No. 8 Kentucky Welcomes Louisville to Rupp Arena Thursday

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 8 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team continues its tough December stretch on Thursday as it welcomes in-state rival and preseason top-10 ranked Louisville to Rupp Arena for a 7 p.m. ET tip. The game is one of two contests this month for Kentucky in the historic downtown building. 

Single-game tickets are available online through Ticketmaster at $9 for lower-level reserved seats and $8 for upper-level general admission. Senior citizen (65+) and youth (6-18) tickets are available for $5 while children age five and under will be admitted free (based on availability) in upper-level general admission. In lower-level reserved seating, all patrons require a ticket regardless of age. UK faculty and staff can receive up to four complimentary tickets for the game if purchased in advance at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office with valid employee ID. Group tickets are also available in advance starting at $2 by contacting the UK Ticket Office. 

Gameday Central
Louisville at Kentucky
Thursday, Dec. 10 - 7 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky. - Rupp Arena
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | UofL Get Acrobat Reader

SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Radio Network (630AM WLAP in Lexington)
Game Center (free audio, live stats)
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The game will be televised nationally on SEC Network with Brenda VanLengen, Carolyn Peck and Steffi Sorensen calling the action. The game can also be seen through WatchESPN through computers, smartphones and 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. 

More than 10,000 convenient parking spaces are available within a 10-minute walk of Rupp Arena. In addition, most surrounding parking lots and parking garages offer spaces for individuals with disabilities. A parking fee will be in effect for most all Rupp Arena events. A parking map is available here. 

Kentucky (7-0) moved up several spots to No. 8 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25 this week. It marks the first time this season the Wildcats have cracked the top 10 in both listings. The rankings extend Kentucky’s school-record rankings streak to 119 weeks. Louisville, which started the season ranked eighth in both polls, is receiving votes in the latest AP poll. 

Kentucky will be hitting the hardwood on Thursday for the first time in over a week as the Wildcats last played on Wednesday, Dec. 2 when they traveled to NKU and defeated the Norse 84-65 at BB&T Arena. Senior guard Janee Thompson paced Kentucky with 21 points and seven assists, while junior forward Evelyn Akhator had 13 points and six rebounds and junior guard Makayla Epps had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes of play. 

The Wildcats have used strong defense and an efficient offense to post some impressive numbers this season and rank high nationally in several categories. Defensively, Kentucky ranks seventh in the nation and second in the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage defense at 32.0%, while allowing opponents 53.9 points per game which ranks top 25 nationally. On the offensive end, UK sits top 10 nationally in assists per game, field goal percentage, scoring offense and 3-point field goal percentage. 

Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season, averaging 16.2 points per game on top of 6.3 rebounds per game and 7.1 assists per game. Thompson is second on the team in scoring at 15 points per game and 7.1 assists per game, while Akhator, sophomore center Alexis Jennings and freshman guard Maci Morris are all averaging over 10 points per game. 

Louisville recently dropped out of the AP Top 25, having previously been ranked the No. 22 team in the nation on the Nov. 23 poll. UofL started the season ranked in the top 10 of both polls. The Cardinals are off to a 3-4 start to the season, with losses to No. 18/17 California, Western Kentucky, Purdue and Dayton, the latter three of which are all receiving votes in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls. UofL is currently on a two-game winning streak with a victory over highly ranked Michigan State on the road and Valparaiso at home. 

Louisville has four players averaging double-digit scoring, led by sophomore forward Mariya Moore with 15.4 points per game, who is also second on the team in assists, with 25, and steals, with 15.  Myisha Hines-Allen has been leading the rebounding effort with 7.1 boards per contest to go with 13.1 ppg. Louisville is currently ranked No. 20 in the nation in steals per game (20.0), and is also averaging 16.4 assists per contest, good for 47th in the NCAA.

Thursday’s meeting will be the 52nd all-time contest between the two schools in women’s basketball with Kentucky leading the series 33-18, including a 21-4 mark in games played in Lexington. The series is tied 2-2 in games played in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats have won four straight games in the series, while Mitchell is 5-3 vs. UofL. 

For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, follow @UKHoopCats on Twitter and Instagram, or like Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook. 

