No. 9/8 Kentucky Set to Battle No. 6/7 Tennessee in Memorial

Jan. 11, 2012

UPDATE: UK Hoops vs. Tennessee Announced a Sell Out

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Thursday marks a battle between border rivals and two of the nation’s top 10 teams when No. 9/8 Kentucky women’s basketball plays host to No. 6/7 Tennessee in Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised live on FSN at 7 p.m. ET with Dave Baker and Debbie Antonelli calling the action.

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Kentucky vs. Tennessee
Thurs., Jan. 12 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Memorial Coliseum
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TV: FSN
Radio: UK IMG
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The Wildcats (14-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) are off to a 3-0 start in conference play for the first time since 1992-93 and are looking for their first 4-0 start in school history. UK also looks to keep its 14-game home winning streak alive and snap a four-game losing skid to the Lady Vols.

“We’re looking forward to a tough game tomorrow night against Tennessee and it should be a great atmosphere,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Tennessee has a very, very good team. I’ve been very impressed as I’ve tried to get prepared for the game watching them on video. They have a lot of great players and a lot of weapons on offense and tough defense. It’s another rock ‘em sock ‘em night in the SEC and we will see if we can come out and play hard and earn a victory.”

Leading the way for Kentucky this season is junior guard and Naismith Award Watch List member A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.). She continues to dominate in almost every statistical category as she averages 16.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game (16th nationally). She scored a team-high 21 points, including a career-high five 3-pointers, vs. Arkansas and followed that performance with 20 points and five rebounds in UK’s record-setting win over Mississippi State.

Freshman Bria Goss (Indianapolis, Ind.) also continues to impress as she has hit 8-of-11 from the field over the last two games, including 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. Goss has reached double figures in scoring in 14 of 16 games, including each of the last eight and is the SEC’s top freshman scorer at 12.2 ppg.

No. 6/7 Tennessee enters Thursday’s contest coming off a convincing 69-38 victory on the road at Arkansas on Sunday. The Lady Volunteers (12-3, 3-0 SEC) are led by Glory Johnson, freshman point guard Ariel Massengale and Shekinna Striklen. Johnson, the reigning SEC Player of the Week is seventh in the conference in scoring (14.3 ppg) and third in rebounding (9.8 rpg). Massengale is passing out 4.9 assists per game, third-best in the SEC, and holds a conference-leading assist/turnover ratio of 2.7. Striklen, a 6-foot-2 senior guard/forward, is the Lady Vols’ leading scorer, and ranks fourth in the SEC, averaging 15.5 points per game.

Tennessee is led by legendary head coach Pat Summitt. Summitt is in her 38th year as head coach of Tennessee, and is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history – men or women in any division. Summitt holds an impressive record of 1,083-202. UK head coach Matthew Mitchell served as a graduate assistant under Summitt during the 1999-2000 season where the Lady Vols went 33-4 before losing in the national championship game to UConn.

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.

Thursday marks the 56th meeting between the border rivals, and the 27th in Lexington. UK has met UT more times than any other UK rival. The Lady Vols lead the overall record 48-7, including a 21-5 advantage in Lexington.

A limited amount of general admission tickets remain for $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. 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.

A reminder that UK started its spring semester Wednesday, therefore, women's basketball parking for Thursday’s game is available in the following surface lots and parking structures:

  • Student Center Lot - off Euclid Ave
  • MLK South Lot - between Lexington Ave and MLK Blvd. and south (towards Euclid) of the center drive lane.  DO NOT PARK IN NORTH MLK LOT (closest to Wildcat Lodge) AS THIS IS A RESIDENTIAL LOT AND SUBJECT TO TICKET/TOW
  • 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

Other important notes about Thursday’s game:

  • UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
  • Doors to the Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.   
  • 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-Tennessee Media Opportunity - Jan. 11, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…
“We’re looking forward to a tough game tomorrow night against Tennessee and it should be a great atmosphere. Tennessee has a very, very good team. I’ve been very impressed as I’ve tried to get prepared for the game watching them on video. They have a lot of great players and a lot of weapons on offense and tough defense. It’s another rock ‘em sock ‘em night in the SEC and we will see if we can come out and play hard and earn a victory.”

