No. 9 Kentucky Travels to Face Ole Miss Thursday Night
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 9/9 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team continues Southeastern Conference action when it heads to Oxford, Miss., to take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network with Cara Capuano and Steffi Sorensen on the call. The game can also be heard live on the UK Sports Radio Network with Neil Price on the call for the 11th straight season.
The Wildcats (14-2) have suffered two losses since opening up SEC play, the only two of the season. UK dropped its SEC opener in Auburn, 66-61, and also suffered a 73-62 setback to No. 2/2 South Carolina last Thursday. Ole Miss (9-9) and Kentucky have yet to face a common opponent in the 2016 SEC slate, with the Rebels winning the conference opener against Vanderbilt, 55-52, before dropping four straight against LSU, No. 22/23 Florida, No. 13/12 Texas A&M and No. 10/10 Mississippi State.
“Tough game vs. Ole Miss tomorrow night and they are very, very good, one of the best in the country, at turning people over and being disruptive to other team’s offense. We have had some trouble in those areas, clearly, and we just want to try to go down there and work hard and try to earn a victory,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It is going to be a tough game, we know that and we got beat down there last year and we need to make sure we understand what a tough game this will be. So we are going to prepare really hard today. We had a good practice yesterday and see if we can go down and earn a very important road victory.”
Thursday night will mark the 38th meeting between the two programs, with Ole Miss leading the all-time series, 21-16. The Rebels also have a 12-6 record in games played in Oxford, but the game will be the first clash between the two schools at the new Pavilion at Ole Miss. Kentucky has won eight of the last 10 meetings against the Rebels, with both losses during that stretch coming in Oxford.
Last year, Kentucky and Ole Miss met twice with each team protecting its home court. The first meeting on Jan. 4 in Lexington resulted in a 64-58 victory for the Wildcats, led by Janee Thompson’s 17 points. When the two met up later in the season in Oxford, the Rebels snapped a six-game losing streak to the Wildcats with a 67-59 victory.
The Wildcats are coming off a 1-1 week, falling to highly ranked South Carolina before taking down Auburn in a rematch from the SEC season opener. UK remained at No. 9 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25, continuing its program-record streak of being ranked in the top 25.
The Wildcats are averaging 75.6 points per game, while shooting .460 from the field and holding opponents to 54.4 points per game. Kentucky is also averaging 41 rebounds per game in league play and forcing 18 turnovers. Defensively, the Wildcats have an average of 8.2 steals and 5.0 blocks per game.
Junior post player Evelyn Akhator enters Thursday’s contest averaging a double-double with 12.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, while holding the second best field goal percentage on the team of .523. Junior guard Makayla Epps leads the team in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per game, while shooting .495 from the field during her 35.5-minute average. Following Epps in double-figure scoring average is Thompson with 12.5, who also leads the team in assists with 86 on the season.
Ole Miss is averaging 72.4 points per game this season, limiting opponents to 65 points per game. The Rebels are only allowing opponents to hit 3.8 3-pointers per game and are forcing teams into 24.8 turnovers per game for a +8.7 turnover margin. In league play, Ole Miss is averaging 57.2 points per game and allowing opponents to score 74.6 points per game.
Shandricka Sessom leads the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game, hitting .317 from 3-point land while also averaging 6.0 rebounds per game. Erika Sisk is the only other Rebel averaging double-figure scoring with 10.3 ppg and leads the team in assists with 57.
The Rebels are coached by Matt Insell, who was an assistant coach at Kentucky from 2008-13 before moving to Oxford to take on his first head coaching job. During his time as an assistant, Kentucky posted a 127-46 record, advanced to four straight NCAA Tournaments, including three Elite Eights and won the 2011-12 SEC Regular Season Championship.
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-Ole Miss News Conference
“Tough game vs. Ole Miss tomorrow night and they are very, very good, one of the best in the country, at turning people over and being disruptive to other team’s offense. We have had some trouble in those areas, clearly, and we just want to try to go down there and work hard and try to earn a victory. It is going to be a tough game, we know that and we got beat down there last year and we need to make sure we understand what a tough game this will be. So we are going to prepare really hard today. We had a good practice yesterday and see if we can go down and earn a very important road victory.”
On what he wants to the team to do better at to limit turnovers …
“We don’t always show a lot of patience and we just get a little bit rushed and a little bit frantic and that is what the press is supposed to do. The press and pressure defense is there to create anxiety and it is almost like a sixth defender. You do some crazy stuff at times and those are the ones that we need to try to eliminate through repetition and practice. Then our post players turn the ball over too much getting rushed and seeing double teams and different defenses. We really need to eliminate the post turnovers. Three seconds in the lane, we should be able to eliminate those without a whole lot of practice time. Just try to be more focused and understanding where we are on the court. Evelyn does it, Alyssa, Alexis, Batouly, everybody that is in the post rotation right now, is called for picking their pivot foot up. They have worked too hard on their footwork and had too many reps to be doing those kinds of things. In this league, you are going to play really good athletes like we will tomorrow night. They will be very aggressive and very well coached and so you are going to turn the ball over some. But I think for us, it is mainly a mental focus issue. There have been a lot of times this year where we had a bunch in the first half and then we do better in the second half after we try to regroup. Just trying to improve on that every single day. That is definitely something we are emphasizing and trying to get better at.”
On if his goal for this team is still 12 turnovers or less …
“Well, I think for our team right now we have to be realistic and I think if we can get below 15. We were there with South Carolina, but then they had 10 blocks and a block for them is a big block and with such force that it gets out of there and is almost like a turnover. We didn’t do a great job of ball security against South Carolina either. I think right now if we can get under 15 minutes, that would be great and hopefully by the end of the season when we are trying to really make a push to be our best, it would be great in big games to get it to 12. That would mean we are playing some excellent basketball.”
On Janee Thompson’s turnovers …
“Yeah, she just forced the action too much. She gets impatient I think with maybe some of our youth and youthful mistakes and wants to go make something happen. She is trying to win and wants to win and it is all coming from a good place yet it is still damaging to us because they are turnovers. So we are just watching film with her and trying to continue to teach and continue to instruct. She knows what she has to do and she just has to go into the game and refuse to turn the basketball over because she is trying to make spectacular plays. But Janee and Makayla need to only make like two turnovers or less a game. They don’t need to make five or seven turnovers. They are too good of players and have too much experience to have those mental lapses.”
On if Makayla Epps is not looking for her shot enough …
“We are working on that. I think at times she defers more than she should. She did a really good job the second half at Auburn. I just told her to stop passing the ball in transition, because she was giving the ball up too quickly and make people guard you so then your teammates are open. We will give it to Evelyn or Alexis out 25 feet from the basketball instead of holding it a little while longer and making the defense commit and that is where some of the turnovers are coming. She did a really good job and had a big and-one play against Auburn because she read the defense and kept it and she is a strong, strong finisher. She is important and she needs to be aggressive on defense.”
On Taylor Murray’s development …
“It is amazing, it really is. I remember back in June at the first workout and I am sure that she was nervous and not ready mentally to go, but it was a tough day and she was barely hitting the goal in some of our shooting drills and I was thinking , ‘Man, we have a lot of work to do here.’ But that dissipated quickly because in the first month you could see she was committed to hard work and is a high character person and has a strong work ethic and very comfortable. Thinking back to that first day to where she is now, it has been a tremendous amount of improvement. She is an incredible person and works really, really hard and I think she is going to have a fantastic career here.”