No. 7/8 UK Hoops Looks to Get Back on Winning Track at Alabama

Feb. 15, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 7/8 Kentucky looks to get back on the winning track and hold on to first place in the Southeastern Conference when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face the Crimson Tide on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in Foster Auditorium.

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Kentucky at Alabama
Thurs., Feb. 16 - 7:30 p.m. ET
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
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The Wildcats (21-4, 10-2 SEC) have their sights set on winning their first SEC regular season championship since 1982. The Cats are just one win away from tying the most SEC wins in school history at 11, and their four SEC road wins are two shy of tying the school record of six set in 2005-06. Kentucky has won each of its past seven games against the Crimson Tide, including an 82-68 victory on Jan. 29 at Memorial Coliseum. UK Hoops has won its past three games in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“We are headed to a tough, tough game against Alabama,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “The first game we played against them we played a very good first 16 minutes or so, and then they took it to us pretty good for the remainder of the game. We have many examples of how tough they can be just with our own experience with them. They’ve been playing much better in the last few games. It’s a big test for us on the road, it’ll be an important game and a big game for us and we will be working hard this afternoon and this morning to finish our preparations and be as prepared as possible for a tough Alabama team. We’re looking forward to getting back on the court and playing what we know will be a tough game.”

Leading the way for the Wildcats this season is junior All-America and SEC Player of the Year candidate A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.). Mathies leads the team in almost every statistical category, including scoring (15.0), steals (2.7) and 3-point field goal percentage (.368). She is also second on the team in rebounding (5.3), assists (2.5), blocks (0.7) and 3-point field goals made (39). SEC Freshman of the Year contender Bria Goss (Indianapolis) follows in the scoring column with 11.6 points per game. She has scored in double digits in three of the last four games, and she leads the team in charges taken with 16. Sophomore forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) is UK’s leading rebounder with 6.1 rebounds per game.

UK ranks in the top 10 of four national statistical categories, including leading the nation in turnover margin (+11.9). The Cats have forced at least 20 turnovers in 20 games this season, including 36 at Ole Miss.

Alabama (11-15, 1-11 Southeastern Conference) enters Thursday’s contest coming off a 46-51 loss to LSU at home. Junior guard Meghan Perkins and sophomore guard Shafontaye Myers led Alabama in scoring with 10 points each. Freshman forward Aneesah Daniels led the Crimson Tide on the glass with a team-high seven rebounds, including four offensive boards.

Sophomore guard Jasmine Robinson has led Alabama in scoring this season with 11.1 points per game. Perkins is the Crimson Tide’s top rebounder, pulling down 5.4 boards per game to go along with her 9.4 points per game average, the second highest on the team. Sophomore guard Khristin Lee runs the Alabama offense, dishing out 2.72 assists per game, 15th best in the conference.

Thursday will be the 38th meeting in the series between Kentucky and Alabama. The Wildcats lead the overall series 22-15, including a 9-7 advantage when the game is played in Tuscaloosa. This is UK’s first game in Foster Auditorium.  UK has won seven straight over Alabama after defeating the Tide earlier this season in Lexington, 82-68. The Cats have won the last three matchups in Tuscaloosa.

The game can be heard live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network or www.UKAthletics.com with Neil Price calling the action. Fans can follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.

Pre-Alabama Media Opportunity - Feb. 15, 2012

On what the last couple of days have been like…
“Well we are headed to a tough, tough game against Alabama. The first game we played against them we played a very good first 16 minutes or so, and then they took it to us pretty good for the remainder of the game. We have many examples of how tough they can be just with our own experience with them. They’ve been playing much better in the last few games. It’s a big test for us on the road, it’ll be an important game and a big game for us and we will be working hard this afternoon and this morning to finish our preparations and be as prepared as possible for a tough Alabama team. We’re looking forward to getting back on the court and playing what we know will be a tough game.”

On if he’s more concerned with offense or defense…
“We’ve been concerned with it all. We had a great practice yesterday and worked real hard on our transition defense. We have not played great in that area lately so we need to do better. I thought we had a good practice yesterday with that, that was one of our main focuses. It was good practice.”