On the emotions of the game…
“I think tomorrow night is going to be a good game. It’s an important game for both teams and I think with Coach (Pat) Summitt’s courageous fight against Alzheimer’s and early onset dementia and how she’s handled that, I’ve been so impressed – but not surprised – that she’s wanted to keep the focus on the players. I think it will be, because of her leadership, saying that she wanted the focus to remain on the court and on the players, I think it will be a great game and a tough game.”

On what Pat Summitt has meant to him in his career…
“It would be hard to measure what she’s meant to me, starting with just the time she took with me as a high school coach when I was trying to learn how to coach. She had won three or four championships by that time and was really in the middle of three straight when I first started going up there. You would think that a coach of her stature might not have time for someone who was starting out and really didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have any players that she needed to recruit, or didn’t need anything from me. My exposure to her and how she did things developed and shaped me as an early coach before I ever dreamed of being in this position today. And then obviously, in this position today I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t given me that entry into college basketball. My relationship with Mickie (DeMoss) brought me to Kentucky. It’s just hard to ever explain it to anybody adequately. Matthew Mitchell wouldn’t be sitting here today if it hadn’t been for the chance Pat Summitt gave me.”

On if the players could potentially get wrapped up in the emotions of the game…
“I think our players are really focused on what they’ll have to do to win the game. We are, as we always are, it is more about what Kentucky does than our opponent. We have a real challenge every game and I never know how a game is going to go because certain things have to happen every night, no matter who the opponent is, for us to be successful. I didn’t know the Florida game would be 59-56, I didn’t really know how Arkansas was going to go, I certainly didn’t know that we were going to win by 48 on Sunday. We really try to stay focused on Kentucky because we don’t really game plan or scheme differently for different teams. I think our players are aware of what they need to do to be successful. Obviously, it’s two of the top teams in the conference so there’s a lot on the line. I expect our players to be ready to go when the ball goes up in the air tomorrow night.”

On how to game plan for Tennessee senior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen and forward Glory Johnson…
“You just have to play like heck and really try to be solid and sound, rebound the ball with two hands, and there won’t be any room for people who don’t want to compete on the boards. That’s been the way Tennessee has operated for years and I’m so impressed with the energy they’re playing with right now and how they’re playing and how they’re performing. The offensive backboard has always been a huge weapon for them and that’s nothing new. I tell our players all the time, don’t confuse simple with easy. This is one of those. It’s a simple game plan, but it’s not easy to execute. It will be tough. I feel like we have some good, physical, athletic players and we’ve worked hard on rebounding. It’ll be a big factor in the game. Your success usually on the backboards gives you the outcome of the game in a Tennessee game.”

On how the Kentucky post players have been practicing…
“We practiced yesterday and I thought that in a game where the margin was what it was on Sunday, I thought they had an opportunity to take some steps forward.  The biggest thing I’ve been upset with is not being able to get two post players on the floor and continue to play pressure defense. I believe all of those post players are capable of doing that. I’m tired of trying to convince them. I’m tired of believing in them more than they believe in themselves. At some point Samarie Walker and Samantha Drake and Azia Bishop have to understand that they are supremely talented and they are extremely athletic and they can guard on the perimeter and deny passing lanes. I think once we get to that point – tomorrow night will be a good measure of that. Tennessee plays some lineups that are not traditional twin-tower type lineups that they’ve had in the past. I think that we can match up pretty favorably in the game, even if we have to go four guards. I would like to see the post play mentality get tougher and them have a little more belief in the ability they’ve been given. That’s what I’d like to see and I’ve seen some of that in practice. We’ll see again today.”

