UK Hoops Looks for Seventh Straight Win over Auburn Thursday

Jan. 7, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 10/11 Kentucky women’s basketball team looks for its seventh straight win over Auburn when it plays host to the Tigers Thursday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. The game will be shown live on the SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro and Christi Thomas calling the action. SEC Network+ is exclusively available on SECNetwork.com and on WatchESPN via computers, smartphones and tablets. The game also can be heard live on the UK Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Junior point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) will be signing autographs after the game.

Gameday Central
Kentucky vs. Auburn
Thursday, Jan. 8 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | AU Get Acrobat Reader
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Radio: UK Sports Network
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Single-game reserved tickets are available at a cost of $9 for all ages. General admission tickets for adults are $8 while single-game general admission tickets for seniors and children (ages 6-18, 65 and over) are only $5.

Children ages five and under are admitted free in the general admission seating area and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.

Fans interested in UK Hoops tickets can visit the Joe Craft Center ticket office, go to UKathletics.com, or call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS. Tickets are also available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

The Wildcats (13-2, 2-0), who are riding an 11-game home winning streak, also look to begin Southeastern Conference play at 3-0 for the first time since 2012-13 and third time in the Matthew Mitchell era. UK owns a 393-144 (73.1) mark in Memorial Coliseum, including a 103-16 (86.4) record under Mitchell. In the last six seasons, UK has posted an impressive 86-7 (.924) mark at home (includes three games in Rupp Arena). The 11-game winning streak currently is the seventh-longest in program history and ties for the nation’s 17th-longest home winning streak.

“It’s another important game for us and another tough game for us,” Mitchell said. “Auburn is extremely athletic and aggressive defensively and very disruptive. They are a very good pressing team that can cause a lot of confusion and turn you over a lot. They have two of the most gifted offensive players in the league in (Hasina) Mohammed and (Tra’Cee) Tanner. Both of those players will be a handful for us to guard. Our preparation is very important and we are working very hard trying to become a better defensive team and become a better team overall and just a lot of work in front of us. This will be a big challenge and we are working like crazy to try and get ready for it.”

In UK’s two SEC wins, junior point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) was a key catalyst as she averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.5 assists per game. With UK trailing by 10 points in the second half against at Alabama, Thompson went on a personal 7-0 run to help pull the Cats within single digits. She went on to chart her first career double-double (points/assists) with 12 points and a career-high 10 assists. It marked UK’s first points/assists double-double since Carly Ormerod vs. Ball State on March 19, 2007 and most assists in a single game since Omerod’s 11 in 2007. In the hard-fought, 64-58, win over Ole Miss on Sunday, she scored 15 of her team-high 17 points in the second half, including the go-ahead layup with 2:22 to left in the game. She was named SEC Player of the Week for the second time this season for her outstanding play.

Former high school teammate of Thompson’s, Linnae Harper, also was a key cog in the wins as scored seven points vs. Alabama and recorded 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds against Ole Miss. It marked the most rebounds by a Wildcat shorter than six feet tall since 5-foot-11 Amani Franklin had 14 vs. Butler in 2009.

Overall this season, Kentucky has benefited from a balanced scoring attack this season as seven Cats are averaging 7.4 points or better, including four in double figures. Leading the way is senior guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) with 14.8 points per game. Sophomore Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.) and Thompson follow with 13.3 and 10.6 ppg, respectively. Harper adds 10.5 ppg and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game. The Wildcats will still be without senior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) who is out with a broken left thumb.

Senior center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) has also swatted a team-high 25 blocks and currently ranks third in the SEC in blocks per game (1.7). She also has 498 career rebounds and needs two more to hit the 500-rebound mark.

Auburn enters Thursday’s game at 9-6 overall, 0-2 in conference play after falling at top-ranked South Carolina and vs. Florida at home.

Junior center Tra’Cee Tanner and sophomore guard Brandy Montgomery lead the Tigers in scoring this season with 12.1 and 10.7 ppg, respectively. Sophomore guard Katie Frerking is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.1 rpg.

Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy is 47-36 in her third season at Auburn.

Auburn leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 25-18, including 10-7 in Lexington. However, the Wildcats have been successful in the series as of late, winning the last six matchups overall, including four straight in Lexington.

