UK Hoops Takes SEC Winning Streak On Road To Ole Miss
Jan. 26, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 17/18 Kentucky women’s basketball team takes its four-game Southeastern Conference winning streak on the road when it meets Ole Miss on Thursday, Jan. 27 in Oxford, Miss. Game time in the C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum is set for 9 p.m. EST as it will be broadcast live on FSN with Dave Neal and Debbie Antonelli calling the action. It also will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.
The hot-streaking Wildcats (15-4, 4-2 SEC) have won four in a row after defeating Florida and Vanderbilt last week. Senior and All-American forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) led the winning efforts, averaging 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. She moved up to No. 2 on UK’s all-time rebounding list (977), No. 4 on the steals list (268) and needs only two points (1,596) to climb to No. 4 on the career scoring chart. The Wildcats also relied on the stellar play of freshman Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.). The 5-foot-6 guard came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points in the come-from-behind win at Florida and followed that performance with 10 points and two rebounds vs. Vanderbilt. She was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for those efforts.
“We have a very important game with Ole Miss on Thursday night on the road,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Ole Miss is a very, very active and athletic team. Ole Miss plays a real active zone defense that can really give us some definite problems if we don’t handle that well. It’s always a challenge to go on the road in this league. (Ole Miss) has a very good team. We are going to need to practice well in preparation for this game.”
Ole Miss enters Thursday’s game at 9-9 overall, 2-4 in SEC play after upsetting No. 24/23 Arkansas (69-65) on the road Sunday. The win broke a four-game losing streak for the Rebels.
Senior guard Kayla Melson is the Rebels’ leading scorer with 16.3 points per game. Melson also leads the team with 30 steals this year and a 72.5 percent free-throw percentage. Freshman forward Pe’Sonna Hope patrols the glass for Ole Miss, grabbing a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. Junior forward Nikki Byrd is the top 3-point shooter, making 30.8 percent of her tries from beyond the arc.
Once again this season, defense and Dunlap have been the Cats’ key catalysts. The Cats ranks in the top five of nine SEC statistical categories, including leading the SEC and ranking fourth nationally in turnover margin (+8.4) and leading the league and ranking 27th nationally in steals per game (11.8). Dunlap is the SEC’s leader in scoring (17.4 ppg) and steals (3.4 spg).
Also averaging in double-digit scoring for the Cats this season is sophomore A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) with 13.6 points per game and junior sharpshooter Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.) with 10.8 ppg, respectively.
Thursday will mark the 32nd meeting between Ole Miss and Kentucky. The Rebels lead the all-time series 20-11, including an 11-4 advantage when the game is played in Oxford. UK has won three of the last four meetings after defeating the Rebels last season in Lexington, 80-66. UK’s last win in Oxford came in 2007 (69-61).
Pregame Press Conference: Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
“We have a very important game with Ole Miss on Thursday night on the road. Ole Miss is a very, very active and athletic team. Ole Miss plays a real active zone defense that can really give us some definite problems if we don’t handle that well. It’s always a challenge to go on the road in this league. (Ole Miss) has a very good team. We are going to need to practice well in preparation for this game.”
On Ole Miss going on the road and beating Arkansas…
“Their two leading scorers (Kayla) Melson and (Valencia) McFarland are the most dynamic guards that I have seen on video all season. They are very explosive and can score in transition, and put a lot of pressure on you defensively. So we have big concerns. (Ole Miss) has great size so I think that you have to gain confidence from a road win. Any time you can win on the road – I don’t care if you beat a ranked team or not – in this league it’s a significant accomplishment. I would think that they would be confident coming back after the win over Arkansas. It will be a tough one.”
On if his team feels more confident in attacking the zone now…
“I do. I am so pleased with how our decision making has been. Vanderbilt was good preparation because Ole Miss will trap you either three-quarter court or half court. Decision making will be at a premium. If you come down every time and the team is in man-to-man, you get a feel for it. When a team switches it up on you, it forces you to make decisions. I thought we moved the ball better against Vanderbilt and we have been working hard on it and practice. It will be important for us to do a good job of that. Florida played some zone and we didn’t handle it that well on the road, so it’s a big concern.”
On the team starting to understand how to win on the road…
“I think that the Florida win was a great win for us. For us not to play our best for the entire 40 minutes and still be able to come out with a win, I think that everybody will have a hyped sense of awareness that we can’t afford to have stretches in the game where you are not focused, you are not playing well and you are not producing. That’s really what happened to us at Florida. We had some good stretches and then we would go on a four- or five-minute drought. Those are the times in the game which we are trying to progress through and not have these long stretches where we don’t score. I think that Sunday we should have gained some confidence. They were very energetic in practice yesterday so hopefully we will do better on the road this time.”
On this team maturing in the last few games…
“It sure looks like we are gaining maturity. We are not where we would like to be. I think we took a significant step. What was so great was to recognize the opportunity of stealing one on the road. I don’t know if stealing is the right word to use, but we clearly could have lost that game (at Florida) if we hadn’t gotten it together and sometimes a younger team will just think that it’s no big deal and they don’t really recognize that sort of special opportunity. I was so pleased with that win against Vanderbilt. That was such a good win and I thought they showed a lot of maturity and they were emphatic enough to get a tough, tough win on the road and understand that we had to come in here and prepare for Vanderbilt. They did a good job. The thing that I told them yesterday was if we zoom out a little bit and look at the big picture, with five weeks gone in the regular season, I think we have room to improve a tremendous amount and I think a lot of the teams this time of the year, they have gotten what they can get out of them and they sort of just have to get through the rest of the season. I think that we are still improving, so that’s exciting on one hand and then it’s sort of scary that we need to improve at this time of the year, so it could go either way for us, and hopefully we are maturing.”
On the play of Jennifer O’Neill…
“She has just improved her play, clearly. You can see that in league play. To have three games straight now where she has scored double figures when we really have needed it with Keyla out, we needed somebody to step up and fill that void that she left from a scoring point of view. That is 14 points we are missing out there on the court. Jen did a good job there taking advantage of that opportunity and she did that by practicing better and I think that she probably more than anybody has matured over the last couple of weeks. Just her ability to earn enough trust in practice and get in games and play has been great. I am happy with her progress and she still has ways to go, but at least we finally have some hope that she is rounding into shape as far as knowing how this works.”
On the new addition of Samarie Walker who transferred from UConn this week…
“Well, we are happy she is here. She was in class Monday, yesterday and today. She was able to get on the practice floor with us yesterday and she did a good job. She has a long road ahead just to get integrated with the team and acclimated with Kentucky, but we are happy she is here.”
On the reports from UConn that Samarie had lost her passion for basketball…
“I don’t know what was said between the two. All I can go on is what has happened to this point and she had to show a lot of initiative to get in school and make a decision and make all that happen. In my conversations with her she is not lacking passion. I have no idea what the particulars were with that conversation so I really can’t comment on that. I can just tell you I’m concerned with every player that comes to Kentucky. I’m always concerned about three things: whether they can be honest, whether they can work hard and whether they can show discipline on and off the basketball court. She’ll be just like all the other players here. She’ll have to prove those things to be successful. I am really excited about her. She seems to be in a place where she is excited to be and I’m looking forward to coaching her.”