UK Hoops Squares Off with Florida Thursday in Memorial

Jan. 14, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 10/11 Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum, looking to extend its home-winning streak to 13 when it plays host to the Florida Gators Thursday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. The game will be shown live on the SEC Network with Cara Capuano and former Duke and Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors calling the action. The game also can be heard live on the UK Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Senior center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) will sign autographs after the game.

Gameday Central
Kentucky vs. Florida
Thursday, Jan. 15 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | UF Get Acrobat Reader
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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 (14-3, 3-1) look to bounce back from a hard-fought 68-60 road loss at No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday but they’ll have to do it with their starting point guard, Janee Thompson (Chicago). With 4:06 to play and UK trailing just six points, Thompson dove for a loose ball and dislocated her left ankle which resulted in a broken fibula. She went through a successful surgery on Monday afternoon and will miss the remainder of the season. Thompson had nine points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in the game before exiting the game.

“The challenge with Florida is immense,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They have a lot of kids coming back who have tremendous confidence playing against Kentucky because out of three last year we won one, but the other two they made tons and tons and tons of plays so they are still good and explosive at the guard. One thing, it doesn’t matter what Florida’s record has been is now has been they just always seem to be extremely prepared. Coach Butler does a great job and I’m not expecting anything other than a very difficult game and we’ve got to find a way to be tough enough to win.”

The Cats are 48-17 under Matthew Mitchell in “bounce back” games (games following a loss). UK hasn’t lost two in a row since January of last season.

With Thompson’s absence, the Cats are hoping for the return of senior guard Bria Goss who has missed the last six games with a broken left thumb. She was averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game prior to her injury.

“She could have come back on Sunday,” Mitchell said. “She will be back on Thursday. She participated in practice yesterday and was working hard. That’s a blessing that we can get her back. I don’t know to what extent she is going to be able to perform. I can’t give you a percentage. I know she can perform very well defensively. She is shooting the ball great right now. It’s still tender and it’s not 100 percent in the hand, but she is cleared to play and she is going to give it a whirl on Thursday night and that will help us tremendously.”

Leading the way this season has been the outstanding guard play of senior Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and sophomores Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.) and Linnae Harper (Chicago). O’Neill, who has come off the bench in the last four games, is UK’s leading scorer with 14.8 points per game. She has scored in double figures in five straight contests, including a team-high 13 points at top-ranked South Carolina on Sunday. Epps and Harper follow with 12.8 and 10.7 ppg.

Despite standing at just 5-foot-8, Harper is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.6 boards per game. She has pulled down a team-high 54 offensive boards and against Ole Miss grabbed a career-high 14 caroms, the most rebounds for a UK player under six feet since Amani Franklin had 14 vs. Butler in 2009. Senior center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio), who ranks second in rebounding with 6.5 rpg, has swatted a team-high 32 blocks and currently ranks second in the SEC in blocks per game (1.9). She had three blocks in UK’s last game vs. South Carolina.

Florida enters the game at 9-8 overall, 1-3 in SEC play after back-to-back losses vs. Ole Miss (64-57) and Missouri (66-47). UF is led by sophomore forward Ronni Williams, who is averaging 10.2 points per game. She is the only Gator averaging in double figures but junior guard Cassie Peoples isn’t far behind with 9.9 ppg. After 11 rebounds in the Gators’ last game at Missouri, 6-0 forward Kayla Lewis is averaging a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game. She also needs just 57 more points to reach 1,000 in her career. Lewis is the only senior on UF’s roster this season.

Former Gator Amanda Butler is in her eighth season as the head coach at her alma mater with a 149-103 record. She started at guard at Florida from 1990-94.

UK holds a 26-24 lead in the all-time series vs. Florida, including 13-10 in Lexington. The Cats have won seven of the last nine games vs. the Gators. The Wildcats and Gators played three times last year with Florida taking both regular season meetings and Kentucky winning in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, 75-70.

The last eight matchups vs. UF have been decided by 10 points or less. UK went 6-2 in those games.

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

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - January 14, 2014

On Janee Thompson’s status …
“Janee had successful surgery when she came back. The people at South Carolina did a great job Sunday afternoon. We splinted her leg. There was a dislocation of the leg and a fracture of the fibula. It did not go through the skin, so were able to splint it and take her back to Lexington on Sunday night. Her mother arrived on Sunday night and we operated Monday around Noon. So, very successful surgery and they are extremely optimistic of her recovery and the possibilities of her recovery and what she will be able to do. She will miss the rest of the season, but we are extremely optimistic that by the time the players gather up for summer school in June that she will be fully participating and will not know that she was injured if everything goes like the doctors feel like it will go. We are very appreciative of our doctors here. They did a great job, as always. And the final thing that I’ll say before I take some questions on it is the outpouring of support from people literally from all over the country – it was an amazing experience. It was a very uplifting experience on Sunday with how the South Carolina people responded from their coaches to their players to the crowd. They all responded in such a classy manner. Afterwards, it just continued as we got excellent medical care there. The athletics director offered a plane to fly her back. It was an unbelievably uplifting experience and such a tough time when you see a player go through an injury like that. It was very uplifting to see that and just all of the support we received from all of the people who aren’t even connected to our program who just saw it on television and sent their thoughts, prayers and support. We are a very grateful team and program and we are excited for Janee to start the recovery process and get back to full speed.”

