No. 19 Kentucky Begins 43rd Season with Kentucky Classic
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 19 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will officially start it’s 2016-17 season this weekend by hosting the Kentucky Classic – a three-team, round-robin event – featuring No. 14 Miami (Fla.) and reigning America East Conference champion Albany inside historic Memorial Coliseum.
The event will begin Friday night at 7 ET as UK faces highly ranked Miami (Fla.) and continues Saturday night at 7 ET with Kentucky and Albany, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Miami and Albany will conclude the event Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.
“Tomorrow is our first game of the year and it is a really, really tough opener. Miami has a veteran team, a NCAA Tournament team, Katie Meier is a great coach. I really respect how they play,” Mitchell said. “They will pose a lot of challenges for us. They are extremely aggressive on the defensive end and bring a lot of pressure. They press and can do that in multiple ways. It will be a great challenge for our team tomorrow. They are very explosive offensively, very, very good guards and very athletic. So a tough opener. The toughest opener we have had in a while. And, it will be interesting to see where we are. We will really need to hustle tomorrow and really play hard. We are not a finished product by any means, but you know, in these kind of games, sort of like the Arizona State game last year was the second game of the year and a really tough, hard game. I think in these early season matchups you have to shoot the ball well and get some good breaks and play really hard and try to outwork your opponent. That is what we will try to focus on this afternoon, is trying to get our team to go out and play their guts out and just give great, great effort. When we do that, we will have a chance to be successful. But we are still some ways away from where we will be and we are a work in progress, but excited about what we can become.”
Season tickets are $65 and still available in upper level chairbacks, lower level bleachers and general admission upper level bleachers. Single-game tickets for all three games this weekend are available through the UK Ticket Office and through ticketmaster.com. Single-game tickets are $9 for reserved seating (all ages), $8 for general admission seating (adults) and $5 for general admission seating (youth 6-18/seniors 65+). General admission seating is free for ages five and under.
Both Kentucky games this weekend will be available on the SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro on play-by-play and Christi Thomas as the analyst Friday and Dave Baker and Thomas calling the game Saturday. The game can be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Now in his 12th season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call of the game Friday on Fox Sports 1580AM and Saturday on WLAP 630AM. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
Kentucky enters its 10th season under Mitchell with a No. 19 preseason ranking in both The Associated Press Preseason Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches’ Preseason Top 25. The high ranking marks the seventh straight year that UK has started its season inside the top 20 of both national listings. Under Mitchell, Kentucky has been ranked for 133 consecutive weeks in the AP poll, which is a program record.
The Wildcats ended the 2015-16 season with a 25-8 record, marking its seventh straight 20-win season and the sixth 25-win season in the last seven years under Mitchell. Prior to Mitchell, Kentucky had only won 20+ games 10 times, while only recording one 25+ win season. The impressive 2015-16 regular season led Kentucky to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats were selected to host the first and second rounds of the event for the third straight season. The top-three seed in the event marked the fifth straight for UK, who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.
Kentucky returns several of its top performers from last season in its leading scorer, leading rebounder, leading 3-point shooter, second and third assist leaders, leader in steals and leader in blocks. Senior guard Makayla Epps leads the returners after averaging a team-best 17.1 points per game last season with 4.8 rebounds per game, 143 assists and 41 steals. Epps has been named a preseason All-America honoree by multiple publications this preseason, including to the Nancy Lieberman Preseason Watch List.
Fellow senior Evelyn Akhator returns as Kentucky’s top post presence, averaging a team-best 9.3 rebounds with 13 double-doubles in 2015-16. Akhator was recently named to The Sporting News Preseason All-American Third Team after being tabbed an All-SEC performer last season.
UK also returns junior post Alyssa Rice, who has played in 60 career games with 13 starts, along with sophomores Maci Morris and Taylor Murray. Morris led UK with a team-best .392 mark from 3 in 2015-16, while Murray led UK with 56 steals, becoming the first true freshman to lead the team in steals since Victoria Dunlap in 2007-08. Cincinnati transfer Makenzie Cann also returns after sitting out last season due to NCAA Transfer rules.
Six newcomers have been added to the mix, including senior Bellarmine transfer Jessica Hardin, sophomore Stony Brook transfer Ogechi Anyagaligbo – the 2016 America East Conference Rookie of the Year – and four-star freshman guard Jaida Roper from Memphis, Tenn. Three walk-ons are new to the roster in Pikeville, Ky., native Rachel Potter, Bowling Green, Ky., native LaShae Halsel and Morgantown, W.Va., native Paige Poffenberger.
