Cats Take SEC Winning Streak on the Road to Auburn

Jan. 25, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. – With wins over Georgia and Florida last week, No. 6/6 Kentucky improved to 18-2 overall, 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference, which ties its best start in program history through the first 20 games. The Wildcats look to continue their winning ways when they take on Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Auburn Arena.

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Kentucky at Auburn
Thurs., Jan. 26 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Auburn, Ala.
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UK’s best start to a season was in 1982-83 (21-2). Counting last year’s three SEC wins to end the regular season, the Wildcats are currently riding a 10-game regular season SEC winning streak, including a school-record five consecutive SEC wins on the road.

“We are looking forward to playing again on Thursday,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We have a tough opponent ahead of us with Auburn. I’m impressed with their roster and personnel. Coach (Nell) Fortner is one of the best coaches in our league and I know they’ll be prepared.  They have some really good athletes with some nice length and they play real tough defense. It will be a real challenge on the road but I like where our team is and how they are practicing right now. We’re just excited to have another opportunity to play in this conference on Thursday night. We’ll go down to Auburn with the intention of winning and see what we can do.”

The Cats are coming off a 57-52 victory over the Gators on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. Ten players scored at least two points, paced by senior guard Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.) who led with 11. Sophomore guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) scored all 10 of her points in the second stanza, including eight of them in a key 17-2 second-half run. SEC Freshman of the Week Bria Goss (Indianapolis) pulled down a career-high nine rebounds, while sophomore forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) came off the bench with nine points, seven rebounds, a career-high tying three blocks and a career-high tying three steals.

Overall, junior guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) leads three players in double-digit scoring, averaging 15.3 points per game (third in the SEC). Goss and Snowden follow with 11.7 and 10.0 ppg, respectively. Eleven of UK’s 13 active players average at least 3.7 points per game.

The Wildcats rank in the top 10 of five national statistical categories, including leading the nation in turnover margin (+11.2). The Wildcats have forced at least 20 turnovers in all but two games this season and are averaging 32.2 points per game off turnovers.

Auburn (10-10, 2-5 SEC) enters Thursday’s contest coming off a 57-62 loss at Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. Junior guard/forward Blanche Alverson scored a team-high 16 points, while sophomore forward Jassany Williams grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds off the bench.

Sophomore guard/forward Tyrese Tanner is the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 11.1 points per game and 12.7 points per game in conference action. Auburn is very balanced on the glass, with three players averaging between 4.3 and 4.4 rebounds per game, and senior guard Parrisha Simmons averaging a team-high 5.5 rebounds per game.

Auburn leads the SEC in blocks, averaging 6.4 per game this season. Williams ranks third in the league in blocks with 2.1 per game.

Auburn owns a 25-15 lead in the all-time series with Kentucky, including a 10-6 advantage on the Plains. UK has won three in a row over the Tigers, including the last matchup in Auburn Arena. UK defeated the Tigers twice last season, winning 69-38 in Lexington on Feb. 3, 2011, the largest margin of victory in SEC play in school history. UK won 76-62 on Feb. 27 in its conference finale in Auburn.

The game will not be televised but 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.

Pre-Auburn Media Opportunity - Jan. 25, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

On Auburn game…
“We are looking forward to playing again on Thursday. We have a tough opponent ahead of us with Auburn. I’m impressed with their roster and personnel. Coach (Nell) Fortner is one of the best coaches in our league and I know they’ll be prepared. They have some really good athletes with some nice length and they play real tough defense. It will be a real challenge on the road but I like where our team is and how they are practicing right now. We’re just excited to have another opportunity to play in this conference on Thursday night. We’ll go down to Auburn with the intention of winning and see what we can do.”

