No. 12 Wildcats Start Difficult Road Stretch at Florida
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The road in the Southeastern Conference doesn’t get any easier for the No. 12 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team as the Wildcats start a stretch of four of its next five games on the road when it travels to face Florida, who is receiving votes in both national rankings, on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Courtney Lyle (play-by-play) and former Georgia head coach Andy Landers (analyst) will call the action on the SEC Network. The game can also be seen online through WatchESPN on computers, tablets or smartphones. For the 11th consecutive season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Radio Network, heard in Lexington on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
“Well, a big challenge to go on the road in Gainesville and play Florida,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said Friday. “They are an excellent basketball team and had a good victory on Thursday (at Arkansas). They create a lot of turnovers for people and that has been a real difficulty for us, so we will have to focus in and practice well and see if we can take care of the ball. They play a lot of people and a really up-tempo team. They are a great rebounding team. It will be another great challenge for us and we will go on the road and try to get a victory.”
Kentucky enters the game with a 15-4 record after dropping a tough home contest to Vanderbilt on Thursday, 71-69. Junior guard Makayla Epps led Kentucky with a game-high 25 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. It marked the third straight game that Epps has scored 20 or more and the 16th time this season she has been in double figures. Senior Janee Thompson was in double figures with 14 points and Evelyn Akhator had 12 points, but Vanderbilt hit a season-best 10 3-pointers to secure the win.
Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season with 17.1 points per game, while Thompson is averaging 12.5 and Akhator 11.9. Akhator leads UK in rebounding with 9.4 boards a game, while Thompson is averaging 5.4 assists per game and Epps is averaging 4.9 assists per game. As a team, UK is shooting 45.5% from the field, including 36.6% from 3, while limiting teams to 34.9% from the field and 28.2% from 3.
Sunday’s game starts a difficult conference stretch for the Wildcats, who will play four of their next five games away from Memorial Coliseum. After facing the Gators, who have spent time this season in the top 25 of both national polls, Kentucky will travel to No. 2/2 South Carolina next Thursday before hosting the LSU Tigers in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 7. The Wildcats will have a bye date after hosting the Tigers, before returning to action at Vanderbilt on Sunday, Feb. 14 and ending the road stretch at highly ranked Mississippi State on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Florida enters Sunday’s game with a 17-4 record, including a 9-2 mark at home and 5-3 record in SEC play. The Gators have several wins over ranked foes, including taking down No. 6/7 Florida State the second game of the season before a win at No. 12/11 Tennessee in early January. UF is coming off an overtime victory at Arkansas on Thursday.
The Gators are averaging 80.7 points per game this season, while limiting opponents to 67.4 points per game. Florida is hitting .439 from the field and .300 from 3, while outrebounding opponents by 5.0 rebounds per game this season. Florida is averaging 22.2 turnovers per game, forcing opponents into 24.4 turnovers per game.
Ronni Williams leads the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Williams is hitting .524 from the field this season. Eleanna Christinaki is also averaging 10.7 points per game for the Gators with a team-best 76 assists, while Simone Westbrook leads the team with 52 steals. Tyshara Fleming has a team-best 38 blocks this season with 5.7 points per game.
The Gators have 10+ players that are averaging 12 or more minutes per game this season. UF ranks high nationally in several categories, including fifth in the nation in free throw attempts, sixth in free throws made, sixth in rebounds, ninth in offensive rebounds per game, ninth in scoring offense, third in steals and third in turnovers forced.
Sunday’s game will mark the 52nd meeting between the two programs, with Kentucky holding the advantage in the all-time series, 27-24. Kentucky has won eight of the last 10 meetings in the series, including two straight.
The Gators won two of three games against Kentucky in 2014, defeating the Wildcats in Memorial on Jan. 5, 2014, 83-73, before taking down UK 86-80 in Gainesville on Feb. 9. UK returned the favor with a win in the SEC Tournament, 75-70, that season. Three of Kentucky’s last four losses against Florida have come in Gainesville. Last season, Kentucky and Florida met just once with UK earning a 62-56 victory over the Gators in Memorial Coliseum.
Matthew Mitchell, an assistant coach at Florida back in the early 2000s, is 9-4 all-time against the Gators, including 9-3 during his time at Kentucky.