Mitchell, who is the all-time winningest head coach in program history, welcomes a new – yet familiar – coaching staff this season in associate head coach Kyra Elzy, assistant coach Niya Butts and assistant coach Lin Dunn. Combined the Kentucky women’s basketball coaching staff has compiled over 80 years of experience at the Division I level, including coaching or playing in 34 NCAA Tournaments with eight Final Fours, four national championships and a WNBA Championship.
Elzy and Butts are in their second stint in Lexington after previously serving on Mitchell’s staffs before. Butts was an associate head coach on Mitchell’s first staff at Kentucky before Elzy joined the staff for four successful seasons. Dunn, who is a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, has over 40 years of coaching experience, including three decades in the collegiate ranks.
In the 2015-16 season, Miami compiled a 24-9 (10-6 ACC) record. The Hurricanes earned their seventh consecutive postseason berth and played in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six years before falling in the first round to 12th-seeded South Dakota State, 74-71.
Head coach Katie Meier begins her 12th season at the helm with a 207-143 overall record. The Hurricanes enter this season inside the top 20, as they were voted No. 14 in the AP Preseason Poll and No. 20 in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll. This is the first time Miami has been ranked in the preseason since the 2012-13 campaign, when the Hurricanes were No. 23 in the Coaches’ Poll and No. 24 in the Associated Press Poll.
With only one player departed from its 2015-16 roster, Miami returns 4-of-5 starters from last season including its top-four scorers. Last season, Adrienne Motley led the team with 15.7 ppg, followed by Jessica Thomas who averaged 11.7. Thomas also led the team in assists with 3.6 per game.
Friday marks the seventh all-time meeting between Kentucky and Miami (Fla.) in women's basketball with UK holding a 5-1 record in the all-time series. The Wildcats hold a 2-0 record in games played in Lexington, 1-1 in games played in Coral Gables, and 2-0 in neutral site games. The two teams last met on Dec. 1, 2001 in Memorial Coliseum when UK defeated Miami, 60-57.
Albany finished the 2015-16 season with an impressive 28-5 record, including 15-1 in America East play and an unblemished 12-0 record at home. The Great Danes ended the season on a high note, winning the America East Conference Tournament for the fifth consecutive year. Last season also saw Albany win its first-ever NCAA Tournament Division I game, upsetting No. 5 seed Florida 61-59 in the round of 64.
The Great Danes are headed by first-year head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, who spent the last three seasons as the head coach of the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Ky. Albany returns eight members of last year’s team, including two returning starters in seniors Imani Tate and Cassandra Edwards. Tate represents the leading scorer to return this season after averaging 18.3 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Great Danes last season.
Saturday marks the first all-time meeting between Kentucky and Albany in women's basketball.
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @KentuckyWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.
- New spectator parking options include the High Street Lot ($5 for Friday’s game due to MBB playing at the same time), located at the corner of East High Street and South Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the Alumni Center Lot on Linden Walk, resulting in nearly 200 additional parking spaces.
- Spectator parking is located in all of the E-lots surrounding Memorial Coliseum, all lots are off control 3 hours prior to tip. Additionally, the South Limestone Garage (PS#5) and the Rose Street Garage (PS#2) are available 2 hours prior to tip. See the shuttle map and route information diagram below for all available women’s basketball spectator parking options.
- Parking is prohibited in any R (Residential) lots. Vehicles parking in R lots without a proper permit, along yellow curbs, grass spaces, or other non-specified and unapproved areas may be subject to ticket and/or tow.
- Disabled spectator parking is available with a valid, state issued disabled hang tag in the E-Lot (Employee Lot) north of the Joe Craft Center. These spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis until full.
- A parking map can be found, here.
Transit Center Parking Garage
- UK women’s basketball fans can avoid traffic and congestion around Memorial Coliseum and park for FREE at the Transit Center Garage – available after 5 p.m. ET on weekdays and all day for weekend games.
- The Transit Center Parking Garage is accessible from Vine Street of High Street.
- Push the green flashing button upon entry, take the yellow token and store it in a safe place. Park in the garage and find the UK Athletics event staff member at the entrance of the garage near Lexington Avenue for a free parking token to use after the game when you exit the garage. Staff will remain on site until 20 minutes after tip.
- Please do not lose your token. If you lose your token, you will be charged an $8 fee for a lost token fee. If you lose your token, visit the pay on foot station located in the 7th floor elevator lobby of the garage and choose “lost token.” You will be charged $8.00 and given a new token that can be used to exit the garage.
- For Friday, only those attending the women’s basketball game will receive a free token. Those attending the men’s basketball game at Rupp Arena will have to pay normal price.
- Shuttles are available beginning 2 hours prior to tip and pick up and drop off near the South Limestone Garage (Parking Structure # 5) (blue route) and near the Transit Center Parking Garage and High Street Lot (green route).