On senior leadership…
“I really have (seen a progression). Amber (Smith) is so important to the team. They really rally around her and she gets them ready before the game and that’s a really big part. I’ve been impressed by the other two. Crystal (Riley) has the best attitude of someone who plays a specific role, she’s not going to play huge minutes and is a little bit limited physically. The minutes she plays are valuable. I don’t know how you can be any more proud of a kid than (I am of) Keyla Snowden. She came here as a shooting specialist and I don’t like specialty players. I think it’s our job as coaches to teach these kids how to play the game and how to be complete basketball players. There were days where I didn’t think she wanted to do that and she heard it from me. I’d say there have been a lot of days where she felt like she couldn’t do anything right. To see where she is now, she really stepped up after the Middle Tennessee game; she was very vocal and told the kids that that was not how we are supposed to play at Kentucky. Those kinds of things mean a lot to me and I’m real proud of her leadership.”

On factors that have helped winning…
“I think we have a talented team and I think we are multi-dimensional, more so than any other year I’ve been here. We have pieces at all spots, not just one go-to player on the wing but two now with the addition of Bria Goss. We have shown the ability to go inside, in the Georgia game Samarie (Walker) scored 18 points when they were focusing on Keyla (Snowden). I think that’s the biggest factor, we just have more talent and they are good character kids that work hard. That’s the biggest factor. I can’t really put my finger on anything other than that. When you have a good team and they work hard, I’m really excited about what they can (do). As coaches, we are just trying to make sure that practice is constructed so that we can get better. To tell you the truth, I think we are still getting better. I think Samarie Walker is just now beginning to hit her stride. When those things all come together I think we have a good chance to be really good. I think that’s what has happened through the first seven games, we have a team full of kids that want to win and they’ve done what’s necessary to fight through any points of adversity through seven games. It’s been good so far, we’ll just keep trying to go one game at a time.”

On players being ready with playing time fluctuating…
“That’s the great thing about our team. We spent a lot of time talking about it before the season. If we really wanted to be the best team that we can be, then we were going to have to be a team that’s willing to sacrifice personal things. I think we are doing a good job of that, we always need to make sure we talk about it and make sure everyone understands their contributions. Samantha Drake hasn’t gotten many minutes but she has been practicing really hard so that pushes Samarie (Walker) in practice. I haven’t seen anyone on our team react negatively to personal things. Brittany Henderson played two minutes at Georgia in the second half and didn’t go back in the game and she was as happy as Bria Goss who scored 22. We have some good character people who seem to want to win for Kentucky.”

On Kastine Evans’ effort…
“We have to have her on the floor to win. She does so many of the little things that it takes when you have a style that requires energy. She is a real high energy player, intelligent and a very selfless player. She can play multiple positions. She is a huge part of the team. We are always better when she is on the floor. If people ever get discouraged or lose focus I have to ask them, ‘Why does Kastine have to come in here and do the right thing every single day and you don’t?’ That’s a powerful example, I don’t have to say much more, there is no reason. If Kastine can do it, Kastine is no superhero or immortal, she has difficulties during her day but she finds a way to come to the practice court every day focused with great energy. She is a tremendous example and a tremendous example of the kind of kid that can thrive at Kentucky; she has really done a good job.”

On A’dia Mathies…
“She had a really good practice yesterday. I just think you have to remind her of what to do. She is a very cerebral player and some things start running through her mind that I don’t want going through her mind. I’m not a real cerebral coach; I don’t think a lot I just want to go play. Florida was such a rough game and it was called in a manner that you had to adjust and she never adjusted. All these things she’ll start flippin’ out on, just go play.”

On Keyla Snowden’s selflessness with Bria Goss getting more minutes…
“I don’t talk to them about classification and I really don’t talk to them about minutes. To me, those are very apparent in practice. If Bria weren’t one of our best players then she wouldn’t play in practice and wouldn’t get more minutes but she is one of our best players so she gets a lot of minutes. Keyla has seemed to have no trouble with her role and is probably one of the most productive players in the conference as far as her minutes go and what she gets out of it. I don’t know how Keyla Snowden could be playing any better, even if we played her more minutes.”