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.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pre-Florida News Conference
Opening Statement …
“Well, a big challenge to go on the road in Gainesville and play Florida. They are an excellent basketball team and had a good victory on Thursday (at Arkansas). They create a lot of turnovers for people and that has been a real difficulty for us, so we will have to focus in and practice well and see if we can take care of the ball. They play a lot of people and a really up-tempo team. They are a great rebounding team. It will be another great challenge for us and we will go on the road and try to get a victory.”
On gaining some experience and learning lessons from losses …
“That is the key, we must learn from them. We have a senior and junior in Janee (Thompson) and Makayla (Epps) who just have to really make sure their experience is transferred to the other players and we are just not talking to our younger players enough. It falls on their shoulders and they just have to do it right now because we have to get more out of our freshman class. They were 1-for-14 last night and I think they just need to be tutored through some of these things and then they will get it. They just don’t see what is available out there. Vanderbilt did a great job. I think their idea was to just take away the post player and dare you to try to figure it out. There was one person open the entire night, but we didn’t find them but a couple of times. We just have to do a good job in practice and help them get some reps so they can see what they need to see and help them get better. Experience will benefit us at some point, but until then we have to make plays and really have to be more talkative out there on the court.”
On the confidence level of the freshmen …
“Yeah, there is no doubt that they are lacking confidence and they are thinking more about the result then they are sticking to their fundamentals and doing it right every time and making it happen that way. They are just struggling defensively, offensively, we are just a little bit paralyzed right now and we have to just show it to them and go out and practice. As a coach, you just have to do everything that you can to construct practice in a way that is going to benefit them. They have to go make something happen with their fundamentals. It doesn’t have to be a super play, just a real simple play done correctly. Maci’s (Morris) footwork is off. Taylor (Murray) is in too big of a rush and Batouly (Camara) is staring at the ball too much on defense and giving up points. It is tough as a freshman sometimes when you get to where you are feeling like you are too far behind the eight ball to think the sky is falling and that they may never come out of this. But they just have to practice and they can and hopefully they will.”
On if he is surprised by performance of the freshmen …
“Well, I wish we were further along and could do a better job defensively of seeing our player and the ball, I really do. But we are where we are at 4-4. We have a lot of improvement that we can make on defense.”
On the SEC …
“I know for us, we have always felt like if we could really play harder than our opponent we have a chance in every game. Last night, in the second quarter, Vanderbilt just really played a lot harder than us and that nine point lead that we had built in the first quarter by playing hard and being enthusiastic and making some plays, evaporated because we didn’t play particularly hard (in the second quarter). But Evelyn (Akhator) and Alexis (Jennigs) have to stop getting into foul trouble. Alexis’ first foul was on a breakaway layup and there was eight minutes left in the first quarter and two points is not worth a foul. But she sticks her hand in there and then she losses focus and doesn’t box out properly and she boxes out, but the Vanderbilt player brings her to the floor, but the foul is on Alexis. So some of those calls are going to go against you and you have to do things properly. You can’t box someone out on the perimeter and give them a chance to pull you down and they call the foul on you. We have a certain way that we box out on the perimeter. So we just have to be a lot more focused. We’ve really struggled with that and struggled with that and hopefully that will get better.”
On what the team’s focus is heading into four of five games on the road …
“That we must not worry about the next five games and just worry about Florida. I told them that if we will stick together here and really work hard that we can get the sun shining back on us in the Sunshine State and there is no better place to do that and that is what we will have to do. We are in the midst of some stormy seas right now with two Thursday losses in between a big Monday night win. We just have to keep plugging.”
On what the team will concentrate on today in practice …
“Well, defensively, I am just going to try to work hard on being more solid on defense and then we didn’t close out on shooters last night and we are right there with them. Those weren’t situations where we weren’t necessarily not matched up, we gave them a couple of really open looks, but the rest of them were just not really close enough to contest the 3 and they made a bunch of them last night. So we will try to fight for defensive improvement. We didn’t turn the ball over a lot in the second half and shot 46% from the field, there are some things that are improving for us, but we lost by two points. We have to just stay with it and we didn’t get beat by 50 last night, we got beat by two. So all the things that we are doing, if we could just really start hustling on defense and be in the right position, I think a lot of things will start looking better for this team.”
On Florida’s offense …
“They are playing with a great freedom on offense. Where we look like we are just playing in handcuffs, they just really get up and down the floor and really try to create pace and they shoot. I think they shot 28 3s last night. They are not shy and put it up. They fly to the boards and we didn’t go to the boards any last night. Just little things like that, you know. They really, really hustle on offense and fly to the boards and it makes a difference for them.”