Cats and Gamecocks Collide at Colonial Life Arena
Feb. 9, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 15/18 Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to return to its winning ways when it travels to Columbia, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 10 to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. Game time in the Colonial Life Arena is set for 7 p.m. EST and it will be broadcast on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.
Thursday marks the second matchup between the teams this season as UK defeated the Gamecocks on Jan. 13 in Memorial Coliseum, 66-48. Senior forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) led the way with 20 points while freshman guard Bernisha Pinkett (Washington, D.C.) had 18. Sophomore guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) dropped in 15 points in her first full game as the starting point guard. The win over the Gamecocks sparked a seven-game winning streak for the Wildcats.
“We are going to play a very difficult game, a very tough game with South Carolina,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They are a team we play twice every year. They are always tough in Columbia. They whipped us really good down there last year. And, it will be important for us to be committed to the game plan like we have been the last couple of games. The team has made some progress. South Carolina has certainly made some progress since the last time we played them, so it should be a tough challenge for us and we are going to have to play our very best to win.”
Despite a 20-point effort by Dunlap and 18 points from Mathies on Monday in its last game, Kentucky (18-5, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) could not overcome a 45-23 rebounding deficit vs. No. 4 Tennessee. The Lady Vols also shot a season-high 55.8 percent from the field, including 61.5 percent in the second half to add to the rebounding woes.
Despite the loss, the Wildcats continue to dominate the stats defensively. UK ranks in the top five of nine SEC statistical categories, including leading the SEC and ranking fifth nationally in turnover margin (+8.2) and leading the league and ranking 28th nationally in steals (11.6 spg). UK has forced double-digit miscues in 71 consecutive games, dating back to 2008-09 and has double-digit steals in three of its last four games.
Dunlap also continues to prove why she was a unanimous selection for preseason SEC Player of the Year as she ranks in the top five of eight statistical categories, including leading the league in scoring (17.5), field goal percentage (.479) and steals (3.3). Mathies and Snowden follow Dunlap in UK’s scoring column with 13.3 and 10.2 ppg, respectively.
South Carolina enters Thursday’s game at 13-10 overall, 5-5 in the SEC after an impressive win in overtime on Sunday at Arkansas (64-62). La'Keisha Sutton hit seven of the team's nine points, including the first five and the last two on free throws in the final seconds to give South Carolina just its second road win of the season.
Sophomore guard Ieasia Walker leads USC in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game. She is the only player averaging double figures in all games. The leading rebounder is sophomore forward Ashley Bruner with 5.9 rpg. In SEC play, three players average double-digit scoring in Walker with 13.8 ppg and Sutton and Bruner with 10.1 ppg apiece.
The Gamecocks have been a tough team to beat at home as they have compiled an 11-3 record in the Colonial Life Center, including a 3-2 mark in SEC play. The Cats are 6-3 in road games this season, 3-1 away from Memorial in conference games.
Thursday marks the 46th meeting in the all-time series between the teams. UK owns a 28-17 lead overall but trails 12-8 when the game is in Columbia. UK lost last year’s road meeting, 79-71.
This is the 16th straight season UK and USC will play twice in a season. South Carolina is UK’s permanent SEC home-and-home opponent. The Cats also face Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt twice this year.
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pregame Press Conference Quotes
“I would first like to say how happy I am for Mitch Barnhart and Dr. (Lee) Todd about announcing his contract extension. For me personally, it is of great comfort to have Mr. Barnhart as our athletic director. I share his passion for Kentucky, and I share his vision for what the athletic program can be, in particular women’s basketball. You just could not work for a person who cares more for student-athletes and in particular women’s basketball and what we need to compete in the Southeastern Conference. So I was really happy that Dr. Todd made that announcement today. We are excited about the future here at Kentucky athletics so congratulations to Mr. Barnhart and Connie (Barnhart), it’s a wonderful thing.
On South Carolina…
“We are going to play a very difficult game, a very tough game with South Carolina. They are a team we play twice every year and they are always tough in Columbia. They whipped us really good down there last year and it will be important for us to be committed to the gameplan like we have been the last couple of games. South Carolina has certainly made some progress since the last time we played them, so it should be a tough challenge for us and we are going to have to play our very best to win.”
On four of the next six games being against top SEC teams…
“The next six (games) are really tough. There is no way around it. What we have to make sure we do as a team is focus so much on each game, and try not to look ahead. We tried to zoom out a little bit at the halfway point and kind of tell them what we needed to do and what we would like to have done. I don’t feel the need to talk a whole lot about the next six games but the formula for those games will be the same as tomorrow night. Especially when you are playing on the road, you have to pay extra attention to your hustle and your rebounding and your turnover battle. So, what it will tell us is we are trying to look at it a little differently than the players. There are some things that are available to them, they are all very good teams, and if you get wins against those teams you increase your opportunity for the NCAA Tournament. Once you get enough wins to get in the NCAA Tournament, now you’re talking about increasing your opportunities for a high seed. So you are talking about a lot of things on the line. One thing that’s important for us is, until we are mathematically eliminated, we want to compete as hard as we can for the conference championship and then what’s really important to us is the SEC Tournament. We really want to win that thing, so our seeding is important there. So a lot is on the line and for the team in particular, I still think we have so much potential to improve. If we are fortunate enough to win enough games to get into the NCAA Tournament and we can continue to improve, I think our style of play is very difficult to play in the NCAA Tournament. A lot of things to work on, a lot of things to shoot for, but we will find out I think a whole lot the next six games.”
On if this team is one play away from a breakthrough win…
“Well, the thing that has me excited right now is not the Tennessee game by itself, but the Auburn and Tennessee game. I thought both games they committed to play with the effort level that this team needs to become their best. You can really try to magnify and scrutinize every mistake we made or missed box out here, or a missed assignment there, against Tennessee, but at the end of the day, what it really ended up being was a really tough game where Tennessee made a few more plays than we made. It wasn’t a total breakdown or we just gave the game away or something. Had we made a few shots and had we taken advantage of some of their breakdowns they had, we could have won the game. So, the effort level was at the place where you gave yourself a chance and that’s what we have been trying to get at them all season. Now, we did that for the last two games. What I would be very excited for is if that happens again Thursday night. Then you kind of start thinking maybe you are starting to get through to them or maybe they are starting to get through to themselves and maybe beginning to understand what they need to do to be special. That’s sort of what we are talking about right now.”