Cats Look for First 3-0 SEC Start Since 1992-93

Jan. 6, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 11/9 Kentucky is off to a 2-0 start in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 2007-08, and looks to begin 3-0 for the first time since 1992-93 when it plays host to Mississippi State on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised on FSN with Dave Baker and Van Chancellor calling the action.

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Kentucky vs. Mississippi State
Sun., Jan. 8 - 3:30 p.m. ET
Memorial Coliseum
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Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | MSU Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: FSN
Radio: UK IMG
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The Wildcats (13-2, 2-0 SEC) are coming off a thrilling 84-72 win over Arkansas on Thursday for their 13th consecutive home win. Junior guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) was asked by the coaching staff to step up her offensive aggressiveness, and that she did. The 5-foot-9 guard scored all 14 of her first-half points in the opening 8:13 of the game. She hit a career-high five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 21 points, her fifth game this season with 20-plus points. She also dished out a season-high six assists to go along with two blocks and two steals.

Freshmen Bria Goss (Indianapolis) and Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) were also critical to UK’s win, as the duo combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds. Goss was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc while Bishop came off the bench to record all 11 of her points in just eight minutes of action during the second half. She also grabbed a game-high tying eight rebounds, playing just 10 minutes total.

“We are excited to have a chance to play at home again on Sunday afternoon against a good Mississippi State team,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We always have tough games with Mississippi State. It’s SEC time and every Thursday night and Sunday afternoon you have to be ready to play. Mississippi State will certainly cause us some difficulties and we’ll have to get prepared for them. They had a real tough game last night against LSU and we are glad we were able to get a win under our belt against Arkansas. We’re just going to work like heck to try and get prepared over the next couple days.”

Mississippi State (10-4, 0-1 SEC) enters Sunday’s contest coming off a hard-fought 48-53 loss to LSU on Thursday. The Bulldogs were led by freshman guard Kendra Grant and former Wildcat Catina Bett, who each finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Senior guard Diamber Johnson is Mississippi State’s leading scorer, averaging an SEC-leading 17.4 points per game, as well as a team-high 4.6 assists per game, the fourth most in the conference. Freshman center Martha Alwal (7.6 rpg) and senior forward Ashley Brown (7.5 rpg) have cleaned the glass well for the Bulldogs, averaging the fourth and fifth most rebounds in the SEC, respectively.

Former Wildcat coach Sharon Fanning-Otis is in her 36th season overall as a head coach. Fanning-Otis’ first head coaching job came at Chattanooga, where she patrolled the sidelines from 1976-87. She then took over the program at Kentucky in 1987 and went 134-97 in eight seasons with the Wildcats.

Overall, Mathies leads UK in scoring (15.7), 3-point field goals made per game (1.8), rebounds per game (5.5) and steals per game (3.6). She has netted double figures in 12-of-14 games she has played this season, including five games with 20 or more points. Goss is the SEC’s top freshman scorer with 12.1 ppg and has netted double digits in 13-of-15 career games, including seven in a row.

UK ranks in the top 10 of four national statistical categories. The Cats lead the nation in turnover margin (+12.6), are sixth in scoring offense (82.0) and steals per game (14.9) and eighth in scoring margin (24.2). The Cats have forced at least 22 turnovers in 14-of-15 games. The Cats have forced at least 22 turnovers in all 14 games this season, including three games with 40 or more.

Sunday marks the 37th meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State. UK holds a slight 19-17 advantage overall. The series is tied at 8-8 when the game is in Lexington. The Cats are looking for their fourth straight win over the Bulldogs, including second straight in Lexington after a 72-60 win last season in Memorial Coliseum.

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: The residential (R1) lot in the northern portion of the MLK lot will also be available during for January 8.
  • 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-Mississippi State Media Opportunity - Jan. 6, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…
“We are excited to have a chance to play at home again on Sunday afternoon against a good Mississippi State team. We always have tough games with Mississippi State. It’s SEC time and every Thursday night and Sunday afternoon you have to be ready to play. Mississippi State will certainly cause us some difficulties and we’ll have to get prepared for them. They had a real tough game last night against LSU and we are glad we were able to get a win under our belt against Arkansas. We’re just going to work like heck to try and get prepared over the next couple days.”

On having a chance to become the first UK Hoops team since 1992-93 to start 3-0 in conference play…
“Anytime something like that happens, it’s great. But really, we’re just trying to figure out what we need to do to beat Mississippi State. Then all those things – first 3-0 start since (1992-93) – those are things you can look back on at the end of the season and say, ‘Hey, we did this for the first time.’ So while you’re in it right now I think we need to work on what we need to get accomplished against Mississippi State.”

