UK Hoops Returns to Action Sunday at Missouri

Jan. 23, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. –  After a much-needed bye week, the 14th-ranked University of Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to action Sunday, Jan. 25 when it travels to Columbia, Mo., to face Missouri. The Wildcats look to get back on the winning track and chart their third straight win over the Tigers when the teams tip off in Mizzou Arena at 4 p.m. ET. The game will be televised live on the SEC Network and WatchESPN with Cara Capuano and Steffi Sorensen calling the action. It also can also be heard live on the UK Radio Network with Neil Price.

Gameday Central
Kentucky at Missouri
Sunday, Jan. 25 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Columbia, Mo.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | MU Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
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“Well, we have a very tough game coming up with Missouri,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They are a team where their strengths will definitely stretch our defense and we have been working hard this week to make some headway in the area of our defense. We will sure get some sort of indication of how we have done this week because they will test us in every way possible. Very, very tough game coming up on the road and we need to be ready for it and see if we can go over there and earn a victory.”

Turnovers were the issue last Sunday as UK (15-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference), known for its own “40 minutes of dread” pressure defense, struggled to take care of the ball in just the second game without starting point guard Janee Thompson, who is out for the season with a broken left fibula. The Wildcats committed 26 turnovers, the second-highest total of the season, which resulted in 27 points for LSU.

On the bright side, the Wildcats welcomed the return of senior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) who missed six games due to a broken left thumb. Goss scored 12 points and added five rebounds in her second game back from injury. Four other players scored in double figures, including two with double-figure rebounds. Senior guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) led the way with 19 points. She netted three 3-pointers to move up to No. 4 on UK’s all-time 3-pointers made list. Sophomore Linnae Harper (Chicago) charted her fourth career double-double with 16 points and career-high 15 rebounds, the most rebounds for a player under 6-foot-0 in the Matthew Mitchell era, while freshman forward Alexis Jennings (Madison, Ala.) inked her first career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.), who has moved to the starting point guard spot, added 10 points and five assists. In league games only, Epps leads the SEC in assist/turnover ratio at 2.3 (23 assists/10 turnovers).

Overall this season, O’Neill, who is on the Naismith Watch List, is the team’s leading scorer off the bench with 14.6 points per game. She has scored double figures in 15 of 18 games played, including six of the last seven. Epps and Harper follow with 13.2 and 11.2 ppg, respectively.

Despite standing at just 5-foot-8, Harper is the team’s leading rebounder with 7.2 boards per game. She has pulled down a team-high 63 offensive boards and is the shortest player to rank in the top 10 of the SEC rebounding statistics. She also is one of just four players in the NCAA to stand at 5-8 or under and average at least 7.2 rebounds per game. In SEC games only, Harper also is the league’s leader in steals with 3.0 per game. Senior center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio), who ranks second on the team in rebounding with 6.3 rpg, has swatted a team-high 33 blocks and currently ranks second in the SEC in blocks per game (1.7).

Missouri (11-8, 1-5 SEC) also enjoyed a bye on Thursday. The Tigers have lost six of their last seven games, including two in a row. Two players are averaging in double digits led by sophomore guard/forward Jordan Frericks and senior guard Morgan Eye with 12.9 and 10.2 ppg, respectively. Frericks also is pulling down a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game which ranks second in the SEC.

Missouri leads the SEC in 3-point field goals made per game with 7.4 as Eye is the key catalyst beyond the arc with 2.7 per game. Teammate Maddie Stock comes in at 12th with 1.5 per game.

The Tigers, led by fifth-year head coach Robin Pingeton, are 0-4 vs. ranked teams this season with losses to Tennessee (63-53), Mississippi State (53-47), Georgia (69-48) and South Carolina (60-49).

Sunday marks just the fourth all-time meeting between the teams. UK leads the series 3-1 and is 1-0 in Columbia. UK has won the last two meetings, including the last game in Mizzou Arena, 69-43, on Jan. 13, 2013.

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - January 23, 2015

Opening Statement …
“Well, we have a very tough game coming up with Missouri. They are a team where their strengths will definitely stretch our defense and we have been working hard this week to make some headway in the area of our defense. We will sure get some sort of indication of how we have done this week because they will test us in every way possible. Very, very tough game coming up on the road and we need to be ready for it and see if we can go over there and earn a victory.”

