UK Hoops Meets Arkansas in SEC Home Opener

Jan. 4, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 11/9 Kentucky women’s basketball returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum for its Southeastern Conference home opener vs. Arkansas on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on the UK IMG Sports Network and FSN South.

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Kentucky at Arkansas
Thurs., Jan. 5 - 6:00 p.m. ET
Memorial Coliseum
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TV: UK IMG
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The Wildcats (12-2, 1-0 SEC) are coming off a hard-fought 59-56 win at Florida on Sunday in the SEC opener. It marked UK’s first SEC-opening win since 2008 and its third-straight win over Florida. The Cats are looking to start league play at 2-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, and keep its home winning streak alive. The Cats’ current 12-game home winning streak ties for 12th nationally and is the sixth-longest in school history.

“Arkansas is always one of the toughest games of the year for us,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Coach (Tom) Collen does a great job with his team. They are holding teams to very low scoring, right at 50 points a game, so they have very solid defense. And then the schemes they run on offense are always a real challenge. They run a lot of on-ball action and on-ball screening action. They just have some very talented players, they’re well-coached and this is always one of the toughest games to prepare for all season. It’ll be a big challenge for our team. We’ve been working hard and I feel like we’re making some progress and it’ll be a great, great opportunity for us to get back home in front of our crowd tomorrow night – and I hope we have a big one. It’s an extremely important game. We’ll be looking forward to taking the court and playing Arkansas.”

The Razorbacks (11-2, 0-1 SEC) enter Thursday’s game coming off a 67-57 loss at Georgia on Jan. 1. Arkansas was paced by Sarah Watkins, who scored a team-high 15 points while also grabbing a team-high nine rebounds and blocking two shots.

Watkins, a 6-foot-3 junior post player from Germantown, Tenn., is the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Senior forward Ashley Daniels leads Arkansas on the boards, grabbing 5.8 rebounds per game. Senior guard C’eira Ricketts, a Louisville, Ky., native, guides the Arkansas offense with 4.4 assists per game to go with her 10.6 points per game average.

Junior guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.), who scored a team-high 14 points, was crucial to the Wildcats’ win over the Gators on Sunday. With UK trailing by two in the first half, Mathies nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, grabbed a rebound and took a charge in the final 60 seconds to give Kentucky a four-point halftime lead, and the Cats would never trail again. Freshman guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) also was a key catalyst as she scored 11 points, all in the first half, and added four rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) added eight points and seven rebounds in her first SEC contest.

Overall, Mathies is UK’s leading scorer with 15.3 points per game (tied for fourth in the SEC), while Goss is the SEC’s top freshman scorer with 12.2 ppg. Goss has netted double digits in 12 of 14 career games, including six in a row.

UK leads the nation in turnover margin (+13.6), and is fifth in steals (15.5) and scoring offense (81.9). The Cats have forced at least 22 turnovers in all 14 games this season. Leading the charge is Mathies, who already ranks in the top 10 on UK’s all-time steals list. She averages an SEC-high tying 3.7 steals per game to go along with her team-best 15.3 points per game. Goss has also been a key contributor both offensively and defensively as she averages 12.2 points and 1.9 steals per game.

Thursday is the 29th meeting in the series between Kentucky and Arkansas. UK leads the all-time series 15-13, including a 10-3 advantage when playing in Lexington. UK has won the last five meetings against Arkansas in Lexington after escaping with a 55-54 win last season in Memorial.

Fans interested in tickets can visit the Joe Craft Center ticket office, go to UKathletics.com, or call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS.

Single-game reserved tickets are available at a cost of $7 for all ages. General admission tickets for adults are also $7 while single-game general admission tickets for seniors and children (18 and under, 65 and over) are only $4. Age 5 and under are admitted free.

If not able to attend the game, it can be heard live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network or www.UKathletics.com with Neil Price calling the action. Fans can follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.

