Kentucky-Mississippi State Postgame Quotes

March 7, 2015

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Kentucky Postgame Quotes

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kentucky head coach and student-athletes Bria Goss and Jennifer O'Neill.

COACH MITCHELL: It was a great game tonight, a fantastic victory for us. We had to overcome a lot of adversity in the game. I thought our opponent, Mississippi State, was very, very tough tonight. I thought they were well-prepared. I thought they were really hustling and giving us all sorts of problems.

You saw the lead grow to 15 in the second half. But I was real proud of our team. We got back to our full-court press, really started pressuring, and it really changed the game.

Happy for our kids. We're glad to survive another day at the tournament.


Q. Talk about toughness and how you think this victory epitomizes what you want from your kids.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, we asked them to be tough tonight. I thought you saw a lot of toughness from our team. When we really made the run, we were playing Gelleah Sidney out of position, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers out of position. People were having to dig deep in situations they weren't comfortable in. I think that's the definition of toughness, when you can find a way to produce and to succeed when you are outside of your comfort zone. I think that's a great definition of toughness.

Our team showed that tonight. We need to continue to show it. We've been asking them in the last 10 days really to get tougher. They have done a great job. We've put a lot of responsibility on them, and they've handled it well.

This has been a good stretch for our team. I think they have shown toughness.

Q. Coach, Makayla, what is with her against Mississippi State?

COACH MITCHELL: She had two good games against Mississippi State scoring. The thing I was most proud for her today, I spoke with her this morning, I really wanted her to be positive tonight no matter what happened. I wanted her to speak positive things into our team today. I wanted to her to continue to try to mature as a leader.

Our seniors have shown a great example of that. I wanted her just to come out with a great attitude and play the game tonight and don't worry about the stat sheet.

Her contribution was significant. I was most proud about the way she handled herself. If there was ever a time to get negative and down, it was with 15 minutes left in the game and we were down 15. We did not have anything going at all. We hung in there as a team. I think she was a part of that. Real proud of that.

Q. Jennifer, you picked up your fourth foul about the 10-minute mark and you were out for about eight minutes. As a senior, seeing the young girls out there, what did you think about that stretch?

Jennifer O'Neill: I thought it was great. It was really good to see them play with that kind of energy and being that intense on defense especially.

Makayla did a great job of getting in transition, getting to the bucket. Like Matthew said, when J.J. and Kyvin, phenomenal. The first time they play, J.J. is picking up the point guard, Kyvin is playing the three. They were out of position, but they were committed to doing their job.

Q. Coach, it seemed like Makayla was hobbled most of the game, but still gutting it out. Talk about that aspect of her performance.

COACH MITCHELL: Yeah, I just really tried to encourage her. I think she can play through it. Obviously she did. We just keep telling her to stretch it out. It just tightens up. You'd have to ask her exactly how painful it is. It just tightens up.

I think more than anything, it gets in her mind that maybe it's limiting her mobility. You saw tonight, you know, she was very capable of playing.

We're just telling her in all those dead-ball situations to really stretch it out so she can play. It may look like she's laboring more than she actually is, but that's just an effort to keep that thing going.

I don't know how you would say it, but it's a pretty pronounced stretch. All of you see that going on, and I think she's just trying to make sure she keeps it where she can have confidence in her game.

She looked really good tonight. She had some good defensive plays. She was able to get on the board. She obviously scored a lot. She's doing a nice job. We as a team need to continue to battle in this tournament, keep working. It's the reason we worked so hard this year to be in such good shape we can play so we can be ready.

Q. What was the conversation like when you were down 15? Was there ever a moment of doubt since you couldn't get anything going?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, the only thing that you're wondering as a coach is, Will we finally start playing? I was really upset with Jennifer. I thought Jennifer had lost focus defensively. I think when a coach can really challenge one of the best players, one of the leaders on the team, and they accept that, I think it helps everybody.

I thought Jennifer really got determined. I thought her determination sparked the team. I thought Bria was really, really determined. We were able to make a run.