The Tigers are looking to snap a three-game losing skid this season and chart their first win in Lexington since defeating the Wildcats in Rupp Arena, 71-57, on Jan. 19, 2006. AU’s last win in Memorial Coliseum was Feb. 5, 2004, 71-54.

For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit www.ukathletics.com/wbbgameday.

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - January 7, 2014

Opening statement …
“It’s another important game for us and another tough game for us. Auburn is extremely athletic and aggressive defensively and very disruptive. They are a very good pressing team that can cause a lot of confusion and turn you over a lot. They have two of the most gifted offensive players in the league in (Hasina) Mohammed and (Tra’Cee) Tanner. Both of those players will be a handful for us to guard. Our preparation is very important and we are working very hard trying to become a better defensive team and become a better team overall and just a lot of work in front of us. This will be a big challenge and we are working like crazy to try and get ready for it.”

On the recruitment of Linnae Harper
“She made that impression on me early, so I can’t remember if I was aware of her or not. I don’t think I was. At that point in time, we were working hard building, and I have a kind of myopic approach to recruiting to kind of focus right there on what we’re needing immediately. So, that was a really big first impression and she caught my eye that day. My first memory of her was very impactful and it did not take me long to figure out that she was my kind of player. She ended up being rated very highly and there was a lot of competition for her. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for people that can rebound the ball.  I just think it’s so important in this league. I think offensive rebounding, if you look over the history of the league, the really great teams – Coach (Pat) Summitt’s teams did it forever, Coach (Andy) Landers’ teams did it forever – the champion always is a good offensive rebounding team. I love kids that will go and get offensive boards. I fell in love with Linnae’s game pretty quick.”

On Linnae Harper’s ability to offensive rebound the ball …
“What she does is very unusual for a kid that size and that height. You know, she’s just not that tall, but it’s very unusual. The only thing I ever do is if she doesn’t get in there and work at it. She is very gifted, and I can take no credit for her ability to offensive rebound other than the fact that I have to remind her sometimes – you know one thing that we’re working on with Linnae and our other players is – is that we’re not always the best at multiple actions or multiple efforts. We are trying to teach that. We are always trying to get onto the next action. Let’s teach that. Let’s get onto the next part of the play or what’s required next. When Linnae has that one thing in front of her, she finds herself down there at the goal, that’s all her giftedness taking over. Sometimes she watches too much and we’re working on that defensively. And sometimes she gets caught watching offensively and hanging out on the perimeter when she really needs to fly to the boards. It’s nothing that I can teach from the standpoint of how I can go get them, but we are trying to work with her on multiple defenses both on defense and on offense.”

On Kyvin Goodin-Rogers coming back to make a full recovery from last year …
“When it happened, you felt bad for a player who came here to play, she came here with high hopes for her freshman year and those were taken away from you. It’s not a good situation, or not one that you had planned on. So, that was difficult and it’s very difficult to figure out where you fit in when they’re telling you that you can’t really do anything. You see your teammates with all this activity and all this stuff going on. It’s hard physically, it’s hard emotionally, it’s difficult mentally for a player to have that kind of event in their life. I’m very proud of how she’s handled it and bounced back from it. We had some dark days there and some hard times trying to process it and figure out what to do and it was kind of a slow go to get her back going. But, once she got going and had the confidence in herself, she has done well. It was a tough situation, but I think those are the moments when you can really grow if you put your mind to it and use that adversity correctly. I think she did that. I think she grew from it and I think she is stronger because of it.”

