Cats Take Four-game SEC Win Streak to Starkville
Jan. 30, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fresh off an impressive 71-62 win over No. 18/19 LSU on Thursday, the Kentucky women's basketball team must now refocus as the Wildcats take their school record-tying four-game conference win streak on the road to Starkville, Miss. The Wildcats meet Mississippi State Sunday, Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. EST in Humphrey Coliseum. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.
Both teams are coming off monumental victories Thursday night. The Wildcats (17-3, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) defeated No. 18/19 LSU, snapping a 16-game losing skid to the Lady Tigers and charting their first win in Baton Rouge since 1995. The win tied the school record for most consecutive SEC wins, a mark set during the 2005-06 season. MSU (14-7, 5-3 SEC) shocked No. 9 Georgia with a 74-66 win in Starkville, its highest-ranked victory since defeating No. 9 Florida in 2001.
"This is a very tough challenge facing us on Sunday with Mississippi State," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell, a 1995 graduate of MSU, said. "I have always thought that they were one of the most talented teams in the league and they looked fantastic last night against Georgia. They are athletic and very explosive offensive and can put some pressure on you defensively. This will be a tough task for us to get a win on Sunday."
The Lady Bulldogs, who are led by former UK coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, have won two of their last four SEC games, including two over ranked opponents. They fell to Florida and Ole Miss last week before back-to-back wins over No. 21 Vanderbilt and No. 9 Georgia.
"They are very talented and probably have as much scoring power as anybody in the conference," Mitchell said. "The win against Georgia was extremely impressive if you watched it. Georgia is a really good basketball team and Mississippi State put it on them pretty good. It will be another test for us. We had to really fire on all cylinders and everybody really had to stay committed to outworking our opponent. That will be the same way that we have to play this game and we don't have much of a chance if we don't do that."
MSU guard Alexis Rack, who poured in a game-high 34 points after netting seven three-pointers vs. Georgia, leads four players in double-digit scoring this season. She ranks second in the SEC with 20.3 points a game. She also ranks second nationally in three-point field goals made, hitting 3.9 treys a game. Forward Armelie Lumanu, who has swiped a team-high 56 steals this season, is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 ppg,
"She (Rack) is really explosive and the thing about her that she does different that probably anybody in the league is she makes a lot of contested threes and a lot of three-point shots where the defense is right there in her face and she still makes them," Mitchell said. "That makes it tough. She is hard to guard, there is no question about it. She is also a very good ball handler and can get to the rim. She is the complete package and we will have to come up with something to try to slow her down a little bit."
Sunday's game will be a battle beyond the arc as State leads the SEC in three-point field goals made a game (7.6) and three-point field goal defense (.268).
UK's pressure defense has been its key cog this season as the Wildcats are holding opponents to 56.3 points per game (fourth in the SEC) and are allowing teams to shoot just .370 from the field and .289 from three-point range (second in the SEC). Only one team has scored over 67 points against UK this season.
The Wildcats also are among the most productive offensive teams in the SEC. The Wildcats currently lead the league and rank 14th nationally in scoring offense at 77.9 points per game. It's a team effort as just one player (Dunlap, 3rd-17.5 ppg) ranks in the top 20 in scoring.
Also averaging double-digits for the Wildcats is freshman guard A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) with 11.6 points per game and junior point guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) with 10.6 ppg. Dunlap is the team's rebounding leader with 8.7 boards per game (third in the SEC) and she currently holds the distinction of being the only player in the SEC to rank in the top three of both the scoring and rebounding statistical categories.
Sunday will mark the 34th meeting in the series between Kentucky and Mississippi State. MSU holds a slight 17-16 advantage overall and an 8-5 lead when the game is played in Starkville. UK dropped last year's meeting in Lexington, 52-45, but defeated the Lady Bulldogs in the last matchup in Starkville, 64-60, in 2008.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pregame Press Conference
Opening Statement ...
"This is a very tough challenge facing us on Sunday with Mississippi State. I have always thought that they were one of the most talented teams in the league and they looked fantastic last night against Georgia. They are athletic and very explosive offensive and can put some pressure on you defensively. This will be a tough task for us to get a win on Sunday."
On now being one of the teams at the top of the SEC standings ...
"We have a really tough group of players that have put in a lot of hard work since the start of the season. It really began for them this summer. For them, right now, their ability to get into top physical condition and then commit to playing tough fundamental defense has given them a chance to be a special group. Our sum is greater than our parts and it is a great group to coach. We enjoy coaching this team."
On the SEC and how much parity there is this season ...
"It is a very even league right now and I think for us we just need to focus on getting every win we can. There is so much basketball left to be played that it can really go anyway right now for a number of teams. Everybody is sort of bunched right there and there is not a lot of separation and that makes it interesting. We have talked to our team about the opportunity out there every single time we play to win, but there is an opportunity to lose, also. We are not just going to blow the doors off anybody. It helps to keep us focused on if we do the things in practice every day like working hard and trying to stay really solid fundamentally on defense and keep getting better than we are going to have a chance to have some success."
On the change in the conference that led to the parity ...
"Well, for so long Tennessee and LSU had that great run where they were just far and away better than anybody in the league. Then Auburn had a great team last year and they were really tough to beat. I think that it is a little different than it has been the last few years."
On if he is concerned about this group being able to keep their focus after a huge win ...
"I am always concerned about a lot of things, so sure, you can add that one to the list. I think they have a chance to stay focused because ever since the South Carolina game it was sort of a wakeup call. They have handled it pretty well. The way that I gage that is their effort, intensity and attention to detail. It has been very evident and good the last four games and it have not wavered. I certainly addressed the team about what we need to do to go beat Mississippi State and a big part of that is about attitude. We talk about that all the time. I am not overly concerned with it right now, but we will see how practice goes today. I could have a different answer for you tomorrow."
On Mississippi State being an improving team ...
"I thought before the season started that they were one of the more talented teams and could win the league. I think they could still win the league. They are very talented and probably have as much scoring power as anybody in the conference. The win against Georgia last night was extremely impressive if you watched it. Georgia is a really good basketball team and Mississippi State really put it on them pretty good. It will be another test for us, just like last night was. We had to really fire on all cylinders and everybody really had to stay committed to outworking our opponent. That will be the same way that we have to play this game and we don't have much of a chance if we don't do that."
On how to stop Mississippi State senior Alexis Rack ...
"She is really explosive and the thing about her that she does different that probably anybody in the league is she makes a lot of contested threes and a lot of three-point shots where the defense is right there in her face and she still makes them. That makes it tough. She is hard to guard, there is no question about it. She is also a very good ball handler and can get to the rim. She is the complete package and we will have to come up with something to try to slow her down a little bit."
On Crystal Riley handling going back to LSU and how she has played this year ...
"I don't think that she could have handled it any better and she was tremendously focused all week in practice. I never once got the sense that it was because she was going back to LSU. The sense that I got from Crystal was that she understood how important the game was and how important it is right now for us to win and reach some goals that we have set. I never got the feeling one time that it was about her, but that it was Kentucky winning for her. Ger mindset was for Kentucky to go get a big win. It was really impressive because that is an easy situation for her to let her emotions to get out of whack and for her to get thinking about herself. I am telling you now, it was impressive the way that she played. I am really impressed in how she is able to sense when we need a good performance or something in a big game. She even started that at Middle Tennessee State. She went in and made some plays when we needed them. She has a chance to be a really good player. She works hard and I am really glad that she is here."