On what he learned from the LSU game after watching it on tape …
“Well, there is no in-between with our team, it is truly a feast or famine proposition. When the energy is not there, we have no chance to make up for some of the mistakes that we are just going to make right now. We are just going to make some mistakes in the post. Our post defenders are – the ones that are learning and the cognitive load is heavy, there is just nothing we can do other than have reps and play games and have them get that down so they are not thinking so much. So people like Azia Bishop, Makayla Epps, Linnae Harper, Jennifer O’Neill, Bria Goss, Jelleah Sidney, those folks have to play at just an unbelievably high level from a consistency stand point so we can maybe get some people rushing themselves so they don’t see some of the openings that are going to be there because our young post is just struggling defensively. So when we can have our veterans play hard enough to disrupt the team we can have some success. We just didn’t play very hard defensively and didn’t pressure the basketball, just all the little things that we need to do to be good we didn’t do. LSU, I think, was very determined and very excited to play so that played a factor in it. I am not trying to discount LSU at all and saying we played poorly. But we didn’t play anywhere close to where we need to play to win games. This team is even at this point, I think, if we can play with great energy the development will come, but you have to win games while you are still developing for us and that will all be about effort and intensity and energy and those kinds of things.”

On how he approached the week of practice with the open date …
“We were very displeased and unhappy with the effort and for us we have to make certain that is addressed swiftly and immediately. Before the left the airport after Baton Rouge, we really talked about what the week was going to look like and we really challenged them physically early Tuesday morning with exactly what we were talking about. We showed them on film where just the energy level and the approach to the game did not indicate how important one of these opportunities, you only get 16, and we didn’t look like it was a very precious opportunity. We just tried to do some soul searching this week and figure out what we are going to do. The situation exists as it exists right now and there is no changing the circumstances. The only thing we can change right now is how we are going to deal with these circumstances, what are our actions going to be. We tried to give some consequences to get through to them and also tried to have some dialogue between coach and players and I feel like when we were able to get back to some basketball, I think they responded. I just think this is a year where I am really going to have to do a good job of coaching this group. I am going to have to do a good job of teaching and prodding and accepting some mistakes, while still trying to encourage them to not make some mistakes. It is a fight every day. We have a very good group of young players and we just have to coach them up and they have to play hard. We have tried to address who we are going to be and what kind of effort are we going to give on Sunday and that is really what we are focused in on right now. We are going to have to give a really good effort on Sunday to win.”

On whether defensive issues are mental or physical for the young post players …
“Well, you know, it’s interesting. I don’t know if they would give you a different answer. I think that’s part of the struggle right now is that we’re almost speaking different languages. I just—I don’t think it’s one bit physical. I don’t. I’m with them every day. I am intimately involved on the breakdowns and I’m there on the floor with them teaching them the footwork and everything. It’s not like I’m sitting at a 30,000-foot level looking down and kind of making assumptions. I’m there with them and it’s not physical in my mind. They are capable of everything that they need to do and I cannot place my finger on it. My suspicion is or my guess is that they don’t trust their ability to play the way I’m asking them to play. It’s just uncomfortable and I don’t think any of them want to get beat and that’s just the process you have to go through to play here is the understanding that you have to play hard enough and you’ve gotta accept that people are going to go by you some and your teammates are going to pick you up, taking a charge or forcing the ball out or forcing one more pass, whatever our rotation is able to produce. But those—two of them, Kyvin and Alexis—won’t play enough at the high post to put pressure on the defense and so the ball moves too freely. Alyssa is starting to do some things that I think show some more aggressiveness. So that’s good news. And I think that Kyvin and Alexis want to be very good and it’s a matter of me staying with it every day and just going to practice and (saying), ‘That’s a good job. That’s not what we’re looking for.’ Literally from play to play, you just have to coach them. And they’re both—all three of them are going to be very good players before they leave here. We’re trying to get them to be good players right now and, you know, I’ve told the team this: I really believe this, there’s not a game left on our schedule that is an impossibility for us to win. But on the other hand, there’s not a game on the schedule where it’s impossible for the other team to beat us. So it’s really time now where we just have to come intent on improvement every day and see where that lands us over the next 30 days or so. Hopefully we can have some good things happen and we can eventually round into the kind of team we want to be.”