- Shuttles will start back up after halftime to return guests to their parking areas, the shuttle will discontinue service 1-hour postgame.
- A shuttle map with route information is available here.
Game Day Information
- Doors to Memorial Coliseum open one hour prior to tip.
- UK Athletics encourages women’s basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
- For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit ukathleticsgameday.com/wbb/.
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening Statement …
“Well, signing day went well yesterday, we signed five players and we are really appreciative to those five. We feel like they really fill our needs for this year. We signed five really high-character young women that fit what we do here at Kentucky. So really, really excited about them. I am thankful for all the hard work that our staff put in. It was a very positive day for us yesterday. We are excited about the future with our signees and know they will make a great contribution for our team next year.
“Tomorrow is our first game of the year and it is a really, really tough opener. Miami has a veteran team, a NCAA Tournament team, Katie Meier is a great coach. I really respect how they play. They will pose a lot of challenges for us. They are extremely aggressive on the defensive end and bring a lot of pressure. They press and can do that in multiple ways. It will be a great challenge for our team tomorrow. They are very explosive offensively, very, very good guards and very athletic. So a tough opener. The toughest opener we have had in a while. And, it will be interesting to see where we are. We will really need to hustle tomorrow and really play hard. We are not a finished product by any means, but you know, in these kind of games, sort of like the Arizona State game last year was the second game of the year and a really tough, hard game. I think in these early season matchups you have to shoot the ball well and get some good breaks and play really hard and try to outwork your opponent. That is what we will try to focus on this afternoon, is trying to get our team to go out and play their guts out and just give great, great effort. When we do that, we will have a chance to be successful. But we are still some ways away from where we will be and we are a work in progress, but excited about what we can become.”
On the team’s defensive identity and how Miami (Fla.) will test that …
“They will test us tremendously. We are not a finished product defensively, that has been a journey we have been on to see what this particular team can do. We are trying to blend not only what the starters can be successful with but what the bench can be successful with so we can be a cohesive team for 40 minutes. So we are trying to get there and we will get there, but they will test us in every way. They have great presence in the paint and have guards that can break you down and get to the rim. They have midrange jump shooters and can make 3s. So it will be a tremendous test for us tomorrow. I think what our theme has to be is we just really have to hustle on defense and play hard and bounce back from mistakes. We will make a ton of mistakes I am sure. It is just where we are right now. But we do have the capability to hustle and we are making some good plays on defense. What I always would hope for is we would be really solid and wouldn’t make a lot of mistakes, but we are a work in progress on the defensive end right now and we just have to keep going at it every single day. Individuals on the team, continue to make small incremental improvements and you just have to be patient with that right now. But great attitudes and great efforts, they come out and get after it every day. I do feel like we have some explosiveness and ability to score some points right now, so that is a good thing. These are so hard to figure out what is going to happen tomorrow night. There are so many different outcomes. You just have to go out and play it and see where you are.”
On how Maci Morris has developed in the offseason…
“We have great support here for our students for every phase of their lives, from academics to nutrition to strength, agility, quickness and our training staff. They have a lot of support. So, when you get a player like Maci who just plugs herself in and totally commits to the program, takes advantage of every opportunity she has, you see some things happen. She is a tireless worker. She just works so hard. John Spurlock, who handles our strength and conditioning and does a great job, says she goes at it. She attacks it with everything she has, and that’s the way she practices. That’s the way she runs if we’re doing conditioning. Whatever it is, she just pours herself into it and really, really works hard. So, that’s just what’s happened since she’s got on campus. It’s been over a year now since she’s been on campus. You just seer her, she’s really made a big jump. When we generally see it really take shape is after their sophomore year, so I’m excited to see how much she can develop this year. It’s all in her attitude and her work ethic. She just doesn’t back down from work. She just works. You can do a lot of things if you’ll do that.”
On Maci developing her defensive skills…
“Early last season, she was able to have some success defensively because we were able to hide her a little bit with scouting reports, like, ‘Just don’t let this kid go right.’ And she can do that. But as the season progressed, and you’re playing different teams and you’re playing great athletes in the conference, it’s just such an athletic league. She had to make some improvements there. But now, when she’s locked in a focused she can guard anybody. She’ll figure it out. And what helps Maci is her length. She can recover on some plays if she makes a mistake. So, I think she’s an intelligent player and as we worked our way through last season, I think we could see where she needed to improve and what she needed to do better. Again it goes back to this: it’s very, very hard to coach desire. Coaches can motivate, but if a player doesn’t have desire, all the motivation is going to be very temporary. With Maci, she just has strong desire. So, you just tell her what you need her to do, show her what she needs to do and how to do it, that’s going to be a successful player because of that.”