On the upcoming part of the schedule…
“I think people are going to separate themselves over the next couple of weeks. I think this is the toughest part of the season, the conference isn’t brand new. It’s hard to see the end and so as a coach it is really important right now that we stay focused and just try to stick with what is in front of us and that’s Auburn. I try to be keenly aware at this time of year if we are having any lack of focus. It’s just a tough league, it’s 16 games with real difficult competition and real good coaching. It’s a challenge. You have to be real strong mentally to succeed in this league.”

#32 Kastine Evans, So., G

On how she’s been able to gain such a big role with this year’s team…
“I think a lot of it comes from how he (Matthew Mitchell) takes a lot from what you do in practice and he always focuses on how everything you do in practice is going to carry on to the games and he’s always made it clear that when you practice hard in practice, it’s going to carry over to the games. He’s said that I’ve become pretty consistent at practicing hard, so I just think that’s what carries out.”

On how she’s responded this year having to guard players bigger than her…
“A lot of it just comes with having a competitive attitude with who you’re playing against and just playing hard all the time. There have been situations where size has mattered, but I think my teammates also help me out in different situations in how our defense is. They help me out playing bigger players and having a competitive spirit, (and) just playing hard all the time helps out a lot.”

On if she feels like she’s improved this season…
“Definitely, just working hard every day is the only way you can get better. You can’t expect to have progress if you don’t try to do it other ways other than working hard on the court. I took a lot of steps over the summer trying to get better to help the team. This is a great place to play and you have to be willing to put in all the hard work.”

On the depth of this year’s team and how anybody can step up on any given day…
“I think that also carries out from practice, because he (Coach Mitchell) always expects everybody to practice hard. Obviously, we have players on our team like A’dia (Mathies) and Bria (Goss) who we can usually count on to score, but you can’t count on that every game because people have different defensive strategies. I think as a team, we’ve come to the realization that we can’t just depend on those two people, and they’re going to be waiting for us to back them up if they need us to pick them up. That’s the mindset of everybody; that we need to be able to back each other up and I just think that’s how we’re going as a team.”

On if they somewhat “hope” other teams key on A’dia Mathies, so they’ll get more points or shots…
“At the end of the day, it’s Kentucky versus whoever we’re playing against, so it doesn’t matter who scores, who does what, or who gets the praise. At the end of the day, it’s Kentucky versus whoever we play and Coach definitely puts emphasis on that. He doesn’t care who scores as long as we win the game.”

On if she feels like teams are gunning for them now with all the success they’ve had…
“I think that’s just natural, especially since we’ve been unbeaten in the SEC. Teams are going to want to be that one team that beats Kentucky. Just knowing that people are coming after us like that, that’s definitely something that we’ll keep in mind and we’ll just keep working hard on the practice court.”

#4, Keyla Snowden, Sr., G

On the depth of the team…
“I think the depth helps us out a lot. Just being a team where anyone can step up. There are a lot of people on this team who play important roles and I think that will definitely help us later on in the year as well. Just being so full of multi-dimensional players, it helps us to really connect well on the court. And then Coach (Matthew) Mitchell is able to sub five in, five out and I think that helps us out.”

On keeping the team energized on the bench…
“I think it comes naturally as a basketball player. But on the bench we’re always talking, we’re always encouraging the people who are out on the floor. So I think it kind of comes naturally.”

On becoming vocal after the Middle Tennessee State loss…
“I remember as a team we had a meeting, it was without the coaches, it was just the players. We all talked about how that wasn’t the direction we wanted our season to go, especially after losing to Middle Tennessee. We give a lot of credit to them; they’re a really good team. But just playing at Kentucky we know there are certain teams that we just shouldn’t lose to. After losing that game we all just regrouped and came up with a plan that we were going to work harder and not have to feel that feeling again.”

On whether she is comfortable being a vocal leader…
“I feel kind of comfortable in it. But there is always room for improvement, especially when trying to be a leader. I think I’m still a work in progress but if that’s the role that Coach [Mitchell] wants me to play on this team then I’m definitely going to do that, especially with this being my last year. I’m a senior and I think that comes with seniority; just being vocal and being a leader out on the floor.”