On the team’s reaction to the injury …
“Everyone is very positive and appreciative of how everything has been handled and so it’s been a very positive experience. Everyone has been very grateful.”

On if Janee is out of the hospital …
“She is. She didn’t have to stay overnight. She is out of the hospital and resting.”

On when Janee will return to classes …
“At some point. She didn’t go today. It’s a tough surgery. Tough surgery and so still some pain and trying to bounce back. We’ll just help her get around for a while and help her get to class, to and from, and just do everything that we can. I was with her after the surgery, I was with her yesterday, I have not gone by yet today and checked on her. Yesterday, she was not thinking about class or going to class and wasn’t feeling that good. She still has some pain and is on some pain medications. All in all of what it could have been, it turned out to be a season-ending injury, but we are very hopeful for the recovery.”

On the new shooting shirts saying “Our B3ST” …
“The t-shirts are our one and singular goal for this season and this team. We need to see if we can possibly become the very best that this team can be and so we put the number three for the E and “Our B3ST” is what we will continue to try to be and Janee will be a big part of that. It’s just a way to honor her. We will be wearing these as shooting shirts and making sure that she is at the forefront of our minds in everything that we do. I’ve told Janee that she has a lot that she can still do for this team. She has developed into an incredible leader. She has developed into an incredible example of sacrificing personal things that might have been holding her back as far as her development and just really buying into the program with honesty, hard work, discipline, being high-character, being a person of great preparation, being a person of high-preparation, being a person willing to sacrifice – all of the things we try and teach, she has become a great part of and is a great example of that. She is a powerful force on our team and will continue to be that and so we are moving in a positive direction in what has been a tough situation.”

On the difficulty of overcoming an injury for the team …
“That’s not that difficult because this is a part of athletics. There are injuries. And so you always make certain that you are 100 percent invested in the injured player and make sure that she has a good plan for recovery and a good plan for rehabilitation. You can do both things at once. You can make sure that the team understands that we are going to rally around her in this time, but you also have a season to play and a team that is still playing. We always put people first here. We always are more interested in what kind of people they are and so it’s been a beautiful thing to see the players and everybody rally and so it’s a difficult situation. But as far as our response, it’s just what we do here.”

On if he has ever seen injuries pile up like this while he has been at UK …
“I’ll say this. It’s been incredible how fortunate we have been over the last five or six years as we have been building this program into a nationally-recognized program and done things that the Kentucky program has never done before – it’s been amazing how fortunate we have been as far as injuries go. This has been a tough run for us, but you don’t hang your head right now because all this reminds me of is how incredibly fortunate we have been over the years. When an injury might have been the difference between you being an NCAA Tournament team or not, or having a winning record or not. We have been fortunate, so we have not had this kind of challenge before. The way you deal with it is that you have a very talented group of players. We’re not the most talented group of players left standing in the country, but we are a talented group. Janee makes us less talented because she’s such a great talent and has been performing so well for our team, but it certainly does not mean we cannot go out and be a functioning basketball team and be our very best. If you look at our roster, we have two very capable players in Makayla (Epps) and Jen (O’Neill) who can run the point position. Teams that play a certain style, you can even have Bria (Goss) and Linnae (Harper) run the point. We are in a functioning position and I think we are in a position where we can be successful. So as a coach, what you do is you make sure that while this is a tough blow, the best thing you can do to honor Janee is go out there and play really focused and fill in the gap that is created when she leaves. And also to believe in themselves that they can continue to improve and we can be the best team possible. You just move forward. You just keep an incredibly positive attitude and fight for your positive attitude each and every day, and you go to work. That’s how we will deal with it. Are there some rocky days and rough times ahead? We don’t know. That could have happened if Janee didn’t get injured. This is just a really tough league and there are no breaks. You just have to battle forward. You can’t hang your head and look backwards and figure out why did it happen and feeling sorry for yourself. We really have to march forward, and that’s what you have to do in life, also. It’s a great opportunity for us to step up to a great challenge and meet it.”

On Bria Goss’ status …
“We had a long discussion on Sunday and she probably could have played on Sunday. I thought long-term for our team that more time was better and so I just made the decision on Sunday that I was not going to play her. She could have come back on Sunday. She will be back on Thursday. She participated in practice yesterday and was working hard. That’s a blessing that we can get her back. I don’t know to what extent she is going to be able to perform. I can’t give you a percentage. I know she can perform very well defensively. She is shooting the ball great right now. It’s still tender and it’s not 100 percent in the hand, but she is cleared to play and she is going to give it a whirl on Thursday night and that will help us tremendously.”

