No. 16 Kentucky Ends Road Stretch at No. 14 Mississippi State
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to continue its two-game Southeastern Conference winning streak, the No. 16 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team travels to face No. 14 Mississippi State on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET inside Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
The game will be televised nationally on SEC Network with Tom Hart, Carolyn Peck and Steffi Sorensen calling the action. The game can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. For the 11th consecutive season Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call on 1580AM. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
Kentucky (17-6, 6-6 SEC) is coming off back-to-back double-digit wins against LSU at home and at Vanderbilt. The Wildcats found their shooting touch in the two games, hitting a combined .496 from the field, including 10-of-26 from 3. The Wildcats limited both opponents to a combined .416 clip from the field, forcing 19 turnovers a game while only committing 12.5 miscues.
Senior guard Janee Thompson paced UK against LSU with 16 points and 10 assists, while it was sophomore forward Alexis Jennings scoring 18 points with nine rebounds against Vanderbilt. Jennings was an impressive 9-of-13 from the field against VU, while Thompson added 15 points and two assists to secure the Wildcats’ 10th win in 11 tries against the Commodores.
The win over VU moved Kentucky up to No. 17 in the latest NCAA RPI and No. 16 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Kentucky has been ranked inside the top 25 for 129 consecutive weeks, which continues a program record streak. UK has not been ranked outside the top 20 this season, peaking at No. 7 in both polls.
Junior guard Makayla Epps still leads Kentucky in scoring with 16.5 points per game, adding 102 assists and 29 steals, while Thompson is averaging 12.5 points per game with 122 assists and 30 steals. Junior post Evelyn Akhator is averaging 11.4 points per game with 8.9 rebounds per game, while Jennings is averaging 9.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
Mississippi State enters Thursday’s game with a 21-5 record, including an 8-4 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs are 13-1 at home this season, including 5-1 in SEC play at home. MSU is currently ranked No. 14 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and No. 13 in the latest USA Today/Coaches Top 25. The Bulldogs were riding a four-game winning streak before recently falling at Texas A&M last Thursday, 64-58. Mississippi State’s conference losses came at Missouri, at Georgia, at Texas A&M and at home against South Carolina.
Victoria Vivians leads the Bulldogs in scoring this season averaging 17.0 points per game with 5.8 rebounds per game. Vivians is shooting 37.4% from the field this season and has hit 58 3-pointers. Morgan Williams is the only other Bulldog averaging double-digit points with 10.1 points per game. Williams leads MSU with 131 assists this season adding 35 steals. Teaira McCowan is averaging a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game, adding a team-best 34 blocks.
Mississippi State ranks high in several national categories, including fourth in the nation and first in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game, averaging 19 boards on the offensive glass. MSU also ranks sixth in the nation and third in the SEC in turnovers forced and 33rd in the nation in free throws attempted.
Thursday’s meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State is the 43rd all-time between the two schools in women’s basketball. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 25-17, including a 9-8 mark in games played in Starkville, Miss.
Kentucky has won nine straight meetings between the two teams, including both meetings last year. The first meeting was a double-overtime thriller in Lexington with Kentucky pulling out a 92-90 victory. UK also won a game in the SEC Tournament against MSU with a 76-67 victory. UK has won the last five road games against MSU dating back to the 2005-06 season.
Matthew Mitchell is 10-1 in his tenure at Kentucky against Mississippi State. Mitchell faced MSU once during his time at Morehead State with a 0-1 record.
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-Mississippi State News Conference
“Well, a tough game ahead of us on the road Thursday night. Mississippi State is an outstanding team and has had an outstanding season up to this point in time. They are a very, very physical team and a very tough team. They are a great rebounding team and do a great job of getting to the free throw line and making their free throws. It will be a really big challenge for us and we will have to work hard the next couple of days to get ready.”
On the team needing to do the little things right to be successful …
“Well, I want them to pay attention to detail certainly. What I am talking about when I say it is not going to be perfect, is that we have too many people that if they get behind in the possession they stop and they start trying to think about why did I get behind instead of just playing through and learning in a dead ball or at a timeout or in film session. Our spirit gets down because we are not perfect, so that is what I am talking about there. I want them to pay attention to detail and I want them to be a very detail-oriented team because we are not just showing up and beating you off of raw talent, we have to do it as a team. So they do have to concentrate, but what I have found is that our inexperience has caused us to stop. I thought they did a better job (in the Vanderbilt game). We still got driven on in the Vanderbilt game. There is just an element to our inexperience that is not going to change overnight. So Maci (Morris) and Batouly (Camara) are still going to get dribbled on some and Taylor (Murray) is going to reach. What you are trying to do is decrease those instances but when they do happen everybody keep playing and don’t worry about it right then let’s go back and try to score a bucket or sometimes the team misses the shot, you know? In this particular game you just have to play the whole possession because the possession is not over when they shoot the ball, the possession is only over if you get the ball because they are a great offensive rebounding team. We will always be stressing the details with them, but there is definitely an element with our young team to just keep playing until the play is over then you can kind of think about what just happened.”
On why he felt better about the team after the Vanderbilt win than he did the LSU win …
“Well, we had just come off of three losses and then the LSU game, I felt like backs against the wall that we would have been a bit more excited to play. I didn’t think we showed much respect for our good work to build a 22-point lead going into the third quarter and I thought that would have built some momentum and people would have just been fired up and it kind of just looked like we had run out of gas and were just happy to hold on. I was not happy with how we finished that game. So we talked about that last Wednesday and the players had already got together and talked about it amongst themselves, then I talked to them about how they really just have to approach the opportunities a certain way. The reason I was so happy after Vanderbilt is because they really approached the week with a great spirit and a great intensity and a great attention to detail and you saw it pay off. Two weeks before (against Vanderbilt) we had kind of loafed around and let them shot 24 3s and they were only able to get 10 attempts off (Sunday) and that was a big improvement and all through their preparation so I was happy about that.”
On how much talk will be about defense the next few weeks leading up to postseason …
“Yeah, we were losing games – the Florida game – not to take anything away from Florida because they were outstanding, but we did not hustle on defense in that game and they did not see our best defensive effort. The Vanderbilt game – they didn’t see it (UK’s best defensive effort) – the first Auburn game, against Ole Miss. Those are four of our six losses where you just didn’t see maximum effort. Both games against South Carolina, we gave better effort in those games. That is where our team has to make sure that we understand that none of these games are a whole lot different. They all count the same and we can’t get sky high for South Carolina because they are your rival and you see them twice a year and have developed a really great rivalry with them. You can’t get jacked up for that game and loaf around in some game that you deem not to be important and that was just really immature of us and the process of time and experience is helping them mature and hopefully we won’t show up with any more poor defensive efforts because if we do it is going to shorten our opportunities and we just can’t do that right now. We will focus a lot of defensive intensity and working to get better there. It is an on-going process.”