No. 18 Kentucky Hits The Road For Rematch at Vanderbilt
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a victory over LSU last weekend before its lone midweek bye in conference action, the No. 18 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team is ready to get back on the court when it travels for a rematch with Vanderbilt on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET in Memorial Gymnasium.
The game will be televised nationally on SEC Network with Paul Sunderland and Gail Goestkors 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 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
Kentucky’s rematch with Vanderbilt, who defeated the Wildcats in Lexington in late January, will start a two-game road swing that also includes a trip to highly ranked Mississippi State next week. The Wildcats are in the middle of four of five games on the road with the only home contest during that stretch coming last Sunday when UK defeated LSU in Lexington, 70-58.
The victory over LSU snapped a three-game losing streak for Kentucky, who is 16-6 overall this season, including 5-6 in Southeastern Conference play. Senior guard Janee Thompson paced Kentucky in the win with her second double-double of the season, posting 16 points with 10 assists. Thompson is the first UK player since 1987-88 to record two assist-point double-doubles in the same season. Freshman guard Maci Morris had 14 points in the game with three rebounds, while sophomore Alexis Jennings had 11 points and a team-best five rebounds.
Junior guard Makayla Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season, averaging 17.0 points per game, ranking second on the team with 96 assists. In conference play, Epps is averaging 17.4 points per game and recently had a streak snapped of scoring at least 17 points in five straight SEC games. Earlier this week, Epps was named to the Naismith Midseason 30, which is a watch list for college basketball’s best player.
Thompson is second on the team with 12.4 points per game and leads the team with 120 assists. Morris is starting to find her way offensively in conference play as she has scored 10+ points in three straight games for the first time this season and is averaging 8.5 points per game. Jennings is averaging 9.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, while fellow post Evelyn Akhator is averaging 11.5 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game.
The Wildcats remained at No. 18 in the both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25 this week. The rankings mark the 128 consecutive week that Kentucky has been ranked inside the top 25, which continues a program record. UK will have to play well to continue that streak as three of its next five opponents are either ranked or receiving votes in one of the two polls.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky met earlier this season on Jan. 28 in Memorial Coliseum with the Commodores pulling out a 71-69 victory, snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Wildcats. The Commodores hit 10 3-pointers in the game, including a 5-for-9 performance from long range by Christa Reed, who had 19 points in the game. The Wildcats put four players in double figures paced by a game-high 25 from Epps, but Reed hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:30 to put the Commodores in the win column.
Since defeating Kentucky back in January, Vanderbilt has lost four straight games in conference action, including most recently falling to No. 25 Tennessee at home, 69-51. The Commodores are 15-9 overall this season and 4-7 in conference action. VU is 10-3 at home, including 2-3 at home in SEC play.
Reed leads the team with 10.6 points per game this season, while Rachel Bell is averaging 9.6 points per game. Rebekah Dahlman is averaging 9.3 points per game, while Reed, Bell and Dahlman pace the team from behind the arc combining for 108 of the team’s 134 3-pointers. Marqu’es Webb leads the team with 5.5 rebounds per game this season, adding 6.5 points per game.
As a team, Vanderbilt is hitting .460 from the field this season, including .357 from 3-point land, averaging 63.5 points per game. VU is limiting opponents to 53.8 points per game with opponents hitting .392 against the Commodores from the field.
Sunday’s game will mark the 51st meeting between the two programs with Vanderbilt holding the advantage in the all-time series, 28-22. Kentucky has won nine of the last 10 meetings in the series, including three straight in Memorial Gymnasium. Matthew Mitchell is 10-4 all-time against Vanderbilt.
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-Vanderbilt News Conference
“I want to thank the Boy Scouts. It’s a real honor to be recognized and to say that the Boy Scouts of America had an incredible impact on my life would be a great understatement. It’s so meaningful with the Boy Scouts, and it really helped me learn the value of leadership and learn core values that I still use today in my professional endeavors. So I’m very grateful for this award. I just don’t feel like I deserve it, but I certainly appreciate it. So thank you very much for being here today.”
“Well, we have a tough challenge on the road for us against Vanderbilt. They beat us here in Lexington and really played a great game and were a tough opponent, and we know that it’ll be tough again on Sunday. Really tough defensive team, makes you earn everything that you get. They just played a really tough, physical game against us. So we know it’ll be a tough game. We got some rest on Monday and Tuesday, and really worked hard Wednesday and yesterday. We’re gonna try to really get ramped up and prepared for a good Vanderbilt team that’s always good in Nashville. So we’re gonna work hard to try to earn a victory.”