On if Kentucky is becoming one of those elite teams in the conference…
“I think we have an opportunity to get there. I wouldn’t say that we have arrived at that point, or anywhere close to where Georgia and Tennessee, they’ve just done it for so long. And really, LSU is a recent phenomenon as far as when you compare them to Georgia and Tennessee. But I think right now, certainly in the landscape of Southeastern Conference women’s basketball, we are a factor. I am certain that coaches and players are aware that we have good players and we have a good team. I would love to stand here in 15-20 years from now and that be the case – that we are a perennial factor in this league. That is something we are working hard toward, but we still have a ways to get there. But right now, I think we are a team that everybody thinks has a chance to be one of the best ones this year. We’ll see what happens.”

On their recent 3-point shooting success…
“I think a couple things are happening there. A’dia (Mathies) is shooting it better than she ever has, and she took a lot of them last night and made a lot of them. She did a good job in Gainesville, (Fla.,) too. I think we have good 3-point shooters. You start talking about the last couple years, maybe we just had Keyla Snowden as someone you could point to and say, ‘She’s a shooter’ coming in the game. If we could get Bernisha Pinkett to really be consistent, now you’re talking about four guards (who are) legitimate 3-point threats with A’dia shooting the ball the way she is, Bria (Goss) is a good 3-point shooter, Keyla (Snowden) is a very good 3-point shooter and Bernisha needs to be that. I’ve told you all, and it just hasn’t happened yet consistently, but Azia Bishop is an outstanding 3-point shooter and we can really stretch some defenses there too from the post position. I think we have better shooters and the way our post game is right now, we need to make some 3s. We’re not able to really throw it in there and get a whole lot right now. I hope that’s going to change and that’s something we’re going to work on. I think we have capable post players, but last night in the game Arkansas was so spread out and pressuring us, and they needed to because we were so hot from 3-point range, and we just couldn’t dump it in there until the second half. Azia made a couple of plays but if we could be consistent inside where you had to really honor that, I think our 3-point shooting could be one of the best in the league because we have a few of them who can make them.”

On if he thinks because they can penetrate so well that teams give their 3-point shooters more space…
“I think any time you have the ability to drive the ball and make two people guard one it opens up things. That’s what we try to tell our guards all the time, ‘Be a penetrating player who draws the defense and opens things up for your teammates.’ That’s definitely possible that they may think (that). I’ve always thought that we’d see a lot of zone this year because we are pretty athletic. I thought Arkansas did a good job in their man-to-man at times. And Florida really took it to us in man-to-man, so I think it’s just kind of early for us to figure out exactly what’s going to be the best way in the league this year. I think that’s a possibility.”

On the balance of his team this year…
“I like our roster and I think we have a good mix and a good blend. We’ve played two very different games and that was good to see. Florida was a real grind-it-out game, a real half-court game, and we sort of won that with our half-court defense. We didn’t have a great day offensively (against Florida). Last night was really up-and-down, you’re talking about in the 80s – we (scored) 84 I think last night. That’s a lot of points to score. In our league you don’t see that a lot. That was a pretty high tempo, up-tempo game – Arkansas will make you play that way. That was probably the greatest thing I was able to take away from the first two games is that we were able to win (with) two different styles. I think that kind of tells you, you have a good variety of players and you can kind of adapt to whatever you need that day. So, I like our roster.”

On having different post players step up from game to game…
“I thought about that this morning. We were so successful in the non-conference, and we were platooning people and we were trying to establish an identity of being up-tempo. That was all good and we were trying to see what we had and who we had. I don’t know if maybe that contributes to it, not being real steady there. Another thing that contributes to it is Azia Bishop is a freshman and she just doesn’t practice very hard or very well or with a lot of focus. So, that’s why you see her up and down games. Samarie (Walker) is a young post player. Samantha (Drake) is a young post player. I think that probably youth and inexperience has more to do with the inconsistency than anything else.”

On having depth at the post position…
“The post position has been a little bit like the stock market. I need some blue chip stocks that are just real steady. I don’t need all this volatility in the market because one day Brittany Henderson’s price has plunged and you don’t think she’s ever going to get off the bench, and three weeks later she’s the major factor in two SEC games. That is a little worrisome, but it’s not because Brittany Henderson came in and got the job done and Azia Bishop came in and got the job done. We’re all about Kentucky piling up victories if we can get them. So no matter how that happens, we want it to happen. But I would like to know, and I just think it’s good for them as people, you would like to become a consistent person in a positive way, that we know what we’re going to get. We know you’re going to go out and do your best. It’s just all a process. We have a young team, 10 of our 15 are freshmen or sophomores. I just have to remind myself that and we have to keep coaching and keep working with them and keep encouraging them. I bet you Samarie Walker is going to have a huge game for us at some point in the season where we’re going to say, ‘We couldn’t have won it without her.’ We couldn’t have won last night without Azia or Brittany. It’s great to have that depth.”