On what he is focusing on right now as far as the team is concerned …
“I think for our team right now, the intangibles are about as important as some of the tangible things. We’re trying to get our team to understand how important the attributes that we want out of Kentucky basketball player – how important it is for each one of us to try and understand how much each one of those qualities really are and really try and embody them. Really try to get those woven into the fabric of this team. So, for instance, right now we’re working on our energy level and it really needs to get to a higher level. We need to be high-energy players and so what does that mean for each one of them individually and what does that mean? What’s one thing in practice on offense and defense that you can tell me signals high-energy and then how can I help you to hold you accountable for that? Things like that we’re working on. So we are spending time off the court with each other trying to get this team as strong in the intangibles as possible. I think that’s going to be a big part of whether we are special or not. And then, I would say the biggest thing on the court would be trying to mesh this unique mix of players that we have. We have some veterans like Janee Thompson, Bria Goss and Jennifer O’Neill – like Janee and Jennifer really stepped up defensively and played like Kentucky players on Sunday – and we’re trying to mesh that with these young players Makayla (Epps) and Linnae (Harper) who have improved dramatically, but still have more growth on the defensive end. Then you go down to the freshman who need dramatic improvement, so it’s just an interesting year for us trying to bring all of this together so we can be our best. I’m happy we can try and do this while winning games right now, but defensively we just need to become a more consistent and cohesive group and then the challenge offensively for us is can we keep our poise and keep the ball. That’s got a lot better since we got back from the Christmas break. I just think for us, working every day, trying to take care of the basketball, make good decisions and see how well we can shoot it are all things we’re really trying to focus on right now.”

On the short-term and long-term issues for his post players …
“Well, right now our post players have some competing issues going on. Some are short-term and some are long-term. The long-term issue for our post right now is just that our core strength is just not at a very high level. That’s why you’re seeing us get off balance with contact and people appear to be real weak around the basket. It’s just because we’re not able to get our hips low and get down in a real strong power base. We just kind of play straight up-and-down and get bumped around. So, right now we’re just trying to work really hard to improve our core strength off the court with our strength and conditioning program and we can make some progress with that over the next couple of months, but then into the future, that’s a big, big area that we need to address with our young post players. They just need to get stronger. Then immediately, we just need to make really good decisions. You have to do things correctly on the technical side. For instance, you can’t go chest-to-chest with a shot blocker. You can’t present yourself and the ball right in front of her where she can just use her physical size. You have to just get your shoulders turned and you have to shoot jump-hooks and you have to protect the ball. You have to try and use some good fakes to get back to an open shot and try and get a shot blocker to go and then your next move, you’re open. You have to create openings. You can’t out-jump these people and you can’t play without a great deal of focus. That’s a difficult thing for a young post group, so we’re just going to have to stay focused each and every day. My attitude going into practice today is we’re just going to try to get better with an incredibly positive attitude with incredibly positive energy and just see what kind of progress we can make today and you’re hopeful that you can do well and you’re hopeful you can find enough ways to win games trying to build to that moment where it clicks for you and you’re playing your best basketball. We’re not there yet, but there is no amount of talking that you can do. You just have to go up every single day with a great focus and keep working hard to try and get better.”

On if he is worried his team will overlook Auburn with No. 1 South Carolina next …
“We’re not talking in our team room right now about being ranked in the top 10, and we’ve got some big matchup looming on Sunday. That’s just not the tone of our conversations. We are just kind of fighting every day to be a more mature basketball team and the only way I know to do that is to make those things happen in practice. So, I stopped a long time trying to figure out what they’re thinking. I just try and make sure that I am delivering the correct message every day. So, there is a great sense of urgency in our team room to get better. In practice yesterday and in practice today – we know what us looming with Auburn. It’s been awhile since we have really put together 40 minutes and we’ve looked like a dominant basketball team, so our team would be gravely mistaken to think that we are good enough to do anything but show up with great positivity, tremendous positive attitudes and tremendous energy to play against a real tough Auburn team. I don’t sense that they are looking past Auburn at all. That would be a terrible mistake. I don’t get that sense. I think they’re trying to get better right now.”

On if the art of boxing out is a lost one …
“On box outs, we’re the kind of team that really has to box out. South Carolina may not have to be a team that has to box out. They have a team full of really big players that can out-jump you. I think a lot of us in the league would be served well by boxing out and trying to put a body on people. I know Kentucky needs too. We will work on it today. We will have a dedicated time where our focus is on the idea of boxing out. We watched film yesterday of not boxing out against Ole Miss and how devastating it was. It’s a very important part of Kentucky’s defense, and we are paying attention to it. It might not be done well at Kentucky right now, but it’s not a lost art. We appreciate the value of it, I can promise you that. We need to be a good box-out team.”