No. 15 Kentucky Ends Regular Season at No. 11 Texas A&M
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After earning its fifth win over a ranked opponent when it defeated No. 24 Missouri on Thursday on Senior Night, the No. 15 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to extend its five-game conference winning streak when it concludes regular-season play at No. 11 Texas A&M on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN with Pam Ward and Carolyn Peck calling the action. The game can be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Now in his 11th season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call on 630AM. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
Kentucky (20-6, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) has turned a three-game losing streak in league action into a five-game winning streak, defeating LSU, Vanderbilt, No. 14 Mississippi State, Arkansas and No. 24 Missouri. The Wildcats won all five games by 10 or more points, marking the first time in program history UK has won five straight SEC games by double digits.
During the five-game winning streak, UK is hitting .464 from the field and is outrebounding teams by three rebounds per game. The Wildcats are averaging 14.2 assists per game, while holding a +4.8 turnover margin with 4.6 steals per game. Entering the winning streak, UK had only had 10 or fewer turnovers once this season, while it has done it three times in the last five games.
The winning streak has moved Kentucky into a three-way tie for fourth place in the SEC with Georgia and Florida. Seeding for the SEC Tournament, which will be played March 2-6 at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., will not be official until all games are completed on Sunday.
Kentucky is coming off a 69-59 victory over No. 24 Missouri on Thursday with senior guard Janee Thompson putting together an impressive performance with a career-high 24 points, including 12 points in the fourth quarter alone. The win was Kentucky’s fifth over a ranked this season and secured UK’s seventh-straight 20-win season.
Texas A&M enters Sunday’s regular-season finale with a 21-7 record, including a 11-4 mark in SEC play. The Aggies have clinched the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament. TAMU is 12-2 at home this season with the home losses come against DePaul and highly-ranked South Carolina. The Aggies have won six straight games in conference play, taking down Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, Vanderbilt and Auburn during that stretch.
Most recently, the Aggies defeated Auburn, 57-49, on the road to clinch the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Khaalia Hillsman and Courtney Walker paced the way for the Aggies by each scoring 16 points, while Courtney Williams had seven points, six rebounds and five assists. TAMU shot 46% from the field, limiting Auburn to just 34.4%, forcing the Tigers into 17 turnovers.
Walker leads TAMU in scoring this season with 18.4 points per game, adding 5.7 rebounds per game and 71 assists. Williams is averaging 12.2 points per game with 4.8 rebounds per game, while Chelsea Jennings is averaging 9.3 points per game and Jordan Jones leads the team with 28 3-pointers hit this season.
As a team, the Aggies are hitting 44.9% from the field this season, including 30.4% from 3, scoring 71.6 points per game. TAMU is limiting opponents to just 37.6% from the field and 28.2% from 3. Texas A&M is outrebounding opponents by four rebounds per game, while sitting +2.8 in turnover margin.
Sunday’s meeting between Kentucky and Texas A&M will mark the sixth all-time meeting between the two schools with Kentucky leading the series 3-2. The two schools never faced before TAMU entered the SEC in 2012. Last year, the Aggies took down Kentucky 81-69 in Lexington.
Sunday will mark the third meeting between the two teams in games played in College Station, with Kentucky holding a 2-0 record. The Wildcats took down A&M 70-66 in College Station in 2013, before an 83-74 win at Reed Arena in 2014. Matthew Mitchell is 3-2 in his tenure at Kentucky against TAMU.
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-Texas A&M News Conference
“Well, tough game ahead on Sunday. An important game for us to see if we can improve our hustle and our effort. The times in the game last night when we played harder and hustled more than Missouri, we really had a lot of success. And then we had some glaring moments in the game when we didn’t hustle and we weren’t sharp and we weren’t outworking them where we looked like a different team. So you can know that Texas A&M is going to be fired up and ready to play, they always are. They play real hard, they really attack the paint, they really attack the offensive glass. Tough defensive team. So our team’s really got to be about hustle the next couple of days as we try to prepare for our next game on the schedule, which is an important one.”