On the progression of Jaycee Coe
“I give her a lot of credit because she unfortunately dug herself into a really deep hole and she was not doing the things that she needed to do to be the kind of player I know she can be. And that the thing here, we do not sugar coat; we don’t tell you anything but the truth. If a player is doing things that are not leading her to success, we tell them. If they continue to do those things and they continue to slide, we just continue to try and tell them, ‘You must do things that are honest, hardworking, disciplined, principle based living,’ is what we’re trying to teach them here. Did the car accident have a negative effect? It did from the standpoint of she was out for about a week and she really couldn’t afford to be out a week. It wasn’t a good development for her. So however it affected her emotionally, mentally, physically, I think all of that stuff works together. I really do. She was very down and discouraged. We finally had a meeting and I just told her this thing is not going to get better by something I’m doing. There’s nothing I can do at that point. If you’re not in the gym, if you’re not working hard, if you’re not doing your very best, then there’s nobody that can change that. -- your parents can’t change that, I can’t change that -- nobody but you. Tamika has worked with her and talked to her and our entire support staff. … All of us want to see Jaycee succeed. She’s been really, really working hard. She’s not where she’s going to be, but she needs to take great encouragement from what she’s done in the last 4-6 weeks. It’s the stuff that’s going to lead her to success. I’ve seen a big change in her commitment to the kind of work she’s going to have to do to be successful. There’s nobody anywhere who believes more in what she can become than what I believe and my vision for her. And I think that’s been tough for her to understand sometimes. You’re not going to come here and get pigeon-holed into one specific role. That’s just not what I think life is about. I think you have to be a complete person, you have to try to be a well-rounded person and we want to try to produce those kinds of people. We also want to produce those kinds of players. She made a play in practice yesterday where she was doing everything we asked her to do and they ran out on her, she shot faked, put it on the floor and knocked down a mid-range jumper. And it’s plays like that that you can point to, ‘Jaycee, that’s what we’re looking for.’ So you’re starting to see those more often in practice and I think she has a very bright future. We need her right now. This league has gone to a majority zone. I had a chance on my off night last night to watch some games and people are just, they’re going to play zone and Jaycee Coe, if she works hard and we can wins some games and be an NCAA Tournament team, what can she be in six weeks? How much progress can she make? That’s what I’m going for right now. Don’t worry about where you are right now. Think about today and how important that’s going to be six weeks from now. If we roll into North Little Rock at the SEC Tournament, six weeks from now you could go in there and really contribute to us winning some significant games. That’s kind of the approach we’re taking. I give her credit for working hard, but that has to continue. For instance she did well on Thursday night, then Saturday morning we’re practicing, she was not in the gym before practice and that was a great wake-up call. Listen you can’t stop now because you played well on Thursday night. And she did not prepare well, did not function well on Sunday against LSU. I thought that was a good learning experience for her. She can’t get satisfied right now, she’s got to work real hard. She has more work to do: just go, go, go keep going and she’ll get where she wants to go. She can’t stop now.”

On if that is a freshman thing …
“It is what I believe in as far as not short circuiting their development or taking any shortcuts to success. My good friend John Maxwell says, it’s just success is just uphill all the way and you just have to work. Do you want to artificially boost someone up or do you want to protect someone? We don’t protect freshmen here. We put the mirror up to them and say, ‘This is what it is right now. This is what we believe you can be.’ And we have some success with it. It seems like it pays off with some of our players. It’s not for everybody. It’s not the best place for every single person on the planet, but for people who want to get better -- and have some substance behind it -- then it works pretty well. I don’t think a lot of freshmen are ready. There have been a few. A’dia Mathies came in and was a really highly functional player as a freshman. Bria Goss was really good as a freshman. Makayla (Epps) and Linnae (Harper) struggled last year as freshmen because of attention to detail, work-ethic type things. I wish they’d all come in and it would be smooth sailing and they’d all do a good job, but I just have to work with what happens every day and so if work ethic’s off, then we try to address it. If their character is off, we’ll address it. If they’re lacking confidence, why? You’re not going to gain it because I tell you that you have confidence. You’re going to gain confidence through achievement. That’s how we approach it.”