacrifice her body for the team. And she took a huge one on Diamond DeShields at the end of the game when we were struggling to stay afloat. If she hadn’t taken it, DeShields would have shot a layup and it would have been a tied ballgame. She took it, and we held on to a two-point lead. It’s just that we’re not talented enough as South Carolina, for instance. A’ja Wilson doesn’t have to take a charge and probably shouldn’t because she can block shots at an unbelievable rate. So if I were coaching her, I don’t think I would be coaching her to take charges. We are not a shot-blocking team, and we are not walking on the floor and showing up with our talent and beating people. We have to play really, really strong team defense. And one of the most important parts of our defense that needs to be addressed right now is positioning. And so if you’re hugged up with your player and you’re not seeing the ball and you can’t take a charge, that’s a really big problem. And if you’re not tough enough to take one, that’s another problem. We need to out-tough people. We’re going to have to out-tough Vanderbilt tomorrow night. If we don’t play tougher than them, they’ll beat us. There’s no question about it. We have to be tougher than our opponent.”
On if Evelyn Akhator inspires the team with her large amount of drawing charges…
“I don’t know how inspiring she’s been, she’s the only one that took one the other night. So I don’t know how inspirational she is. I wish she were more inspirational. Maybe I should have her address the team or talk to them instead of me talking to them, but she is such a playmaker in that area. That is a huge play, and I thank her and the staff thanks her. Those are not things that you can take for granted. The kid just gives her body up for the team, and that needs to become contagious for us. But Batouly (Camara) and Maci (Morris), two freshmen, are trying to take charges in games. So that’s a great development. It’s not a lack of experience; it is a willingness and a mindset, and we need to get our whole team there.”
On worrying about Akhator taking charges and fouling out of getting hurt …
“No, it is not something that you can worry about. What we are worrying about is trying to get our team to play harder than the opponent every night out and taking charges is going to be part of that. If you don’t do it properly it is a foul and no good. So we are working every day on our defensive positioning and hopefully you are going to see some improvement over the next month of so.”
On Ivana Jakubcova’s performance against Tennessee …
“Yeah, she finally got on the floor and stopped the, ‘woe is me,’ and ‘this is all happening to me and I have no role in this and coach won’t play me,’ and negative, negative rain cloud everything is happening to me. And I was getting on to her in practice and that was not having any effect. It was going down, down. So I finally just got her one-on-one. We have given a lot to Ivana in this program. We have given her great opportunity and worked hard for her and she is a wonderful person, but her attitude had gotten very negative and she was not performing and wasn’t doing anything in practice. So I am not playing a person that does nothing in practice. You don’t even have to play well in practice, but you have to do something. So she got on the floor two straight days in practice so I put her in the game. It is not hard at Kentucky to get into the game, it is really not. People have played here that are not world class athletes. If you will show any tenacity at all you will get on the floor here at Kentucky.”
On having three games in seven games …
“Well, you just try to do your very best as a coach to keep them focused. As soon as the game was over Monday night, I said, ‘Listen, if they had made the last shot we were pretty close to the team we are tonight.’ So we were thrilled to win, but it didn’t mean anything in relation to what we needed to do the next day. That is a challenge as a coach to try to get them refocused. The win over your rival and they have such a great, historical program, and the fans are excited about it and it should count more than it counts, if you are thinking of it that way. But it just doesn’t. It is our fourth win in conference against three losses and we just need to try to fight for improvement. So you must do everything we can to try to get their mind on the job. The job yesterday was let’s look at what Tennessee was doing and try to make sure that we are correcting some things and what are some things that can help us win Thursday night. We went really short yesterday and today we have to try to improve our defensive positioning and be as prepared as we can for Vanderbilt, but really the focus has to stay on this group right now. If they will just get into the right position and hustle, good things will happen for us. But we have to be really sharper than we have been and it has just been hard with such an inexperienced group. But we can’t worry about anything other than trying to keep them really positive and really hungry for learning. I thought we won the game the other night because they had worked hard enough mentally to stay positive. It is a two-point game and we have just thrown it to everybody and it was deflating. We were up 10 and all of a sudden we were up two and Makayla dribbles it off her foot. Thursday if we would have done that at Ole Miss that kind of play would have just lost us the game. So we told them after Ole Miss how important their attitude is and how important being tough is and how important toughness is. Immediately, there were a couple of kids that were like, ‘Oh no,’ and immediately they got positive, immediately. I thought that is how we won the game because we got positive and got a steal and we were in the same boat. So we didn’t get down and that is where the growth in this basketball team has to remain. Vanderbilt is absolutely just so, so tough. It will be a tough game. We have to be strong mentally and emotionally tomorrow night and if we will just be sharp mentally and emotionally we will have a good chance to be a good team before the season is out and hopefully we will win tomorrow night.”
On if Janee Thompson had any lasting effects from the ankle injury …
“There are some lasting effects, we didn’t practice her yesterday. We just had her walk through a couple of things. But she looked really strong in the game. The jumper to take it from 59-57 to 61-57 was just amazing. That was a really strong play. I don’t know how much that hurt, but as far as her having strength and power in the ankle it is there. The pain is just going to linger for a while and no significant swelling, all good developments for us. But it is definitely not 100% but she played at a very high level Monday night. I expect her to play on Thursday.”