UK Hoops Plays Host to No. 21/20 Georgia on Alumni Day
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 10th-ranked University of Kentucky women's basketball team play its second straight ranked opponent at home when the No. 21/20 Georgia Lady Bulldogs visit Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Feb. 1 at 1 p.m. ET. The game will be shown live on the SEC Network with Paul Sunderland and Nell Fortner calling the action. It also will be broadcast live on the UK Radio Network with Neil Price and on Sirus 93 and XM 190.
|Kentucky vs. Georgia
Sunday, Feb. 1 - 1:00 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | UGA
|TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Video via SEC Network+
Sunday is UK's annual "Alumni Day" as over 35 former Wildcats and their families will return to campus. UK will pay a special tribute to the 2009-10 Elite Eight team during a halftime presentation.
UK went from relative unknown to pulling off one of the best storylines of the 2009-10 college basketball season. Five years later, the Wildcats are among the nation's elite every year and the 2009-10 team helped lay that foundation. Despite being picked to finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference, UK had a remarkable season, finishing with a 28-8 overall record, including 11-5 mark in SEC play for a second-place finish. The Wildcats earned a trip to the SEC Tournament finals for the first time since 1982 and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament with wins over Liberty, No. 24/25 Michigan State and a huge upset of top-seeded and fourth-ranked Nebraska. The Cats' run to the Final Four ended with a loss to No. 12/12 Oklahoma in the regional finals. UK swept the major SEC regular season awards that season (Victoria Dunlap - SEC Player of the Year; A'dia Mathies - SEC Freshman of the Year; Matthew Mitchell - SEC Coach of the Year) for the first time in program history.
Since 2009-10, UK has advanced to a school-record five straight NCAA Tournaments, including four Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights. The Cats have been ranked in the top 25 of the national polls 96 straight weeks and averaged 27.4 wins per season. Three players have been drafted in the WNBA and 10 high school All-Americans have chosen to play at Kentucky.
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.
"It will be a great, great day for us with the alumni coming back," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It's important on that day to try and give your best effort. For many people, it's the only time they get back each year or maybe the only time they get back every five or 10 years. We want to try hard every game and play hard every game, but it's really special when alumni comes back and we've got the five-year anniversary of that 2010 team, so that's really, really special, too. We're excited to welcome our alumni back.
"We've got a tough game against Georgia. They are well-coached, play really tough defense and it's hard to score against them. They have a well-oiled machine on offense, run a lot of sets, do great stuff offensively and they're just a well-coached team offensively. Coach (Andy) Landers is just one of the best of all time. It's a tough game against Georgia and we are going to work like crazy today to try and get ready for them."
Kentucky (16-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) is coming off a heartbreaking one-point loss to the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols on Thursday night in Memorial, 73-72. Sophomore point guard Makayla Epps' (Lebanon, Ky.) 23 points, including 20 in the second half, were not enough as Tennessee rallied from a five-point second-half deficit to defeat the Wildcats for the first time in three years in Lexington.
UK has benefited from a balanced scoring attack this season. Six players average at least 6.4 points per game, led by the guard play of senior Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and sophomores Linnae Harper (Chicago) and Epps. The trio makes up 50.8 percent of UK's overall scoring.
O'Neill, who comes off the bench for a team-high 14.7 points per game, has netted double figures in 17 of 20 games played this season, including three in a row.
Harper is one of the most versatile players on the team as she is the only player to rank in the SEC's top 12 (league games only) in scoring (12th), rebounding (T6th) and steals (1st). Standing at just 5-foot-8, Harper is the only player under 6-foot-0 in the top 10 of the SEC rebounding statistics and is one of only four players in the NCAA to stand at 6-0 or under and average at least 7.1 rebounds per game. She also adds 11.2 points per game, third on the team. In eight SEC games, Harper has three double-doubles.
Epps is UK's second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game. Since becoming the starting point guard vs. Florida on Jan. 15, Epps is averaging a team-high 17.8 points to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In SEC play, she leads the league in assist/turnover ratio at +2.2 (29 assists/13 turnovers).
Georgia, which is coming off a bye week, is 17-4 overall, 5-3 in SEC play after defeating No. 10 Texas A&M and falling at No. 5 Tennessee last week.