Just really proud of some players. Everybody is going to talk about Epps. Epps had a great game. Jelleah didn't have much on the stat sheet, but what she did tonight was incredible. Makayla could have scored 38, and if we couldn't get something going defensively, we would have lost.

So really just a good team win.

Once we were able to get the press going, started disrupting Mississippi State, you could see the momentum shift, and we were off to the races.

Q. They started out so hot, had the momentum going. Did you say anything special to the kids to try to get that defensive trigger going?

COACH MITCHELL: I said an awful lot. There's many things that I said, packaged it different ways. I was trying to get them to play.

Our post players were very, very unfocused at the beginning of the game. I thought Azia and Jelleah got off to a poor start defensively. Azia has to stop letting her offense affect her defense. She missed a couple layups there early. It deflates her. We have to work on her.

Jelleah just let Richardson drive the ball. We spent the entire day talking about what Richardson wanted to do.

They made some threes there early. They came out with a great start. Mississippi State is a very good team. I just thought we were a little unfocused defensively.

I was very proud. I thought when Vivians went out with her second foul and Williams went out with her second foul, there was a lineup on the floor for Mississippi State, I told our kids, This is where we need to make our run. We really need to make a run here. Got it back to four.

Mississippi State dominated the first half. I felt pretty good going in only down four. Then they had that huge run to start the second half.

We did at about the 15 media time-out, the kids were saying it, We got to get up in the press, start fighting. It really changed the energy for our team. A great job.

We didn't turn 'em over a bunch, but we really started affecting them.

Q. Y'all have had some heated battles with Tennessee recently. You meet them for the third time tomorrow. Can you and players both talk about what you're expecting in that matchup.

COACH MITCHELL: We expect it to be a real tough game, SEC semifinals. Wouldn't matter who you're playing. If you play on Saturday in the SEC tournament, you're playing a really good team.

We will just take care of our bodies here. We'll go back to the hotel, go through the same process we went through today and get ready to play a good game tomorrow.

We'll focus much more on Kentucky than our opponent.

Q. Linnae Harper, what is her injury?

COACH MITCHELL: Knee-to-knee contact. I don't know which Mississippi State player, maybe it was one of our players. Hyperextension. She stayed on the bike. We're optimistic about her return tomorrow.

She got a couple of plays where she lost focus offensively and got those charges. There wasn't much there. When you extend your arm even the slightest bit, it's a pretty simple call for the official.

Really I thought the foul trouble limited her more than the injury. She's a tough kid. She'll bounce back. We expect her to be ready tomorrow.

Q. Was there any point during this game where you thought, This isn't our night?

Bria Goss: Really just bringing the team together, saying, It's not over, there's a lot of time left. Saying little things like that. Taking it one possession at a time. Getting to our bench saying, We need your energy, your effort off the bench.

When they came in, like they've been saying, J.J. and Kyvin, outstanding performance. The game is not over till it's over. This game is about runs. They had their run, we had ours. We ended up winning. We were happy about that.

Jennifer O'Neill: We were having productive talks in the huddle. It wasn't people being tired, Okay, good job. It was, We're going to go in here, who you guarding. We were communicating a lot more effectively.

COACH MITCHELL: I always thought if we could piece together any defensive stops, our advantage was in transition offense. I thought the pace was our pace, 41-37 at halftime. Mississippi State played really hard. I just felt like at the end of the day we still would be successful with the faster-paced game, kind of proved to be right.

We just needed to get our defense shored up, and we finally did. They started missing some shots. We were in transition. That's when it really got going for us.

What I just told the team, I'm really proud of our team, they worked hard in a short period of time. But we told them before, Listen, Saturday is a workday in the SEC tournament for Kentucky and you need to do your work tomorrow night 6:30 against whoever you're playing or we're going back to Lexington.

I'm just so rooted right now in helping this team be their best. Again, I wasn't really thinking about, Oh, gosh, this isn't our night. I just knew we could play better basketball than we were playing. We eventually did. I was proud of the team for doing that.

Q. Did you call the press you went to black?

COACH MITCHELL: It's our black press.

Q. They went 10 minutes without a field goal, only 12 turnovers. How disruptive you were trying to be on defense, is that what you wanted?