On the health status of A’dia Mathies…
“She came out of that (injury) all right. She took a really tough lick there to her nose, at the time when I went out for the media I didn’t know. I got back and thank goodness she was alright. They stopped the bleeding – it was a bloody nose, no fracture or breaks or anything. She looked really good in practice yesterday, moved around great. That was great for us.”

On what he is telling A’dia Mathies right now…
“That we need to just get back here like we did yesterday and practice real hard. That’s all we need to do. She’s doing a fantastic job this season, having a player of the year type of season. I just want her to know that if she’ll just stay patient and keep working she’s going to be fine. She’ll do a good job. She’s been in really good spirits, even after that tough loss she came out with a great attitude yesterday, and I’d asked them all to do that, and I was really proud of them.”

On if they watched game tape from Monday night’s game against Tennessee…
“No, we had such little time to prepare (for Alabama) and the issues were not what you had to go back and look at. Tennessee had a fantastic game and played really well and you give them credit. We just don’t have much time to worry about that one and it’s probably good that we don’t. As soon as we got on the bus we said we need to put it behind us. The players did what they had to do there. They split. They won here and it’s always tough there. We would have loved to have won, but the reality was, our win counts as much as there’s, although the margin – I told somebody, they probably should have gotten credit for two or three after that, but they didn’t. I was really, really encouraged with how they bounced back yesterday. They’re a tough team and they’ve done a good job and we’re in fantastic position. We have to stay focused on beating Alabama tomorrow.”

On how they will attack a 2-3 zone from here on out…
“I think this is important, and we want to make sure the players know this; we worked hard for five days and we didn’t reap the harvest Monday night, but I still think we made a lot of progress last week. It did not show up Monday night but we, as the coaches watched it, got a lot of shots, we just didn’t make them. I think a lot of teams go through that, not all, but a lot of teams go through times like that. We didn’t make a lot of shots in our last great showing against Ole Miss, we missed 50 shots in that game. I just think that’s the attitude we have to take, is that the offense is good and the players are getting it in good position. The problem that you run into is when people lose confidence and stop making the other team guard them and you’re shooting expecting to miss. We just have to be real strong and real tough because the shots will start falling I believe.”

On if it’s easier to move on from a loss like Monday’s as opposed to a buzzer beater or blowing a lead…
“I haven’t thought of that. It may be. We were just so embarrassed and felt so bad that at that point in time, as a coach, thank goodness I just knew what we needed. We had gotten our whipping and gotten humbled as much as we needed to be humbled and it was time for us to move past it. I’m not sure how you react against different kinds of games. They all hurt really bad and you hope you don’t go through it again this season. I hope we don’t lose another one. I don’t know if that one was any easier, I just knew what we had to do and that’s move on.”

On if there’s any concern about a loss of confidence…
“No, I don’t think we’re there. I don’t think they’re dreading going back on the road. I think they just want to go back and play and get back on the winning track, so I’m not concerned about that.”

On if it helps that they play another game pretty quickly after the loss to Tennessee…
“We just got right back on the court yesterday and after such an embarrassing performance and a bad performance. I told the kids, ‘We’re moving, but we’re not happy about it.’ The necessity of us getting focused and winning on Thursday night probably helped us move beyond it.”

On what he’s doing to have them mentally stop worrying about offensive woes…
“I think sometimes you get to the point that you talk so much about it that you maybe overdo it and overanalyze. We’re not a real complicated team so we don’t need to complicate things. I didn’t mention anything to them yesterday about offense. We knew we needed to get better in transition defense and we had a good session with that. We didn’t say much about offense.”

On if the players were all back in the gym the next morning similar to after the loss at Middle Tennessee…
“It was a good reaction from the players. That was during the holidays, but they had to get up and go to class yesterday, but A’dia was on the floor 30 minutes before practice yesterday. Everybody, as their class schedules would allow, got in and got some good work. I think they’re real disappointed in their performance and I look for them to come out and play hard against Alabama.”

On the sky not falling…
“Listen, when you have fantastic performances you don’t dwell on those for two and three weeks and you don’t hold on to those for two and three weeks. That was the most humbling point of our season, and unless you go undefeated, not many teams have, you get humbled at some point in the year. But no, no the sky is not falling. We have a very good team and I think they’re anxious to prove that Thursday night.”