Women's basketball parking is available in the following surface lots and parking structures. Because of the holiday break, more parking is available in the lots surrounding Memorial Coliseum:

  • Student Center Lot - off Euclid Ave
  • MLK South Lot - between Lexington Ave and MLK Blvd. and south (towards Euclid) of the center drive lane. Note: Note: The residential (R1) lot in the northern portion of the MLK lot will also be available during the holiday break for games on January 5 and January 8 only.
  • Handicapped Parking (first come-first served until full) is located in the Northeast corner of the MLK South Lot, must have valid state-issued hang tag.
  • Joe Craft Center North E-Lot - large lot located north of the Joe Craft Center, and accessible via Lexington Avenue or Rose St.
  • Good Samaritan surface Lot - accessible off MLK Blvd
  • Parking Structure #5 - entrances off Limestone and S. Upper
  • Doors to the Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.
  • UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
  • Surface event lots (i.e. Student Center, Hardymon, South MLK, Joe Craft Center North and Good Samaritan Surface Lot) typically reach capacity approximately 45 minutes prior to tip-off, at which point, vehicles should proceed to Parking Structure #5 (PS#5).
  • The PS #5 shuttle will begin one hour prior to tip and end one hour post-game. The PS #5 shuttle picks up on Administration Drive, accessible via the sky bridge located on the 3rd Floor of PS#5.

Pre-Arkansas Media Opportunity - Jan. 4, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…
“Well, before we discuss the game tomorrow, we are saddened (to learn) yesterday (of the) passing of Jennifer O’Neill and Bra’Shey Ali’s high school and club basketball coach, Robert Apache Paschall, (who) died yesterday. He was 37 years old, a very young man. It’s been a tough few hours here around our complex. Jen and Bra’Shey are saddened by it and our staff is saddened by it. Apache was a guy who gave a lot of young women a lot of opportunities to showcase their talents so they could go on to be college basketball players. We’ll be thinking and our prayers go out to everybody associated with that high school, and their club, and Apache’s family and friends. It’s just a sad time and we’re certainly trying to support our players the best we can during what’s been a difficult last 24 hours.

“Arkansas is always one of the toughest games of the year for us. Coach (Tom) Collen does a great job with his team. They are holding teams to very low scoring, right at 50 points a game, so they have very solid defense. And then the schemes they run on offense are always a real challenge. They run a lot of on-ball action and on-ball screening action. They just have some very talented players, they’re well-coached and this is always one of the toughest games to prepare for all season. It’ll be a big challenge for our team. We’ve been working hard and I feel like we’re making some progress and it’ll be a great, great opportunity for us to get back home in front of our crowd tomorrow night – and I hope we have a big one. It’s an extremely important game. We’ll be looking forward to taking the court and playing Arkansas.”

On what makes Arkansas so difficult to play against…
“They have outstanding players and that’s the first thing. They’re tough to match up with and they run on offense a lot of on-ball screens. We are a very aggressive defensive team and they are a very aggressive offensive team, so it’s sort of a battle of wills there. If you are tracking them, and you’re slow at all in rotations, they can shoot a lot of layups. They are probably a little bit more multiple in their ball-screening action than most teams, so it’s not as predictable as some teams are. You really have to focus and be extremely solid in this game. So, mental preparation and execution during the game – so preparing before and executing and carrying out the game plan – is just a real test for players and we’ve had some really, really tough battles with them. It’s just always a chore going against Arkansas. It’s a tough game.”

On the play of sophomore center Samantha Drake…
“She had a great run there for seven or eight games and I thought she was building some confidence. Then she came back from Christmas and that game after the holiday she just was not mentally in the game at Middle Tennessee. That carried over a little bit into practice going into Florida and then that Florida game she didn’t get much of a chance. I saw her play, I saw her prepare for the game and she just wasn’t ready to go and I didn’t have much confidence in her because of how she had played and how she had prepared. Samantha always battles staying focused and staying physical. She needs to stay physical and play real tough. Sometimes when her confidence dips it really is glaring and she doesn’t practice well. She and I have been meeting this week and working extra this week. It’s a long season. It’s a long, tough, hard season and the way we play at times, if you can’t stay strong and stay focused you can have some letdowns. We’re just trying to avoid that. Going forward, trying to avoid that, I think Samantha’s done a great job and has really progressed during her sophomore season. She still has a ways to go and we’ll keep working with her.”