On the development of the post players …
“Janee’s injury doesn’t change anything for the development of our interior players. They need to develop and they need to get better. A lot of Kyvin (Goodin-Rogers), Alyssa (Rice) and Alexis (Jennings) is mental development, emotional development growing as players. They need some help technically getting better as players with their technique around the basket and emotionally letting things go. Everyone has different things that they are dealing with about how they play. So, all of that is not impacted at all by the injury. Now what the injury does, is the margin for error is just reduced here. If Makayla wants to have a lousy day today, she is really going to hurt the team – where as if Janee is there in her mind she can say ‘Oh Janee can do it and I’ll just have a lousy day.” Can’t do that. Or if the post players say “Hey, I’m not going to be focused today and I’m going to have a lousy day and I’ll try it again tomorrow because I know Makayla can slide in at the four, it’s just not where it is. It does need to heighten everyone’s sense of awareness of their responsibility to the team. It does impact everyone from that standpoint. But as far as our post players, they need to develop whether anyone else gets hurt or not. There’s just some developing that we need to do. We made a big jump last week. A big, big jump last week. They competed, they were not as talented as South Carolina’s post players in what God gave them in height and athleticism. They battled tooth and nail. We played good enough defense to win that game and so that was a big, big positive for them in their development. I think where it impacts us in the guard spot is now Makayla has to be the point guard. She has been playing three or four different positions. For a sophomore that struggles a little bit with focus, this could be a great thing for her. She can get really locked in on the point guard position and can maybe fill in some times here and then when Jen is at the point, but Makayla needs to become our point guard. Jen is very capable of helping us when we are in a pinch. Jen needs to focus on being a great scorer and defender. Jen O’Neill’s defense has just transformed our chances of becoming the team that we want to be. She has been tenacious, but she has to do that now because if she decides to have a bad day, Janee isn’t there to pick up the slack, so to say that it doesn’t matter – I’m not saying that. You have to find a way forward here and that’s what we are working hard on doing. That’s what we will do.”

On the team’s reaction to Janee’s injury …
“Once they saw her, once we got her. Here is how all of that went. That was very difficult and so I just went into the huddle and said let’s get together here. She’s going to get the very best medical care she can get, she already has. These people have been unbelievable. You’ve got to get in control here because we can win this ball game. That kind of snapped them at least we stopped them, they were clearly in despair they were crying and they were upset so I thought that they snapped out of that pretty quickly. I don’t think anybody on our side was 100% and when I did get ejected, we had just stolen the ball in a six-point game and this is how fast your mind works. We stole the ball, she is going for a lay-up that cuts it to four then you see what I clearly thought was a foul happening so then your mind works this fast (fast pace snapping) that’s even better because now we get two free throws and we can set our press up so we were in it after all that stuff. We were in it and what I thought about to cut it to four and set our press up again because they just turned it over and so the only reason I mention that is because I think the players handled it really well and then when we got back to the locker room. I just took them through everything that had happened out there on the floor and a lot happened out there on the floor and I just told them everything Janee said and everything that the doctor said. So they appreciate that and I think people just want to know and then as soon as they knew she wasn’t staying overnight we put her on a plane and they all got to spend some time with her they came back. They were off Monday. I kept them abreast of everything that I could on the surgery and then we had just a great day yesterday practicing and spent some time together as a team. When I was over at the hotel a bunch of players were coming over so I think that they have handled it well. I think that they are a pretty good group and pretty resilient. They love Janee though, they love Janee and I expect everyone to really, really work hard.”

On the team needing to focus for a good Florida team …
“Let me say this we started very early yesterday morning. It was our last day before we returned to classes and we started very early. Tuesday for us is a time to start the week out with some very intense individual small groups, individual defensive fundamentals, defensive tenacity, and defensive toughness and the first group showed up very early yesterday morning went after it and worked incredibly hard and the day just continued on from there. So they did not show any signs in lack of focus because of Janee. Our post group lacks focus because they are three freshmen and one senior and Jelléah Sidney started to progress and that going to help us a lot. Jelléah Sidney practiced yesterday and if we can keep her going that going to help us there but our post group is not lacking focus because Janee’s injury. They just lack focus in general. The challenge with Florida is immense, you can forget about their last game that they played and they didn’t have Needles. Needles is very, very important to them. Very senior-tough and a winner, you have to believe that those kids coming back and they have a lot of kids coming back have tremendous confidence playing against Kentucky because out of three games last year we won one but the other two they made tons and tons and tons of plays so, they are still good and explosive at the guard. Lewis and Williams in the post are a handful for our post players. We have a huge challenge ahead of us so I have not seen us lacking focus yesterday. I thought yesterday was a good day and a step forward. We need to have a tremendous day today and we need to have a terrific practice tomorrow before tomorrow night’s game and we got to come out incredibly focused and energized to beat a very tough Florida team. One thing, it doesn’t matter what Florida’s record has been is now has been they just always seem to be extremely prepared. Coach Butler does a great job and I’m not expecting anything other than a very difficult game and we’ve got to find a way to be tough enough to win.”