No. 13 Kentucky Starts SEC Tournament Play Thursday
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to continue its momentum from ending the regular season on a six-game winning streak, the No. 13 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team begins postseason play in the 2016 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday at approx. 2:30 p.m. ET against 13th-seeded LSU.
With its impressive 71-58 win at highly ranked Texas A&M last Sunday, Kentucky (21-6, 10-6 SEC) tied for the No. 4 seed in this week’s tournament with Florida, who won the head-to-head tiebreaker having defeated the Wildcats, 85-79, in Gainesville in late January, pushing the Wildcats to the No. 5 seed. LSU defeated Alabama 58-49 in the first round Wednesday to open the 13-game tournament. All games will be played at Veterans Memorial Arena in downtown Jacksonville, Fla. Tickets are available at SECSports.com.
2016 SEC Tournament - Second Round
All first round, second round and quarterfinal games will be televised live on the SEC Network, while Saturday’s semifinals will be televised on ESPNU and Sunday’s championship game on ESPN. All games can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Kentucky’s second-round matchup on Thursday will be called by Cara Capuano, Gail Goestkors and Steffi Sorensen. Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Radio Network, available on 630AM WLAP in Lexington. Live stats and live audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky is arguably one of the hottest teams in the country, entering postseason play on a six-game winning streak. During that stretch – which is the first time in program history UK has won six-straight SEC games by double digits – the Wildcats have defeated three ranked teams in then-No. 11 Texas A&M, then-No. 14 Mississippi State and then-No. 24 Missouri. In those six games, Kentucky is hitting .454 from the field and is outrebounding teams by seven rebounds per game.
Most recently, UK had a dominating performance on the road to end regular season play at highly ranked Texas A&M, taking down the Aggies 71-58 while outrebounding TAMU, 57-32. Evelyn Akhator and Alexis Jennings were the stars in the game with both scoring 15 points, while Akhator added 18 rebounds and Jennings pulled down 16 boards.
The winning streak has moved Kentucky up the national rankings, coming in at No. 13 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Kentucky currently sits at No. 12 in the latest NCAA RPI. The Wildcats have been ranked inside the top 25 of the Associated Press Top 25 for a school-record 131 consecutive weeks.
Junior guard Makayla Epps, who was named to the All-SEC first team Tuesday, leads Kentucky with 16.3 points per game, adding 118 assists and 32 steals. Senior guard Janee Thompson, who was second-team All-SEC along with Akhator, is second on the team with 12.4 points per game, adding 134 assists and 34 steals. Akhator is averaging 11.6 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game, while Jennings is averaging 10.2 points and 7.1 boards per contest.
LSU enters the SEC Tournament as the No. 13 seed after a 3-13 record in conference play. The Tigers are 9-20 overall this season, including 6-7 at home, 2-11 on the road and 1-2 in neutral-site games.
Alexis Hyder is leading the team with 11.5 points per game, adding 7.8 rebounds per game and a team-best 23 blocks. Akilah Bethel is averaging 8.3 points per game with 6.4 rebounds, while Rina Hill is averaging 8.2 points per game and has a team-best 61 assists this season.
The Tigers are averaging 53.8 points per game, while limiting opponents to 59.1 points per game. LSU is shooting 38% from the field with opponents hitting at a .417 clip this season.
Kentucky and LSU have met 45 times all-time with LSU holding a 32-13 advantage. The Tigers lead 8-2 in neutral-site games. The Wildcats have won three of the last five meetings between the two teams and are 3-8 against LSU in SEC Tournament games.
Earlier this season, Kentucky defeated LSU 70-58 in Lexington. Thompson scored 16 points in the game with 10 assists, while Maci Morris had 14 points and Jennings had 11 points and five rebounds. The Wildcats were outrebounded 37-28 and had 15 turnovers to LSU’s 14 miscues.
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.
2016 SEC Tournament Schedule | All times ET
First Round – Wednesday, March 2 – SEC Network
Game 1: No. 12 Alabama vs. No. 13 LSU – 11 a.m.
Game 2: No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 14 Ole Miss – 1 p.m.