Like Kentucky, Georgia is dealing with a devastating loss to one of its key players. It was announced this week that junior Shacobia Barbee will miss the rest of the season after fracturing her right distal fibula suffered in last Sunday's game at Tennessee. She was averaging a team-high 12.0 points per game.
In Shacobia's absence, junior guard Tiaria Griffin is the team's leading scorer with 11.2 points per game. Senior forward Krista McDonald is tops in rebounding with 7.2 rebounds per game.
UGA leads the all-time series with Kentucky 36-14, including 13-8 in Lexington and 12-7 in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats are looking for their first win over the Lady Bulldogs in Lexington since a 64-48 win in Memorial on Feb. 11, 2010.
UK fell in the lone meeting with Georgia last season in Athens, Ga., 58-56, and four of the last six meetings against UGA have been decided by five points or less. UK went 1-3 in those games.
For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit www.ukathletics.com/wbbgameday.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - January 30, 2014
Opening statement ...
"Tough game ahead. Great, great day for us with the alumni coming back. It's important on that day to try and give your best effort. For many people, it's the only time they get back each year or maybe the only time they get back every five or 10 years. We want to try hard every game and play hard every game, but it's really special when alumni comes back and we've got the five-year anniversary of that 2010 team, so that's really, really special too. We're excited to welcome our alumni back. We've got a tough game against Georgia. They are well-coached, play really tough defense and it's hard to score against them. They have a well-oiled machine on offense, run a lot of sets, do great stuff offensively and they're just a well-coached team offensively. Coach (Andy) Landers is just one of the best of all-time. It's a tough game against Georgia and we are going to work like crazy today to try and get ready for them."
On Makayla Epps being a star for this team ...
"I think so. I don't think that is out of the realm of possibility. It needs a lot of work from where we are now and getting to that point, but it's certainly a possibility. She is very talented, she's got a high basketball IQ, she can affect the game in every phase, she can be a good defender, she can rebound the basketball, great ball-handler, great scorer mid-range, great 3-point shooter, so there's definitely that possibility and that's what we're trying to work for. We're working real hard with her on improving and I think it's necessary for this particular team for her to embrace that role and try to become a big-time player right now for us."
On if Makayla Epps has the potential to be the best player that he has ever coached ...
"She does. She has the potential to do that. It's easy to sit here and talk about that now, but you know people like Victoria Dunlap went out and did it. Makayla has to go out and do it. She has everything she needs to be a great player."
On what Makayla Epps needs to improve on ...
"I just think that in her stage of her career, she needs to get much more organized in her daily life and start approaching things more professionally as far as how she manages her life. That's not to say she has a bad life. She is really one of the great kids I've ever coached just from the aspect of what her heart is. So, I don't say any of that to suggest something negative, it's just a young kid that is not real focused, show up, play ball, go to class, beat class - but it's not all synced up. First of all, what we are trying to do is have her look out in the future and look to what you can be and it's not all that far out in the future. We're coming to the end of her sophomore year and two years have flown by and two more will. So, you need to start thinking in terms of how do I handle my life. Do I sleep 10 minutes until I have to be at class, or do I have to be at weights - and they live right here by the facility; or do I get up an extra 90 minutes early and get a workout in, get my shooting done in the morning? Do I come by the coaches' offices and watch film? So I think that's where we're really trying to start with her, is just her approach to life. And with her basketball game, I just think she needs to keep showing up every day hungry in practice and we're working with her for consistency on defense, playing hard every play and really going up strong around the basket. She is floating too much. Last night, when she went up strong - she scored. The last shot there, she floated and was like `Oh, I hope it goes in'. Those little nuances of the game are what she needs to improve on. And then as a point guard, just knowing where everybody is supposed to be and having a more cerebral approach. She is capable of all that, she just has a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do."
On whether he talks to Epps about her decision-making ...
"We just need to work on it. The way that gets better is reps. So last night, had just a big-little switch there at the end and their shortest players got isolated on (Alexis) Jennings. And their tallest player couldn't guard Jennings one-on-one if you just left them down in the lane. It was like the Red Sea parted and there was Jennings down there. We didn't get it to her. It's an experience that we need to learn from. And there's only one way to do that: play it, screw up, look at it on film, try to do better the next time. Tried to put her in that situation in practice today. And so the great thing about Makayla is she willing from what I can tell right now."
