No. 15 UK Hoops Plays Host to No. 4/6 South Carolina

Feb. 19, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. - With just four regular-season games remaining, the 15th-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team will play host to No. 4/6 South Carolina on Thursday, Feb. 20 in a crucial conference matchup in Memorial Coliseum. The game will tip at 7 p.m. ET on the UK IMG Sports Network and Fox Sport South with Christi Thomas, Garry Gupton and Carl Nathe calling the action. It also will be broadcast on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats and use hashtag #SCvsUK to talk about the game.

Kentucky vs. South Carolina Thursday, Feb. 20 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
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Radio: UK IMG
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Single-game reserved tickets 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. UK faculty, staff and children ages five and under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, while supplies last.

"It's another big challenge for us," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We'll have to really work hard and prepare well for a good South Carolina team. They got the better of us over in Columbia, so we need to work hard and see if we can even the season series up here on Thursday night."

UK fell in the teams' first meeting this season in Columbia, S.C., 68-59, on Jan. 9. The Wildcats scored a then season-low 59 points and shot a season-low 31.5 percent from the field, connecting on just 23-of-73 field goal attempts, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc (12.5 percent). UK clawed back from a 22-point second-half deficit to pull within eight with 1:29 to go in the game but could get no closer, falling to the Gamecocks for the second straight season on the road.

The Wildcats (19-6, 7-5) currently sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Southeastern Conference standings with Florida and LSU, while the Gamecocks lead league at 23-2 overall, 11-1 in SEC play. Their lone SEC loss came in overtime at Texas A&M, 67-65.

UK looks to ride the momentum of its historic 75-71 win over eighth-ranked Tennessee on Sunday and chart its school-record fifth consecutive 20-win season. The Cats are also looking for their fifth win over a ranked opponent this season, including fourth over a top-10 team.

Leading a very balanced scoring attack for the Wildcats is junior point guard Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.). After putting up a game-high 24 points vs. the Lady Vols on Sunday, O'Neill now averages a team-high 13.4 points per game, while Stallworth, who had 17 points and nine rebounds vs. UT, follows with 11.7 points per game. Narrowly missing the double-digit scoring mark is senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) with 9.9 ppg, junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) with 9.8 ppg, sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) with 9.7 ppg and senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) with 9.4 ppg. Walker is the team's leading rebounder 8.8 rebounds per game, a mark that ranks tied for third in the SEC.

For the Gamecocks, sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell averages a team-high 15.3 points per game, while Junior forward Aleighsa Welch follows with 13.9 points and 7.6 rebound per game. Freshman center Alaina Coates rounds out the double-digit scorers with 12.1 points per game to go with a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per game.

South Carolina leads the SEC in scoring margin (+20.6), field goal percentage (.487), field goal percentage defense (.342), rebounding defense (31.0), and blocked shots (7.1). USC's 7.1 blocked shots per game rank third in the country, while field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense is fifth nationally. The Gamecocks are coached by Dawn Staley, who is in her sixth year at the helm.

Thursday will mark the 52nd meeting in the all-time series vs. South Carolina. UK leads the all-time series 31-20, including a 19-5 advantage when playing in Lexington. The Wildcats have won the last nine meetings in Memorial against the Gamecocks. UK's last loss at home came in Rupp Arena, 65-57, on March 2, 2008. UK's last loss in Memorial to USC was Feb. 2, 2003 (49-46).

The last six games have been decided by nine points or less against the Gamecocks. The Cats went 3-3 in those games.

This marks the 19th straight season UK and USC have played twice in a season. South Carolina is UK's permanent SEC home-and-home opponent.

Media Opportunity - February 19, 2014

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

On tomorrow night's matchup against South Carolina...
"It's another big challenge for us. We'll have to really work hard and prepare well for a good South Carolina team. They got the better of us over in Columbia, so we need to work hard and see if we can even the season series up here on Thursday night."

On South Carolina's ability to build their women's basketball program...
"Well Dawn (Staley) is a great coach. We have the benefit of knowing exactly how good she is because they are our rival and we play them twice each and every year no matter what. We have played a bunch of games over the last six years and it's always tough. It's always a South Carolina team that is going to compete very hard and that's what I think Dawn has been all about. She is a tough competitor and I have tremendous respect for her as a coach because I have had an up close view of what they do. She's a really good coach and a really tough competitor. We have great battles and they certainly have brought out the best in us over the years and I think it's developed into a good rivalry."

On the adjustments that have been made since the last meeting with South Carolina...
"Not many adjustments. We had a bad stretch at the very end of the half and the very beginning of the half. We did a lot of really good things in the game. We'll have to shoot the ball. We shot 31 percent, just real hard to win any time you shoot 31 percent and on the road it's tough, so we need to shoot the ball better. That is one adjustment that we would need to make. We need to shoot the ball better than we did last time, but it's not going to be a real fancy game. They are real, real tough and tenacious and that is what we want to be. I just think it will be the team that is tougher Thursday night and has a good shooting night will come out on top. They won't see a whole lot different from us and I doubt we see a whole lot different from them. We just need to play better than we did over there."