On what causes the lulls in hustle and effort in the game…
“Well, I think as a coach we’ve really got to think about how one move impacts the rest of the team. So we were kind of focused on Sophie Cunningham at halftime, and we needed to slow her down. We needed to try to see if we could cut her production. And so Evelyn (Akhator) was a good answer for that, but then we didn’t think about how it impacted our defense on number 22, (Jordan) Frericks. Batouly (Camara) just was not ready to guard that kid. She’s just so physical and tough. So we’ve really got to think through things as a coaching staff on what the consequences are for everybody involved. It goes back to our whole thing of we have to really win together as a team. And so I thought that was something that gave them some confidence and took away a little bit. And then sometimes, when Batouly starts making some poor plays, that really starts to freeze her up a little bit. She’s getting better at it, playing through things. But the momentum shifted in that third quarter, and we’ve got to find a way to improve that. And then I thought all of our missed shots in the third quarter really affected our confidence too. So we can’t be that kind of team. And we’re better in that, too. I mean we came back in the fourth quarter and won the game and really showed some toughness and some fight. We’ll just continue to try to improve and get better. We really feel that if we can put it all together, we can be very dangerous in the postseason.”
On what Texas A&M has done in their six-game winning streak to be successful…
“Well as I’ve studied them this morning, they look a lot like us from a statistical standpoint and kind of how they have really strong guard play. They hustle, they seem to be able to come up big defensively in crucial moments. They have some outstanding seniors who really know how to play the game and really know how to make winning plays. They’re impressive from that standpoint, and then their post play is very hard workers in the post. And I think we’ve got some kids who are working hard in the post. It’s a game that we absolutely believe we can go win, but we’re going to have to work hard and prepare and we’re gonna have to be tough down there on Sunday to make that happen.”
On what the team is doing differently to reduce turnovers…
“I think we’re showing some maturity and some growth offensively from the standpoint of being comfortable shooting the ball under three or four seconds on the shot clock. We go back and we go through our preparation for the next opponent, and then as a staff, one of the things we do is we pop in last year’s game and see if we can find something from that game that worked. We’ll have more possessions in one game of patience and ball movement and figuring out where we need to take the shot in one game probably than we’ve had the entire SEC season (last year). If it touched your hands and you were somewhat open to shoot, that was our offense last year. We’re just doing a much better job of staying poised and not panicking, and that’s just from hard practice and tough kids in the gym working and paying attention in film sessions and trying to improve. We are taking care of the ball a lot better and getting a little bit tougher, having the courage to look for a good shot and not panic at the end. We’ve made a bunch of buckets with one or two seconds on the shot clock that are not heaves. We just worked it to that point. That’s something that the team has improved on, and we need to keep working on it.”
On being quoted after the Tennessee game in which the team had 10 turnovers that “If you don’t believe in God, you should check yourself because that’s a miracle” and how that outlook has changed regarding the team’s turnovers…
“I changed it to a parade. (Laughter) We should be downtown having a parade right now for the team. Seven turnovers last night, the whole city should come out and cheer that.”
On if the feat is less miraculous in retrospect…
“Yes, less miraculous now because maybe we’re getting better. Maybe the kids are working hard. I probably should have given them more credit that night instead of saying that it was an Act of God and they’re actually working hard in practice and improving. The credit needs to go to the players for getting their mindset turned around. A lot of credit needs to go to Janee Thompson for her great leadership and just getting them together unbeknown to me, the bye date really helped us, and we have had a different spirit about us and a different focus going in and preparing. It’s like I told you, if I could fix it, it would have been fixed a long time ago. They have to know how powerful they are. So they’ve really, really done a great job, and it’s been fun to go to practice because you know what you’re going to get. You know you’re going to get some hard work and we’re not going to be perfect, but for the most part if they fall down on the job they get up and try to correct it with good attitude and good effort. We’ll keep working on that and trying to get better and trying to get stronger with our attitude. If we can keep that up, we can maybe do some things down the stretch.”
On Thompson’s conscientiousness following nine individual turnovers at Florida…
“I think it’s possible. You could talk to her on that. I said this at the time, all those nine turnovers at Florida that all went on her, there were people running and hiding on her. That was a bad day for us. We didn’t handle a tough Florida team that day. But Janee has been working real hard to be a great teammate and to be a great leader. And she’s told them how important this opportunity is and this is a special group coming together. This is the only time we’ll ever have this team together, and we need to try to push it to the max and do what we can. That’s what our goal always is, to be the very best team that this group can be. And I think that her trust in them and her faith in them inspires the young kids. She means a lot to them, and I don’t think they want to let her down.”