No. 13/10 UK Hoops Meet South Carolina on Senior Night

Feb. 22, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 13/10 Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to send out its three seniors (Crystal Riley, Amber Smith and Keyla Snowden) on a winning note when the Wildcats play host to South Carolina on Thursday in their home finale. Game time in Memorial Coliseum is 7 p.m. ET.

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Senior Night
Kentucky vs. South Carolina
Thurs., Feb. 23 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Memorial Coliseum
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The seniors will be recognized during a special “Senior Night” ceremony prior to the game.

The Wildcats (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) are looking for their school-record 12th SEC win and just the third undefeated home record in school history. The only other times the Wildcats went undefeated at home were in 1980-81 15-0 and 2009-10 (17-0). The Wildcats, who are tied for first place in the SEC with Tennessee, also have their sights set on winning their first SEC regular season championship since 1982. UK is currently 17-0 at home.

“(We have a) big, big game tomorrow night,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It’s our final opportunity to play at Memorial [Coliseum] this season and that’s special. The team has done a beautiful job this season playing at home and so we would love to use the home court to our advantage and play really hard against South Carolina on Senior Night. It’d be special. I’d love to send these seniors out with a win. The tough part about tomorrow night is that South Carolina, they are a very, very tough group of players. They are a well-coached team and, I think, one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. It will be very important for us to stay focused on what we need to do in order to win the game and we need a good day of preparation today. We just implore the fans to come out one more time for us this year. We need a big, big crowd to try to help us end this season right at home.”   

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 (15.2), steals (2.7), 3-point field goals made (42) and 3-point field goal percentage (.375). She is also second on the team in rebounding (5.3), assists (2.7) and blocks (0.7). SEC Freshman of the Year contender Bria Goss (Indinapolis) follows in the scoring column with 11.6 points per game. She has scored in double digits in five of the last six games, and is the league’s freshman leading scorer. Sophomore forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) is coming off her first career double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds vs. Vanderbilt. She is UK’s leading rebounder with 6.4 rebounds per game.

South Carolina, which is tied for third in the SEC standings, enters Thursday night’s game coming off a 69-55 victory at Alabama on Sunday night. The Gamecocks were led by senior guard La’Keisha Sutton who poured in a team-high 13 points while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Junior guard Ieasia Walker passed out a team-high four assists.

Senior guard Markeshia Grant is South Carolina’s leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points per game. Sutton (10.1 ppg), is South Carolina’s only other double-figure scorer. Freshman forward Aleighsa Welch leads the Gamecocks on the glass with 6.1 rebounds per game.

South Carolina has one of the top defenses in the conference, allowing an SEC-best 49.9 points per game to go with a 3-point field goal percentage defense of 20.8 percent.

Kentucky defeated South Carolina 66-58 earlier this season in Columbia, S.C. The Wildcats were led in that game by Snowden’s team-high 15 points. Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) passed out a season-high tying six assists in the win, and went 6-6 at the free-throw line in the final 49 seconds to help preserve the win.

This is the 48th meeting in the all-time series vs. South Carolina. UK owns a 29-18 lead overall, including a 17-5 advantage when the game is played in Lexington. UK has won the last three matchups vs. the Gamecocks in Memorial.

Single-game reserved tickets are available at a cost of $7 for all ages. General admission tickets for adults are also $7 while single-game general admission tickets for seniors and children (18 and under, 65 and over) are only $4. Age 5 and under are admitted free along with UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free, while supplies last.

If not able to attend the game, it can be heard on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can also follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.

Women's basketball parking for Thursday’s game is available in the following surface lots and parking structures:

  • Student Center Lot - off Euclid Ave
  • MLK South Lot - between Lexington Ave and MLK Blvd. and south (towards Euclid) of the center drive lane.  DO NOT PARK IN NORTH MLK LOT (closest to Wildcat Lodge) AS THIS IS A RESIDENTIAL LOT AND SUBJECT TO TICKET/TOW
  • Handicapped Parking (first come-first served until full) is located in the Northeast corner of the MLK South Lot, must have valid state-issued hang tag
  • Joe Craft Center North E-Lot - large lot located north of the Joe Craft Center, and accessible via Lexington Avenue or Rose St.
  • Good Samaritan surface Lot - accessible off MLK Blvd
  • Parking Structure #5 - entrances off Limestone and S. Upper