On if he can put his finger on exactly what it is that the post players are struggling with at this point…
“I don’t think you would call it laziness. I think it is a product of stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s just so much easier to play 2-3 zone. It’s just so much easier for Samarie Walker to play in the middle of a zone or to play in a system where you game plan and maybe Samarie’s not the greatest defender – this is maybe another coach thinking this in high school – so we’re going to try and change around. Samarie Walker, if you watch her in our defensive fundamental package, can move and do anything that most guards can do. I just think it’s a stepping out of your comfort zone and believing that you can do it. It takes tremendous discipline and it takes some faith. Sometimes you have to work long with (young kids). She’ll get there and Azia (Bishop) will get there and Samantha (Drake) will get there. They’re really good players.”

On what it would mean for his team to stop Tennessee’s 36-game conference winning streak…
“I knew they’d won a bunch in a row, but we’re just trying to win tomorrow night. We have no streaks on the line, and we’re not trying to bust any streaks, we’re going to try to play a good 40 minutes and I think if we do we could definitely win the game and that’s great news for our team. (If) they go out and compete and execute they’ll have a great, great shot at winning and that’s what you want to do in the Southeastern Conference every time the ball goes in the air.”

On if he feels they have to win this game in order to win the SEC Championship…
“I understand your thought process there, but we won’t know whether they had to or not until the end of the season. I’m telling you how we’re approaching this game. We have probably better players than we’ve had – from top to bottom – since I’ve been here. That gives you a better chance of beating the team that traditionally over the last 38 years has had the best players, and that’s what Coach Summitt has done better than anyone else. She has had the best players. Really, tomorrow night is a great opportunity for us. We have a good team and good players, and if they play well we will win the game. That is what tomorrow night is about. It’s just so early; it’s the fourth game of the year. You win Thursday night and then you think you’ve won the championship and then you go get beat like we have two years in a row at South Carolina. We could lose to Tennessee twice and if Tennessee has lost three times we win the championship. Tomorrow night is not the championship game. Tomorrow night is Tennessee and Kentucky on – what’s the date of tomorrow? – January something, and that’s what tomorrow night is.”

On the opportunity to go 4-0 to start conference play for the first time in program history…
“It would be fantastic because we would be 4-0 this year and we would be undefeated in conference play and playing well so that’s all that would matter. It is exciting to be at Kentucky right now and to see what is happening with the program, and I understand all that and I am appreciative to be here, but I don’t think in those terms. I have no significance on the game tomorrow except that it is our next SEC game and that’s so boring to say, but there is no way to function for our team. I mean, our Tuesday practice is the same. We have to focus on our full court press, we have to work on our trapping defense and how we rotate out of that, and I have to prepare and try to put them in those positions. So, we’re not thinking in terms of our record. We beat a Duke team that probably everybody in the country recruited those players on the Duke team, and we beat them. It was a very good win and we had a good night. We got beat by a Middle Tennessee team who we clearly had more talent than they had that night, and they beat us. We have to stay so grounded and focused in what we do because it takes so much effort to do what we do. We don’t spend time looking at our record or thinking about a whole lot other than working real hard in practice every day.”

On this being a big game…
“It’s a huge game, but it counts no more than Sunday’s game with South Carolina. I’m just telling you, it is a huge game and it is an unbelievably talented Tennessee team coming in that’s extremely well coached – so it’s a big game, but I don’t know what you want me to say. The world is not going to stop turning tomorrow night because Tennessee and Kentucky are playing. It’s going to be a very good basketball game, I believe. I have no prediction on how the Wildcats will come out tomorrow night, but I think if both teams play well, it’s two talented teams going at it. It ought to be outstanding. We’ll see what happens, but it’s a huge game, no doubt about it. But all of them are.”

On the talent level of Kentucky reaching Tennessee’s level…
“I think it’s closer than it’s ever been, and I’m not ready to say that Tennessee’s been over taken, I think somebody just said they’ve won 36 in a row, so it’s hard to say that we’ve closed the gap. What we’ve done, is we have at least shown it’s possible to have a good program here. It wasn’t for a real long time. Mickie (DeMoss) gave birth to that program and started that possibility and started that dream and we are just trying to work very hard every day and recruit the best players that we can. That will be – if Kentucky ever gets to the top – because we recruited the best players, in my opinion, is how you win the Southeastern Conference. You get the best players.”