On the team’s points of focus leading up to the game…
“We just continue to seek defensive improvement, and we’re seeing some. We were trying to, I think, do a few too many things a couple weeks back and it worked in the Tennessee game and then we lost a couple, three in a row that were really close, and I felt like it was our defense that just was not solid enough. We’ve been seeking improvement there, and I think we’ve seen some. We’re seeing it on film and it is really building and getting better, and I’m really excited to see this team take off. I think we’re ready to really play some good basketball.”
On Taylor Murray and if becoming a leader is difficult for someone as soft-spoken as her…
“Yeah, I think it’s difficult for anyone, really, to play with the kind of intensity we ask you to play with and still be real verbal. And that’s just something that’s always a challenge for our team. And then if it’s something that you’re unaccustomed to just in your daily life, it adds to the challenge. But Taylor has grown a lot this year. She’s always bounced back from any mistakes she’s made with great effort and really has made great progress this season. So that won’t be something that happens overnight, and that won’t be something that happens immediately. We’re really working with our entire basketball team on communication on the defensive end, and it’s getting better but it needs to continue to improve. Taylor, and all of us, just need to really commit to playing with great energy and effort, a great attitude, those are all things that we can all control. If they’ll do that, they’ll accomplish a lot and Taylor will accomplish a lot. She’s come a million miles since the first day last June. I’m real proud of her.”
On if Murray was always quiet during the recruiting process…
“Pretty much. She’s soft-spoken, there’s no doubt about it, and observes a lot, and was very honest about those things in the recruiting process. So I knew it would be a challenge to get her where we wanted her to be, but we’ve had those challenges before and it’ll help her grow as a person. All of us need to get out of our comfort zone and improve in areas that will help others. So if we understand that with all of our players that the more you give, the more you’ll get back in the end. Sometimes those things that we ask them to give are difficult. In this case, with Taylor being verbal and demonstrative and really igniting her team with words, because she plays really hard and she’s dynamic. So I knew it would be a challenge. I guess what we end up being in this thing for is trying to teach and help people and lead people and help them be better than when they got here.”
On if a team can succeed with a quiet point guard…
“You can have some level of success. I don’t think you can be ultimately successful in basketball with any team that’s not really talking and connected. The communication connects us. On defense, there’re only four things that you have to say but we need you to say them. It’s all about positioning and what your job is. So we’ve simplified it. We don’t have a ton of things that we need you to talk about, but you do have to talk and let each other know where you are because that’s what keeps us connected. And we’re the kind of team, we can’t show up and play individual defense. We really have to do a good job playing team defense. That’s what I admire so much about Vanderbilt. They really work well together as a team and make it tough for you to score points. Points are available, but they make it real hard for you to find them. That’s the kind of defensive team that we’re trying to be, and we have to talk to be able to get that done.”
On the importance of rest during the bye week…
“You know, I think it was probably important for anybody in our league to utilize your bye date well. I thought it was great that we had a noon game on Sunday, and they were able to enjoy a little bit of an afternoon off. I think people sometimes may not realize an SEC women’s basketball player really goes seven days a week. Our off day is Monday, but they’re still going to classes and studying. So it’s a really, really tough grind on an SEC women’s basketball player playing Thursday and Sunday. You rarely get a full day off. I think being able to get away from practice for a couple days was good, and then being able to work on some things besides the pressure of the game, being able to work on just us, was helpful too in the bye. So ours came later in the season. Hopefully it will be of some benefit to us. Right now, it’s basically when we get done with Vanderbilt, it’s two more weeks, and we just have to really push through to finish and play some good basketball. I think we’re getting ready to do that.”
On if the team remembers the loss to Vanderbilt and if they believe in revenge…
“I think that they understand where we lost the game, and it was a lack of intensity and not really treating every possession as being so important. It ended up being a two-point game, and we really had a chance when it was 20-11, that really could have been 30-11 if we had really bore down and concentrated on the offensive end. The second quarter, we just didn’t play with any fight or any fire, so I think that was an important game for us to understand how we have to play, and that every possession is precious. I can tell you this, our team is working hard. They want to win. They’re motivated to win. I’m seeing some really great things from them, and we’re gonna try to make sure that turns into a victory on Sunday.”