Other important notes about Thursday’s game:

  • UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
  • Doors to the Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.   
  • Surface event lots (i.e. Student Center, Hardymon, South MLK, Joe Craft Center North and Good Samaritan Surface Lot) typically reach capacity approximately 45 minutes prior to tip-off, at which point, vehicles should proceed to Parking Structure #5 (PS#5).  
  • The PS #5 shuttle will begin one hour prior to tip and end one hour post-game. The PS #5 shuttle picks up on Administration Drive, accessible via the sky bridge located on the 3rd Floor of PS#5.

Pre-South Carolina Media Opportunity - Feb. 22, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement ...
“Big, big game tomorrow night. It’s our final opportunity to play at Memorial [Coliseum] this season and that’s special. The team has done a beautiful job this season playing at home and so we would love to use the home court to our advantage and play really hard against South Carolina on Senior Night. It’d be special. We would love to send these seniors out with a win. The tough part about tomorrow night is that South Carolina, they are a very, very tough group of players. They are a well-coached team and, I think, one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. It will be very important for us to stay focused on what we need to do in order to win the game and we need a good day of preparation today. We just implore the fans to come out one more time for us this year. We need a big, big crowd to try to help us end this season right at home.”

On how rare it is to have an undefeated season at home ...
“I place priorities in the program, competitive priorities. I think if you’re going to be one of the top teams in the country, if you’re going to be one of the top teams in this conference, you have to establish a tough home court. I just think that’s really important. There are a lot of things that I think aren’t important, but that is one that I think is important. I think it’s important for you to win at home and protect your home court. I think every time you’re able to do that, that’s one of the few things I think can build confidence from year to year. I think that’s one of the few things you actually can build on in the next season. I think that’s something that you can point to. A lot of things I don’t think carry over but I think it’s important to play well at home and we ‘ve done a beautiful job of that for the better part of three seasons. If we can beat South Carolina tomorrow night, it’ll be two of our last three we’ll be undefeated at home. I think it’s important as you’re talking about big picture stuff for the program. We can’t go undefeated at home unless we do a good job and beat South Carolina tomorrow night. That’s really where the focus has to be. We have to be very focused for the players tomorrow night but as we were just discussing the program, I think it’s important.”

On how he makes his players believe they can compete with the best defense in the conference ...
“One thing is, we have a tough defense as well. If you are ever struggling offensively, you have to keep playing tough defensively. That’s one thing you can point to. And, we did talk about that. They did such a good job on Monday night on defense and they built such a big lead. When the offensive sputtering started Monday night, we’d played such great defense that we’d built a sizeable advantage and we were able to weather that storm. I think just keeping your mind on defense, we go better offensively Monday night. I think we got better yesterday and today so I think we are playing with a little bit more explosiveness on the offensive end. I think you don’t focus on your offensive woes. You keep going back to what you have committed to from the beginning of the season and that’s being a really tough defense that creates some offense off of defensive energy.”

On how important UK’s next two games are...
“Tomorrow night is so important because it doesn’t matter what anybody else does. If we win tomorrow night, we leave tomorrow night in first place with one game to play. I think anybody who has followed the program for any period of time would know that’s a huge thing happening for us. I haven’t looked at anybody a whole lot except for South Carolina. I think it shows that we have a good healthy league this year, a tough league. Anybody can win on a given night. It’s probably the most balanced that we’ve been in a while. I think that’s fun and good for the Southeastern Conference but for us, just trying to figure out a way to bring the right kind of energy one more time at home will help us move in the direction of victory.”

On whether the players are right that the first four minutes of the game are crucial ...
“I think they’re probably saying that because in our three-game losing streak that was so bad we fell behind and when we had been good, we had come out of the blocks sprinting and with that kind of defensive energy that lets a team know that you are in for a fight. We’d been starting some games with other teams, 11-4, 9-2, and stuff like that and you’re not playing, you’re back on your heals now, you’re starting to question yourself. I do think that defensive energy and confidence is important for this team. I think if we start out not hustling, that starts to create some doubt in everybody’s mind and our system doesn’t work if you’re hesitant. You have to be going full speed.”