Second Round – Thursday, March 3 – SEC Network
Game 3: No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 8 Missouri – Noon
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 5 Kentucky – 25 minutes after Game 3
Game 5: No. 10 Arkansas vs. No. 7 Tennessee – 6 p.m. ET
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 6 Georgia – 25 minutes after Game 5
Quarterfinals – Friday, March 4 – SEC Network
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 1 South Carolina – Noon
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 4 Florida – 25 minutes after Game 7
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. No. 2 Texas A&M – 6 p.m. ET
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. No. 3 Mississippi State – 25 minutes after Game 9
Semifinals – Saturday, March 5 – ESPNU
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8 – 5 p.m. ET
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10 – 25 minutes after Game 11
Championship Game – Sunday, March 6 - ESPN
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12 – 2:30 p.m.
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pre-SEC Tournament News Conference
“We are excited about playing in the SEC Tournament this week. It is one of the premiere sporting events in the country and always identifies a really good basketball team that has played great basketball over consecutive days. So it is really an exciting tournament and we are looking forward to going down and getting to play another game in the SEC against SEC competition, whether it is Alabama or LSU, we know it will be a great challenge as any team we could possibly face as every team in the tournament would be a challenge. So we are looking forward to going down there and having a good plan and looking forward to a great week in Jacksonville.”
On the parity in the league …
“When I came into the league, Tennessee had been great for a long, long time and LSU was really, really strong and teams like South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State, some of those teams weren’t having the level of success they are having now. So over the course of nine years, you have seen some teams rise up and be on the same level of LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and all those perennial powers. It has been great to see this year be so tough and there are so many great coaches in this league, I just have so much respect for the great coaches and the athletes and the students in this league work so hard. We have so many teams in the league that are great on the court and also just do some great things in the classroom. We have been so proud of our students and I know as you look through the game notes when you are getting ready for an opponent, a lot of women’s basketball teams in the league are really doing great academically. It is a great league to be a part of and this has been a particularly exciting year and it looks like anybody can win on a given night. Even South Carolina, who had such a great season and it’s only the second time in league history that somebody went 16-0, they had some real battles in the league. It’s been a great year for the SEC and looks like we are going to get a large number of teams in the NCAA Tournament and we are proud to be a part of that.”
On why the parity has emerged …
“Well, good players and good coaching. If you have talented players who are getting good coaching, they are going to be a good team.”
On how he sees this week’s games affecting seeding in the NCAA Tournament …
“My sense, I don’t look at it as closely as some people, but my sense is we have far more to gain than lose. I don’t know that we can hurt our chances a tremendous amount hosting. I would imagine if we got beat on Thursday, it might put it in jeopardy, but we are going down there to win games and if we do that we only improve our standing, which I think would be really strong right now with a really strong resume.”
On what he is liking about his team …
“I have really enjoyed going to practice with them and they have really taken great ownership of the team and this time last year, I had to really step in and take ownership. Everybody that covered the team could remember that was painful and we played two good games in the SEC Tournament, but were disappointed with how the season ended. We found some things out about our program at that point in time and a year later, they are in charge of their effort and their attitude. I was talking to them in the locker room on Sunday that they are a real team and playing for each other. Janee scored 24 on Thursday night and scored eight on Sunday and I couldn’t tell one difference in her demeanor and attitude. She just wants to win and her leadership was doing whatever was required. This time last year, I was having to provide the leadership for the team and that is never fun for a coach. Right now, I am able to really free my mind up about how can we prepare and how can we do a little bit better on the court. And you always want to try to provide steady leadership about the choices that they make, but I am not having to follow behind them and look over their shoulders. You know, kids can mess up at any point in time and I am not saying that we are perfect beyond making any mistakes, we may make a mistake between now and practice today that is the nature of it. But my confidence in them and the choices that they are making on and off the court is at a really high level and it has just been a lot of fun to coach this group. I think we are taking a team to Jacksonville and if we are to lose down there it is probably because a team has outplayed us, I don’t look for us going down there and not hustling and giving a great effort.”
