UK Hoops Look for Third Straight Win Over Auburn

Feb. 11, 2009

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky women's basketball team looks for its third consecutive win over Auburn when it meets the No. 5/4 Tigers on the Plains Thursday, Feb. 12. The game will be broadcast live from Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

The Wildcats (13-11, 3-6 Southeastern Conference) also look to chart their first win over a ranked opponent this season and grab their first-ever win vs. a top-five ranked team on the road.

It will prove to be a tall task as Auburn (23-1, 8-1 SEC) is undefeated at home with a perfect 9-0 record, including a 4-0 mark in league play. The 23-1 start is the fifth-best start ever for Auburn while the 8-1 SEC start ties for the fourth-best start ever by a Tiger squad.

"Tomorrow is about as challenging as it gets on the road," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "In the Southeastern Conference Auburn is playing awfully well. They're a very athletic team and cause a lot of problems with their athleticism on defense. They are probably the best offensive transition team in the conference. We will work hard today to finish up preparing for them and go down with a good plan and try to get a big win on the road in the SEC."

The Tigers are coming off an 81-54 win over instate rival Alabama last Sunday in Tuscaloosa. Overall, 6-4 senior guard DeWanna Bonner leads four players in double-figures, averaging an SEC-best 21.0 points per game. Sophomore guard Alli Smalley and senior guard Sherell Hobbs follow with 12.6 and 12.2 ppg, respectively while senior Whitney Boddie rounds out the double-digit scorers with 10.3 ppg. Bonner also is the team's leader on the boards with 8.6 rpg. That mark is good for second in the SEC behind Kentucky sophomore Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tennn.)

UK split games in Lexington last week, defeating South Carolina 61-47 and falling to No. 20/22 Vanderbilt 72-62. Against the Gamecocks, sophomore Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) led three Wildcats in double-digits with 13 points while senior Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) charted her 10th double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Dunlap followed with 10 points. The win marked Coach Mitchell's 30th at UK. He did it in only 56 games, becoming the second-fastest coach to reach 30 wins behind Terry Hall who earned it in only 38 games during her first two seasons in 1980 and 1981.

A season-high 6,051 fans attended the Vanderbilt game as UK celebrated Girls and Women in Sports Day and Alumni Day. Despite a second-half rally that saw the score knotted with 8:52 to go, the Cats couldn't overcome the hot-shooting Commodores. Vanderbilt hit 64.1 percent from the floor, including 70.6 percent (12-of-17) in the second half. Dunlap led UK with 17 points and Franklin added 14. Roddy played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble. She scored just five points and did not grab a rebound for the first time in 38 games.

Overall, Dunlap and Roddy are Kentucky's leaders in scoring and rebounding. The duo average 12.4 and 11.6 points per game and 8.9 and 8.5 rebounds per game, respectively.

Thursday's game marks the 35th meeting in the all-time series against Auburn. The Tigers own a 23-11 advantage, including an 8-5 lead over Kentucky in Lexington. However, UK has won the last two meetings, including a 62-55 win over No. 20/18 Auburn last season in Lexington. UK's last win on the Plains was a thrilling 68-65 victory on Jan. 21, 2007.

Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement ...
"Tomorrow is about as challenging as it gets on the road. In the Southeastern Conference Auburn is playing awfully well. They're a very athletic team and cause a lot of problems with their athleticism on defense. They are probably the best offensive transition team in the conference. We will work hard today to finish up preparing for them and go down with a good plan and try to get a big win on the road in the SEC."

On the balance of teams in the SEC this year...
"I think this year the conference is a little more balanced than it has been in the previous four or five years. Auburn is very good and I think their team is difficult to beat because they have a lot of size and quickness. Of all the teams that are playing in the conference right now, to me they're the most athletic and the team that's probably playing the best. I would agree that the situation this year is just about anybody can beat anybody any given night. But it will be a big task that is in front of us to go down there and beat them because they are so talented and well coached."

On the maturation and progression of the team...
"I'm always so optimistic and I think that's an important part of our job, to try to stay optimistic. We're not where I hoped we would be, definitely, at the start of the season. There have been some improvements. We've had some players that have improved a lot. We knew as the season began that some people would have to take on some new roles and the development that I've seen in those people is good. The disappointing thing for me right now is that in the first half of the conference season we let a couple home games get away that I really thought we should have won. That is really what has us in the position we're in right now. The conference is like that - there are games that it comes down to a play or two and we just came out on the bad end of that a couple times. I've seen some progress, but we need to continue to progress. There's still a lot of basketball left to be played. There are five games left in the season and then the conference tournament, and there is a lot that can happen between now and then. We are trying to keep our players focused on that and we need to continue our progression and continue to get better. The goal is to be playing your best at the end of the season."

On the psyche of the team...
"Yesterday what we tried to deal with were the facts. The theme of the team meeting yesterday was excuses. There are so many excuses that can be made and that's where, a lot of times teams that are struggling feel there has to be some type of reason. If we buy into those things that people say such as `we're not deep enough' or `we're not talented enough' or all the different things that you hear then we're making excuses. We just got the film out yesterday and showed it to the players and said this is why we're not performing the way we need to perform. Unless we do a better job and the players take on the responsibility, then we're feeding into those excuses. I think that people who make excuses generally don't perform at their best, or a basketball team loses games. We're trying to stay focused on the facts which are on the film and in practice every day. I thought we had a very spirited practice yesterday and had a good psyche. As long as I am coaching here, that is going to be the goal every day. We're going to deal with the facts and when we're playing well we'll point that out to them and when we're not playing well we'll point that out as well. For us being 3-6 in the conference I think the morale is pretty good."

On what facts they are presenting to the team...
"I've said many times, we're not the most talented team in the conference, but you can say that about 11 of the other teams because there is only one team that is the most talented. So I just try to make that point to our team. We have to execute sharper and that takes a sharper mental focus than what our players are giving right now. We can't just show up and go through the motions. We have to be sharp and play with a lot of focus toward execution, and that is where we are lacking. We'll play terrific for 25 seconds of the shot clock and where some teams may be able to get away with that, we have to finish that last five seconds out. Vanderbilt made so many shots under seven seconds in the shot clock. So obviously we were doing good things up until that point and it's just a break down here, a break down there. That's the tough part. You just have to try to explain that you have to give a little bit more."