On having more confidence in the offense lately...
"Well they need to have some confidence. They did a good job last week and played well and scored a lot of points. Even in the loss to Florida we scored a lot of points. We played well offensively. I was really impressed with our offensive maturity Sunday. We had a lot of possessions that we were patient and didn't panic. That's a really good sign for us. We are a good offensive team and they should be playing with confidence right now."

On if the team found its consistency and poise in win over Tennessee...
"It sure took a step forward there and you couldn't have won that game without some consistent play and poise. So they demonstrated both of that on Sunday and that's going to be key as we move forward. Right now we are just trying to become the best team that we can be. I think consistency is really important. In this game, South Carolina has really talented players and they are playing well. It's been a long time since they have lost a game, so we'll have to be consistent on Thursday."

On what he saw from his players when the light bulb started to come on for them...
"We were just in a really bad mental and emotional place where we weren't all pulling in the same direction. We had different people discouraged for different reasons and it was just sort of a collection of talented players. None of them were playing particularly well and not a team pulling in the same direction. The Tennessee win was building long before. I thought we did a really good job coming together and working hard to beat LSU. Then we did a lot of work that week that didn't show up in the Florida game, but they worked hard that week. To everybody's credit, we really were able to assess where we were honestly. The players gave feedback to the coaches and the coaches gave feedback to the players and everybody is trying to pull together to be the best we can be. We just didn't handle January very well. We'll see how we continue to progress, but they've certainly now put themselves in a position where they'll have a chance to show how good they can be and I think they're all intent on doing that right now."

On whether Jennifer O'Neill has a green light similar to Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson...
"It's real simple with Jennifer, we want her to attack off the ball screens and look to score there and we want her down and ready when she doesn't have the ball, prepared to shoot. We don't have a shot number, but it's just what shot opportunities are created in the game. Like with A'dia Mathies, I used to have to sort of threaten her with if you're not the leading shot attempt person - even if she took a forced shot or two, just try to get her mindset right. With Jennifer, we're just trying to focus on specific situations and that's helped her a lot. So many times Jennifer will be open and she would already make up her mind for some arbitrary reason, `I need to pass more this game,' or she just wasn't focused on what the play was calling for and what opportunity was presenting itself. She's a good passer and she's a good ball-handler and she's a good defender, so she can impact the game in more ways than just shooting, but it's just making the right decision at the time. She's one of the few players in the league that can create a shot on her own. She can drive you off, step back, raise up, shoot some jumpers over people. There are things she can do that some players can't. You will see her take some shots that maybe you wouldn't think be advised for some others, but I think her mentality and her approach to the game is more important than any kind of number of shots I would place on her to take. That's not how we approach the game."

On O'Neill's banked-in shot against Tennessee ...
"Well, there were seven seconds on the shot clock so we tried to get two options for her and so if--we were either going to reverse it and she was going to come out the other side or she was going to fake it and try to come back. So they had a big lineup and I just think it's hard for those kids to switch screens. You're so used to playing a post and now you've got this little guard out there and you think you're on her. But that was definitely the shot at that point because the shot clock was going down, but we were running the play to try to get it to her. She had the hot hand and it was about time for us that we had one bank in. We needed one to bank in because we've had a few that haven't banked in or haven't gone in. So I'm not going to apologize for that bank shot. That was a beautiful play (laughter)."

On whether teammates are turning more to O'Neill ...
"I think that the team and the players on the team understand that she's a talented and gifted scorer and then she's well-liked by her teammates and so I think that helps everybody's confidence when she's playing well and playing with some composure and being very productive. I think that's energizing to the team."

On the team's defensive progress ...
"I think we can play good enough defense to win the games we need to win. We are--when you compare us to Tennessee and South Carolina, we're a little undersized in the post and so we have to play really, really good team defense and we have to be very energetic with our footwork and we have to do things properly. But, you know, I don't know any other way to put it, but I think we can play good enough defense to win."

On what UK has to do to attack South Carolina's shot-blocking ...
"You've got to be aware of that and you just have to make good decisions. It's a lot of discipline. You can't shy away and be scared and shoot all perimeter shots, but you have to understand - and as coaches we're trying in practice (to say), `Hey, here's a good shot; here's not a good shot' - and the two kids that blocked 10 of the shots (Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates) are just really big, big kids with long arms and good timing and they're good shot blockers and we gave them a lot of opportunities to do that just by the way that we--some of the shot that we selected. So shot selection is important, execution is important. You have to be sharp. You certainly can't be lazy in this game and just think that you can take it into their--go chest to chest with them and just try to, you know, go through them. They're good shot blockers. You have to be technically sound, you have to be sharp on your execution and we'll be working hard to get that done."