On whether Janee Thompson has reached the point where she can work with Epps ...
"Not as much as we're hoping. She's just still dealing with some pain, but she's around some and like at halftime last night she was talking and she felt well enough to hang around for halftime. She was here after the game. Janee's seeing it well, texted in over at Missouri at halftime and so, yeah, I think she'll help her a lot."
On how the loss of Shacobia Barbee affects Georgia ...
"It's hard to tell. It was just one half there against Tennessee and now they've had a week to adjust. They didn't play last night so I would say they will be as well-prepared as possible knowing Coach (Andy) Landers without her. It just takes away an extremely talented, experienced, tough player that can affect the game defensively, on the rebounding, the scoring. She's just a really outstanding player for them. It's just absolutely horrible for that kid. It's horrible for anybody to have a season-ending injury. It's certainly--I don't know how it would not affect their team. It's just how will it affect their team. If I needed somebody to figure it out, Coach Landers is probably as good as anybody to figure it out. So they'll be ready. They'll play real hard. They'll be tough. They will know how to attack us and what our weaknesses are and they'll put stress on that. So it'll be a very difficult game and they'll just be different without Barbee and it will be hard for me to know. Again, I'll come back to this, I spent the day on getting familiar with Georgia, but my thoughts are totally on our team and what we need to do. We've made a lot of progress over the last 10, 12 days and we just to hang in there and stay with that."
On quickly they will put a tough loss like Tennessee behind them ...
"Well you have to right now. We're playing a Georgia team that will beat our tail if we don't get ready for them. It's a wonderful thing from that standpoint. If you want to hang your head right now, Georgia will be more than happy to take advantage of that. You can fuss and mull it over and stew and fume at the house like I did last night for three or four hours and then you gotta get up this morning and turn the page, man. You gotta get going because this game is in front of us and that one last night is behind us. And we can do nothing about that one now except learn from it at the appropriate time, which we'll see those guys in a few weeks and we'll have plenty of time to rehash that game and see what's going on and why we didn't win and what we need to do better. But today's not that that day. We gotta turn the ship sailing toward Georgia and we gotta be ready."
On if he can see positives outside of disappointment of loss ...
"You know, I just hate losing; I hate to lose. It's just gut wrenching; it's awful. If you get just smashed like we did at Duke, I hate that or you get beat by one like we did last night, I hate that. I don't distinguish much about how we lose. Losing's just awful, awful, and I hope we don't ever lose another one the rest of the time I'm here. If I can start recruiting like (Calipari) that's a possibility that you never lose. That's my goal right now is to never lose another game."
On what he's like after a loss ...
"It's just misery, man. I don't know how to describe it other than it's just miserable. I'm no fun to be around. Jenna takes the brunt of it; she hates losing, too. She hates losing bad, almost worse than I do because she has to listen to me upset about things. Get in there for a couple hours and feel sorry for myself, talk about what a bad coach I am and how I don't know how to do anything hoping that Jenna tells me, `No, you really are a great coach,' but she never does. I have to pep myself back up after that because Jenna won't. It's bad. Losing's no fun. With this team, we don't have any time to waste. I really do thing we're improving. I really do. I think we're getting better. I think we're headed in the right direction. I think this team has a chance to be really good. That's what we need to stay focused on right now, just fight for improvement every day."
On the next stretch of games being critical in standings ...
"Again, I said this week, with the championship team in 2012, kind of felt like we had one of the better teams, thought we had a chance. In 2013, we lost it by one game, definitely thought we had a chance. And so your mind might wander to some of those things. But with this team, I just didn't know exactly we'd become a very good team, so I'm not concerning myself with the standings. You know, we need to win some more games, be an NCAA Tournament team. There's a lot of things we need to do along the way before we think about big picture here. So important stretch of games, all of them are. But it is a time of separation, Georgia and (UK) are 5-3. We'll play them once. If we have the same record, then the game is meaningful. All of these games we play one time. It's an important stretch, but I think it's important for us right now to capitalize on some incremental progress that we've made. And if we can take another step this week and just build on what we have. If we could've done just a few things better last night, we certainly would've won the game, but those are things that we have to clean up in practice. Like in the press, we just did some incorrect things, so we have to correct those things. So the only way you're going to do that is through practice, which is why I'm excited to get to the floor today."