On if he’s seen a dip in energy since the break…
“We did against Middle Tennessee. We were not low energy at all in Gainesville, (Fla.). That was just as rough and tough a game as you would expect. We didn’t shoot particularly well; we’re still missing a lot of layups. Florida had a lot to do with that. They are so tough and physical. I think both teams sensed that it was an important game. I think both teams felt like it’s the first game of what’s an important SEC season. I thought we played a little tight. I didn’t think we played low energy at all. We were incredibly energetic; we just didn’t play well offensively. We played a very good defensive game, and as you very well know from covering us, for us to play well on defense we have to have energy. So, there were no energy issues. I was extremely frustrated with our offensive execution, but one thing I attribute that to was – the energy was so bad at Middle Tennessee, and so disappointing, and I think the players recognize that and we had a long talk about it – I think that may have added a little extra pressure on Sunday. Sunday was a huge game, there’s no doubt about it. Everybody felt it, everybody knew that that’s a tough place for us always to go on the road and play. To get out of there with a win and not play great offensively was huge. Our practices have been very energetic. We’re just struggling offensively and I think that those are more correctable errors than – I’d rather be struggling offensively this time of year than struggling defensively. I have a lot of confidence in our defense, and in this league, defense will take you a long way.”

On opposing teams keying in more on junior guard A’dia Mathies …
“She definitely gets a lot of attention from the defense. But she just doesn’t see things the way that I see them sometimes. It is good for her to watch film because she will see that she is forcing shots. I don’t think it ever comes from a negative place as in ‘I’m not going to play,’ I just think that for whatever reason, she loses sight of how important she is or how important it is that she is aggressive on offense. I think it was the Notre Dame game, and she just wasn’t aggressive, and she had 17 points. We really need her to have the mentality that maybe a bad shot from A’dia is a better shot than a good shot from somebody else. That’s just the mentality she has to take. That is almost where I have had to go with her. I tell her she has to shoot the ball this number of times, and if she doesn’t we are going to have some problems. She has a lot of responsibility on offense and she needs to take that seriously every day in practice. We have been talking about it, but we are not going to be nearly as good offensively if she is not very aggressive.”

On if A’dia Mathies is reluctant to be a good offensive player at times…
“I don’t know. We are into our second semester of her junior year and the easy thing would be to say, ‘Yes,’ but I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t think she is reluctant. She is a very humble person, and that is a good quality to have unless you are being humble to a fault, and that is what she is offensively sometimes. I think she is a very intelligent person, as I have told you many, many times. She is a very, very smart player, and so again, it is such a long season, and I think you just kind of hit these spots in the season and I wouldn’t make too much of it. What I have found is, instead of really going deep and really trying to figure that question out, to just say, ‘Hey, here is what you need to do, and if you don’t do it, we are going to run sprints.’ She is reluctant to run sprints I can tell you that. That is one thing that I know. It is very interesting because she is such a dynamic player, and she does tend to disappear, and we can’t have that happen.”

On A’dia Mathies’ 3-point shooting…
“A’dia has excellent form. It’s talent. She has excellent form, and I don’t think she worked on it very hard in the offseason. She has been working on it more lately. She is a good shooter and a talented basketball player and has excellent form and good strength. Fundamentally, she is good. She made a bunch in practice yesterday. I think she has some confidence there, and when she is making those, and then being aggressive off the bounce, it is hard to guard A’dia Mathies.”

On freshman guard Bria Goss’ competitive nature and taking losses hard…
“She lost three games in high school, so I think she takes it really hard. We have lost two now, so she is probably thinking she is in for a long year at Kentucky. I just think it’s super. To me, I just think that is where we need to be. She is a refreshing kid and she wants to win every day in practice, and every game. That is just a fantastic quality to have, and she is not selfish at all. She is totally for Kentucky trying to win games. It is refreshing to be around.”

On if he knew Bria Goss was as competitive as she is while he was recruiting her…
“I don’t know of a coach that could have anticipated the way that she has come out. She is a very, very unique freshman. She is very mature from a basketball standpoint and how she goes about her business and understanding her importance to the team without being a ball hog and all of these different things that a lot of freshmen struggle with. She has not had that. I have not had the good fortune of coaching a lot of players like that. You know, A’dia (Mathies) was just really fantastic her freshman year as far as figuring things out. We have been fortunate the last two or three years to have those kids in our program. I thought she was a good kid but I didn’t know she was as strong.”