COACH MITCHELL: I thought they stopped taking the shots they wanted to take and they started taking the shots we dictated to them. They did that for a large majority of the game.

There was a time in the 13-2 run we weren't being very tough. They had a really good stretch. I thought they started taking some shots. Then again I thought they missed some shots close in. Maybe the pace affected them. When the momentum shifts, it's tough, too.

Combination of all those things, I guess.

Q. Can you talk about playing Tennessee for a third time this season, being back in the semifinal.

Bria Goss: It's our next game, so it's the most important game on our schedule. Like coach said, we're going to go in tomorrow with a focused mindset, just really wanting to go out there and start the game off well, do the little things right, encourage each other, staying positive, having a positive attitude, all those good things we're used to.

It's a big game, but it's another game. Tennessee is a great team, but so are we. It's going to be a great competition.

Jennifer O'Neill: I'm excited. I think it's a great rivalry we have with them. I'm a competitor. I like to compete. I know the whole team is like that. So we're looking forward to seeing Tennessee in the next round.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, ladies, thank you very much.


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Mississippi State Postgame Quotes

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Mississippi State head coach and student-athletes Martha Alwal and Victoria Vivians.

COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I'm disappointed. I think at about the 14-minute mark he called time-out, had some choice words down there. I thought his group really responded.

I thought they played harder, took us out of a lot of stuff offensively. Started with defense, which is that's where it starts for us, too. I thought they took us out of a lot of things because of how hard they were playing defensively.

Obviously we had a hard time guarding Epps. She probably was (indiscernible) best out of seven because she's had two really good ballgames against us. It's a team that has three great guards. They go 17 for 34 with their starting guards, and one of them went zero for three. Those three are hard to deal with. We really have a matchup issue with them when you play them obviously.

You have a lot of respect for O'Niell, Goss and Epps. I hate to put Tori on somebody that's going to give me too many issues because I don't need her chasing somebody around.

At the same time she's a freshman and still learning her way. Martha was five for five at half time. We got her two touches the second half. That's a key stat as well.

You have to give them credit. They're up there pressuring my point guard. We only had 12 turnovers tonight, y'all. That's about as few turnovers as we've had in a month. I'm proud of my team, so proud of my fans.

The Bulldogs traveled tonight. We had so many people in the stands. I'm so disheartened and disappointed for them. For those of you that don't follow us or don't know. We have been drawing tremendous rate. 7300 on Sunday and averaged almost five thousand fans a game in conference.

So proud of my fans for providing a great atmosphere for us tonight.

Got to take your hat off to Kentucky and Matthew and his staff. They played hard. I thought they upped the juice tonight midway through the second half and we didn't match it.


Q. Victoria, can you tell us what was wrong with your thumb and if you remember when that happened.

VICTORIA VIVIANS: I don't know what happened to my thumb. I know my whole nail came off. It was just blood everywhere, so I had to get off the court. All right, though.

Q. How big was that stretch when Victoria was on the bench?

COACH SCHAEFER: We couldn't score. Obviously they were. I think Epps took the game over during that run.

What I'm disappointed about there, y'all, we talk about all the time making them use the screen. We allowed her to get to the rim so much and so often. She's such a big, physical guard, once she gets down there, she's got such great body control. She just can finish.

We didn't hedge on ball screens. We didn't hedge them properly. She's a great player. She made everything she looked at. Hey, I've seen it before about a month ago. It wasn't like anything we didn't know was coming.

It was just a tough stretch where we obviously were having a hard time at both ends. When we made our run, we were in passing lanes, we were doing what we do. We were taking the fight to them.

I'm sure that's what his conversation with them was about when he called time-out is we were taking a fight. They flipped it around on us. We were in passing lanes. Tori got a steal. J.J. got a couple steals. We were getting transition. We were doing some awfully good things.

But, again, I felt like those veterans, they got some veteran players, some great players, they just said, Hey, enough's enough. That's what you want out of some veteran kids. I thought they did that.