On whether the game against Vanderbilt made him concerned about his players’ experience ...
“What Vanderbilt did is they went switching man-to-man and I just thought we were not nearly aggressive enough. We have that tendency sometimes to not attack if we’re not just completely sure so sometimes I’m trying to get them 70 percent sure, just go ahead and go. I think our kids want to do so well and we hold them to a high standard and I think sometimes that’s something I have to work with them on. They want to be 100percent sure and in that kind of situation we needed to go make some plays. I thought we just hesitated long enough to let Vanderbilt get us out of rhythm. Vanderbilt was obviously desperate to try to get back into the game. Maybe we were trying to protect the lead. A lot of factors go into that. I am encouraged with what I see our team doing right now. I think we’re moving forward.”

On whether South Carolina provides match-up problems for Kentucky ...
“What South Carolina does so well is they have three dynamic guards. They have three top-level guards. I think probably all three of them will be considered for All-Conference honors. If you are not really solid and all five players playing together, there are going to be occasions in the game where one of those guards breaks you down and if your teammates aren’t really in tune, then they can spread you out. Coach Dawn Staley does such a great job of trying to find where your weakness is and trying to find the mismatch. They do a good job of that. I just think that with them being so well coached and having such versatile guards poses a lot of difficulty for us.”

Kentucky Players

#4 Keyla Snowden, Sr., G

Opening statement ...
“First, I just want to start off by saying thanks to everybody at UK. The fans, the supporters, my teammates, my coaches, I am just really thankful to be able to be given this opportunity to play at UK and I am just really thankful in general.”

On what this senior class has accomplished ...
“It’s really amazing how things work out. I think things happen for a reason and it’s just really fortunate that we all ended up here at this time and place. We all have very different stories and I guess they are all pretty unique as well. We are all just very fortunate to be able to compete for a championship in our last year.”

On how she ended up at UK ...
“I did meet coach (Matthew) Mitchell in high school while he was at Morehead (State), but at that time I really wanted to branch out and do something different. I wanted to leave the Lexington area, so that’s why I went to Akron my freshman year. And then, things didn’t work out and I kind of got a little bit homesick. It was just very fortunate that he ended up getting the coaching job at Kentucky so I got the opportunity to come back home. I’m just really fortunate and really blessed to be given that opportunity.”

#3 Crystal Riley, Sr., G

Opening statement ...
“Thank you to UK nation the fans and supporters, all the women that have played here before us. I hope all of you guys just come out and support us tomorrow night.”

On what this senior class is defined by ...
“For us, it has always been in practice. It has always begun in practice with us coming out everyday competing is how we got there, I guess you could say. Working hard every day has definitely put us in the forefront of the SEC and I think this will be one of the most enjoyable (moments) in my time here. From my freshman year, coming and watching Amber (Smith) go 15-15, and now to be one of the top schools in the SEC is kind of amazing.”

On what she wants the senior class to be remembered for ...
“Leaders. All of us have had to step out of our comfort zones at some point throughout our years here, so that would be the first thing. I mean, without us, and without me and Amber (Smith) there would not be as many laughs as we have now. I think leadership because Coach (Mitchell) is always on us. We take blame for anything that goes on in practice, outside of practice, and anything that goes on, so I hope they remember us as leaders.”

#24 Amber Smith, Sr., G

Opening statement ...
“I want so say thank you to Big Blue Nation, it has been a great experience in my five years here. I am very excited for Thursday night. We are ready to play South Carolina and I just hope all of the fans come out and support us.”

On what UK Hoops has meant to her the last five years ...
“I am very fortunate and very blessed to be a part of this team. It was just meant to be. I think God has a plan and I think he meant for this team to be together for this time, so I am just very blessed to be on this team. We have a chance to first compete for an SEC Championship and then a National Championship and I haven’t said that many times in my five years being here. I haven’t said that and really believed it, but this time it’s just different. I get a different vibe from the team, so I am very blessed.”

On if she is worried about the Senior Day emotions affecting her play ...
“I’m not going to do anything different. We have all talked about it. I have already told them ‘Don’t cry. We have to play a game. We have to win and then you all can cry.’ I’m not going to do anything different. We know how important this game is and how important it is to win a SEC Championship. We are just going to take it one day at a time and get a good practice in today and get ready for Thursday.”