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pre-Louisville News Conference 

Opening statement …
“OK, big game tomorrow night. We certainly respect the rivalry. It’s a big game. We feel grateful to be at the University of Kentucky and we know how much the game means to our fans. And what they expect you to do in this game is really compete and play very hard. And so we’re excited to play in a game of this magnitude and of this meaning and we certainly respect that part of it. It’s a great opportunity for our team to see where we are right now. I think it is clearly our strongest test to date. They are extremely talented, very well coached, explosive on offense, very tenacious on defense and so it’ll be the stoutest test we’ve had so far. We’ve been working really hard over the last week to try to get better as a basketball team. That’ll give us an opportunity to see where we are. The game will give us that opportunity. And then I always believe that this game’s important at the end of the year. I think it’s a quality win for whoever’s able to get the victory and that’s a credit to both programs for being so strong. And so it’s a big game. It means a lot. We’ve worked hard to prepare and we’re excited to go play and certainly know it’s going to be tough.”

On Janee Thompson playing well against Louisville …
“It’s been something that has really kind of shown up over there. Her freshman and junior year she made big shots. The one at the end her freshman year and we certainly didn’t expect that at that point in time because she wasn’t playing a lot at that point in her career. So that was a great memory I know she’ll always have. And then last year really hit a big shot maybe for us to take the lead for the first time. I can’t remember exactly the circumstance, but it was a very meaningful performance that she had. So I tell you what I’m expecting from her, is continued good play. She’s played great this season. I wish that history meant something in the game this year. It’s two totally different teams and she has played really well this season and as of late. My expectation would be based more on that than it would be what she’s done in the rivalry. But if she would like to have a big game tomorrow night and do well and help us win, I won’t be upset with her.”

On coming back from double-digit leads the last three years against UofL …
“Well, it has a lot to do with how tough Louisville is and their defense is always very aggressive and it is designed to keep you off balance. And we have not handled their defensive pressure and intensity early in the last three years. And so that’s something that we’ve certainly tried to get better, not just for this game but for any type of defense that’s trying to confuse you. That’s been something that’s worked on us in the past. We’ve really tried to become better offensively at being able to trust what our eyes see and to make the smart play and possess the ball and don’t be afraid to make multiple passes. Last year’s game – you look at that – we were very jumpy early in the game. We just turned the ball over a ton. They were very aggressive. And then finally, we’ve been able to settle in and make enough plays to win and come back from the deficits. But it’s a credit to Louisville’s defense and how tough that is and they really give you some different looks that can be confusing to players at times. So I think that’s what’s attributed to us digging ourselves in a hole. And I think their players always come out and play with a lot of energy and emotion in the game. They have, and I know our players need to be ready for that. This’ll be an intense game.”

On whether he expects Alyssa Rice to play …
“We do. Barring that she has no setbacks today, but you’ll have to understand that she practiced for the first time full-go two days ago. We held her from practice yesterday. She’ll go again today and so what I know we’ll get from Alyssa is her best effort. She does help us with defensive positioning. We’re struggling with that right now and we’re trying to get better at that and we will get better at that. She is, for us, an experienced player as a sophomore and she understands help defense a little bit better than some of our other players at this point in time. Whatever we get from her will be a positive situation for us because she’s going to be a big part of our team and she brings us energy, effort, toughness. She’ll take charges, she’ll get rebounds, she’ll set good screens, she’ll run the floor every time, she’ll make layups. She is going to be an important part of our team this year so it’s good to have her back.”