Q. I know you're disappointed right now, but you know you still have a lot to play for going to the NCAA tournament. Talk about that. Also talk about Victoria.

COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I'm certainly thrilled for my players and my staff and my university for being able to go to the NCAA tournament. To go 26-5 in year three. We, in most games, with two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior on the floor. We're a really young team. I'm going to miss this one right here whenever that day comes. She's been such a big part of our resurrection.

The ability for young kids to change, it's hard, it's hard for older people to change. Martha really has been a part of that. She's changed herself for the better.

Again, just thrilled. Again, we're the third seed by ourself in the SEC. I think that warrants a top four seed. I think we're one of the 16 best teams in the country. We've been ranked in the top 16 all year long. I know they don't look at that, but somebody needs to. There's not two groups of idiots out there. AP poll people and coaches. You got to respect those people that are voting and realize that we are.

We navigated the gauntlet in the SEC, gone 11-5. We're two free throws from being 13-3 in the league instead of 11-5.

I'm telling you, if we could host, I really believe there wouldn't be an empty seat. I just feel like we sell it out. We had 7300 on Sunday. Our fans are so infatuated and in love with our players, and rightfully so. Our kids play their hearts out. We just didn't play as well as Kentucky.

The ability to be in the NCAA tournament, I'm so happy for Martha. I promised this when I took the job. She's from Worthington, Minnesota, a long way away from home. Tough first year. I come in. I'm a little different than what she's used to. We had some heart to hearts on many a day and many a night. She stuck it out. I promised her if she would, we'll get to the NCAA tournament. We're going to get there. It's going to be a great run.

I'm really happy for my players, obviously, and my staff. I know there's two parts to that. Did I hit both of them?

Q. Talk about Victoria.

COACH SCHAEFER: Obviously you're talking about a prolific scorer, just a kid that can get it done in a lot of different ways. You saw her come out tonight. I've seen her do that many, many times. It's nothing unusual. She's such a confident kid for being so young, inexperienced. She's so experienced in the game of basketball.

You put the freshman label on her, she doesn't play like one. Her high school coach, Chad, did a tremendous job with her. She's made so many big shots in her career, it's just another shot. It's just in a different arena at this level.

But she's made so many big shots in her career. You're looking at the all-time leading scorer in the history of girl's high school basketball. She's obviously been somebody we go to a lot. Made the game winner against A&M, scored 39 the last time we played this team.

She's meant a lot to us and, again, played well again tonight. Hey, I'm glad she's on my team and I don't have to figure out a way to guard her.

Q. You played zone a little bit in the first half. Did you think about using zone a little bit more in the second half?

COACH SCHAEFER: We tried to play zone. We just weren't very focused and into it. I mean, I had some senior guards out there kicking it around, not getting matched up right.

Really wanted to do that. Left them open. A couple times they made some wide-open threes. At this level, you're going to lose the horse game. Kids can make shots if they're unguarded.

That in essence is what happened. It happened in the first half, then again in the second half. Yeah, I wanted to play some zone, but you got to communicate. This has not been a team that communicates well on the floor. We'll go back in the locker room, back to the hotel, there will be a ton of communicating going on. On the floor they've struggled with communicating.

I tell you, we work on it every day. Three-on-two, two-on-one, it's all about communication. It's just been an Achilles all year.

Here is the other part. That was during the 30-to-four run. It's hard getting back in zone. When you're scoring, you can get back in it when you're not scoring, it's tough.

When we played them the first time, down 10 with 10 to go, went back to the matchup. We were scoring, getting stops, coming back, getting our defense set. Tonight, for whatever reason, we really lacked the focus, man or zone, we just really lacked focus defensively I thought. 76 points. Anybody that knows me knows that ain't my forté.

Q. Victoria, how difficult was it to have the injury when you were kind of in the zone? How frustrating was that injury when it happened?

VICTORIA VIVIANS: It was very frustrating. But I can't blame it. I got to play ball. Just got to come out there and play, play through whatever injury you have because it's the game, you got to win.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, ladies, thank you very much for joining us.

COACH SCHAEFER: Thank y'all. Praise the Lord and go Dogs.

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