On Janee Thompson bringing the team together after the LSU game …
“I did not know that was happening. That was one of those players-only meetings that actually work. You know, you hear it all the time that players are getting together and meeting and we have had it here in the past. I think the fact that I didn’t know it was meeting was why it worked. It was genuine and it was between them. The fourth quarter of LSU, we weren’t a happy locker room. And they knew I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t rant and rave. I think probably my reaction there, they knew I was fed up with my lack of focus and intensity and effort. It think it was pivotal and “I think it’s always great when the players will get in charge of every piece of leadership they can. I have to lead, and I’m the leader of the program and I have to do a good job there and I have to provide some guidance for them and direction. But everything that they can do, when they maximize their leadership ability, that’s when you can get some things done as far as being your best. So that was pivotal and very important. And I’m grateful that they cared enough to do that.”
On if he is confident that the team won’t fall back to where they were prior to the players meeting…
“Yeah, this has gone on since Valentine’s Day. We’ve had five really solid effort games and Evan (Crane, Assistant Director of Media Relations) was telling me this is the first time in program history that we’ve won six straight SEC games by double-digit points. These have been games full of hustle, full of effort. And they haven’t been easy teams. Vanderbilt, I know, hit a slide, but Vanderbilt in Nashville is really, really tough. The Mississippi State game was really tough. These were some difficult games. Missouri was just a dog fight. I thought they played extremely hard. And then you go to Texas A&M and beat them on Senior Day. It would be surprising to me if we let up now. Again, there was a period there in that Texas A&M game where they maybe could have gotten back in it when we had exhausted our timeouts with five minutes left, and I was really worried if they cranked up the press. But our freshmen got in there and really handled it. I thought Maci (Morris) and Taylor (Murray) and Batouly (Camara) really finished the game on the floor and made plays to not protect the lead, but to expand it. So we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think it’s going to be an effort or attitude issue. It would be very surprising to me. I’m real confident in that right now.”
On the biggest change in the post players as of late…
“They just continue to work, and now you’re seeing some of that start to happen. I think the biggest change is they’re not traveling and turning the ball over. They’ve got a better feel for what they’re doing; they’ve got more poise and more patience. People are running a lot of stuff at them, and three or four weeks ago, we just didn’t have a lot of confidence, a lot of poise. It’s a really hard-working group, as all of our players are. Tamika (Williams-Jeter) works with the guards and Camryn (Whitaker) works with the guards, and there are only five of them in practice, but those two coaches work extremely hard. And then Adeniyi (Amadou) works with the post players, and all three coaches take it seriously, spend time with the players, have really solid relationships, watch film with them, instruct. They have a real heart to try to help them get better. And then our players have a strong desire to get better, so I think that good instruction, hard work ethic, good attitude, rep after rep after rep has finally made a difference for them. And they’re playing at a high level right now.”
On Makayla Epps’ progress going into the postseason…
“I think she’s making a lot of progress, and what a great year for her. We were pretty close to her maybe not being here, and she and I not being able to work together. And it’s been a beautiful thing that happened since April of last year. She’s grown a lot as a person, she’s talked a lot about that. I’m so proud of those areas where she’s progressed, and she’s still growing as a person. She still can get better as a player, and definitely improve as a person and as a student. It’s great that she’s First Team All-SEC. She worked hard on that. She could have been somewhere else not in the SEC and not on the First Team just because of the circumstances last spring. She really stepped up and grew as a person, and now she’s First Team All-SEC in what looks like is going to be the strongest league of the year, top to bottom. So it’s a great accomplishment for her, and I’m more proud of what she’s done in her growth as a person than as a player.”
On if the parity in the conference applies to the national level…
“I think there’s some parity nationally. I think that UConn looks really strong, and they haven’t lost a game. I don’t think there’s been one within single digits. It looks like they are the class of the field right now, but that’s what’s so exciting about the NCAA Tournament. So for instance, last night UConn really shot the ball 28% in the first half. And basketball’s a funny thing, sometimes it doesn’t want to go in the basket. Anything can happen. But I think there are some really good teams in the country. And for our team, what we’re trying to do now is become our very best. I don’t know where that will end us, but what I’m proud of is that we actually have a chance for this team to be their very best. And we’ll find out where that is, but I think that they’ve worked themselves into a position, no matter what happens, where they can look back on this season and say, ‘Hey, we really worked hard to become a team, a real family, a group of sisters that are fighting for each other.’ And that’s a beautiful thing.”