On UK’s offensive improvement this season …
“Well, I think we tried to make a real commitment to it starting in June. We looked at where we have landed on the national landscape. And that’s been solidly within the top 10 over the last several years. If you look at our seeding over the last six years, I think we’ve been below a two only twice. That gets you in that conversation between one of the top eight or 12 programs in the country year in and year out. So you put the stats up there and we were the only team in the last 10 years to win the SEC championship shooting it at 40 percent. We were 40.6 percent in 2012. It was the lowest shooting percentage any champion’s had. We just started talking about ways that we needed to address that. We just had to shoot the ball better and so one thing we tried to do the best that we can as coaches is we tried to work on our shooting footwork. We tried to give them tons of reps this summer on getting confident on their shooting footwork, and we tried to repeat it and repeat it.  And different people that I’ve visited with and tried to study from, there’s all sorts of different ways and people have different philosophies.  But we just try to get very consistent with everyone and try to get everyone sort of doing the same thing to see if we could help out.  And, you know, you’d have to ask the players if that helped or not.  But that is one thing that we did intentionally this summer.  We really worked on shooting the ball.  And then from a team standpoint, we’ve tried to stay very organized in our individual development, and I’ve tried to make sure that our coaches are getting them enough reps shooting the ball in individual development.  Hopefully that’s helped us some.  And then I had to get out of my comfort zone as a coach and understand the time that it takes to be really good on offense.  And I have to tell you, I think that we’re seeing some progress there.  I still lay awake at night thinking sometimes that we’re not going to be good enough on defense because of the time that we spend on offense.  But really, as I look at this team, I think that we’ve got a chance by the end of this season to be a very solid defensive team.  I don’t know what the ceiling is there, if we can be a great defensive team.  But I think we have enough weapons offensively, if we really do a good job there, that if we can just be solid with our defensive effort and really rebound every night, we’ll try to give ourselves a chance.  But we’ve played so many games here, and you all have seen it over the years, where we’ve played really hard on defense. But you play UConn, and it’s a two-point ball game at halftime, and they get into a zone and kind of confuse you and you can’t make the right reads and you can’t score off the turnovers and you get beat by 15 points.  So we’ve got to try to address that, and I can’t be so contrarian and try to go against everybody, the Stanfords and the UConns and the Notre Dames and the people that have been there year in and year out shoot the ball at a really high percentage.  So I’m not certainly putting this team on that level right now, but that’s our approach.  And that would be my answer to your question."

On how he as a coach reacts to playing in Rupp Arena…
“Well, it’s clearly one of the iconic buildings in the country when you talk about college basketball. There’s a lot of history in that place, as there is in Memorial Coliseum. I do love Memorial, but it’s a special opportunity and I think the players enjoy it. We’ve had tremendous support down there and we need a huge crowd down there tomorrow night to try to help us out. So I would call on Big Blue Nation to turn out in force tomorrow night.  We need you.  But it’s as good an atmosphere as we’ve had down there. That 3 against Baylor in there last year, I thought that place was going to come unhinged. You get that many people in a place and you play exciting basketball, you’re going to get excited. It’s a great place to play.  I enjoy it, I’m grateful that we have that luxury to go down there and play occasionally. I’m really grateful that the university has the regional there for the next three years. So it’s not lost on any of us that it’s a great opportunity for us to try to work as hard as we can and try to see if we can play a game in there in late March. That would really be special. That would be my favorite game to play in Rupp Arena. It’s a great venue, great place. We’re excited to play down there.”

On how he anticipates the freshmen will react to the pairing of the rivalry and playing in Rupp…
“I would tell you, we have a really great group. A really hard working group. They’re smart players. I don’t think that they are going to not respect the rival or not respect the intensity.  That would really shock me if they don’t come out with intensity. I just have so much respect for Louisville and their players, and how well coached they are, that I just get a little bit worked up as a coach hoping we’re prepared and ready. It’s a big game, it’s a meaningful game. But I tend to think more about what’s in front of you and things, the external stuff we don’t spend a lot of time on with this team. If you have a real veteran team and maybe can get some mileage out of that…you know, in 2010, I think they had won a bunch of games straight against us and I didn’t talk a whole lot about it, but that team had some juniors and a couple seniors. And they played with some ferocity that day and we were able to win, I think out of some type of emotional state. And Louisville had been decimated by some injuries, so that day kind of worked for us. But this game really comes down to more who executes better on the court than it does the emotion of it all. I don’t think that is where I can really spend my energy with this particular group. We really need to execute well tomorrow to win.”

On if he is surprised by Janee Thompson’s numbers increasing so much…
“Well, on one hand it’s a big increase, so it might be surprising. But what’s not surprising is when you watch her shoot and you’re with her and you’re able to watch her get up shots, she is really technically awesome right now. Her elbow’s under the ball. When the ball releases it is just perfect rotation. It is perfect trajectory. She is swishing a lot of practice shots. It is not surprising because of the quality of her practice right now. So I would understand, the numbers do look different. I don’t know if she’s just been able to get into a groove and really spend some time on that, but it looks good right now.”