No. 13/10 UK Hoops Travels to Starkville for Regular Season Finale
Feb. 25, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 13/10 Kentucky women’s basketball team has clinched at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season championship for the first time since 1982 and now looks to capture the title outright when it faces a tough Mississippi State squad on Sunday on its senior day and the final game for Lady Bulldog coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. The game will be televised live in Humphrey Coliseum at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
|Kentucky at Mississippi State
Sun., Feb. 26 - 1:30 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | MSU
Radio: UK IMG
The Wildcats (23-5, 12-3 SEC) are coming off a hard-fought 53-50 win over South Carolina at home on Thursday, their school-record 12th conference victory. With Tennessee falling to Arkansas in its last game, a win over Mississippi State would give UK the top seed heading into the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville, Tenn., and the outright SEC regular season championship title.
UK has won four in a row over the Lady Bulldogs, including a 48-point win (88-40) in Lexington on Jan. 8. The Wildcats hit a school-record 14 3-pointers en route to the largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent in program history.
“We really need to put everything we can into this one getting ready to go on the road (where) a lot is at stake and I think the players are aware of that,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Mississippi State is a team that when they played here, they were short one of their best players. She is back now. (Porsha) Porter is back for them and I think gives them another ball handler and gives them a more explosive backcourt. I think Diamber Johnson is one of the best guards in our league. The last time we were on the road, we really struggled, so we need to be very focused in our preparation and get excited for a tough game on Sunday.”
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 (15.4), steals (2.7), 3-point field goals made (42) and 3-point field goal percentage (.368). SEC Freshman of the Year contender Bria Goss (Indianapolis) follows in the scoring column with 11.7 points per game. She has scored in double digits in six of the last seven games. Sophomore forward and All-SEC candidate Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.3 rebounds per game.
Mississippi State (14-14, 4-11 SEC) enters Sunday’s contest coming off a 79-45 loss at Florida. The Lady Bulldogs have lost three in a row and eight of their last nine. MSU is 10-5 at home, including 2-5 in SEC play.
Senior guard Diamber Johnson is Mississippi State’s top scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game, as well as a team-high 3.9 assists per game, the fifth most in the conference. Senior guard Porsha Porter ranks second team on the team in scoring with 13.2 points, while swiping an SEC-high 3.1 steals per game. Freshman Ashley Brown is MSU’s leading rebounder with 5.9 rpg.
Former Wildcat coach Sharon Fanning-Otis is in her 36th season overall as a head coach. Fanning-Otis’ first head coaching job came at Chattanooga, where she patrolled the sidelines from 1976-87. She then took over the program at Kentucky in 1987 and went 134-97 in eight seasons with the Wildcats. After 17 seasons at State, Fanning-Otis announced she will retire at the end of the season. Sunday is her final game in Humphrey Coliseum.
“There weren’t a whole lot of people when I was starting out as a high school coach in Mississippi that I learned more from than her (Fanning-Otis),” Mitchell, a native of Louisville, Miss., said. “She spent a lot of time with me as a high school coach. I worked her camps. She is a great lady. She has meant a lot to me. She has meant a lot to this program too, she has the second-most wins of any coach in this program. I would have to believe they will be motivated to play for her and that’s just something else. We have to stay focused on what we need to do. We can’t get distracted by anything else going on but what needs to happen on the court.”
Sunday marks the 38th meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State. UK holds a 20-17 advantage overall, while the Bulldogs hold a slight 8-7 lead when the game is played in Starkville. The Cats are looking for their fifth straight win over the Bulldogs, including fourth straight in Humphrey Coliseum. UK won the last meeting in Starkville, 69-59 (1/31/10).
The game also 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.
Pre-Mississippi State Media Opportunity - Feb. 25, 2012
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement …
“We really need to put everything we can into this one getting ready to go on the road (where) a lot is at stake and I think the players are aware of that. Mississippi State is a team that when they played here, they were short one of their best players. She is back now. (Porsha) Porter is back for them and I think gives them another ball handler and gives them a more explosive backcourt. I think Diamber Johnson is one of the best guards in our league. The last time we were on the road, we really struggled, so we need to be very focused in our preparation and get excited for a tough game on Sunday.”
On how the team will focus knowing what’s on the line …
“I really don’t know where our mindset will be. I will have to get with them and see. I don’t know. They seemed pretty determined after the game and focused. They didn’t seem in a real celebratory mood, and we didn’t want to be. We want to go down there and win this game. I am sure there is that possibility and we need to make certain that we are in a mindset of focusing like we have 12 other times in this conference schedule on what we need to do to win. It will be important that we have that right mindset.”
On if Mississippi State will have extra incentive to play for Sharon Fanning-Otis …
“You would think so. It’s their seniors’ last shot to play in Humphrey Coliseum and coach (Sharon) Fanning-Otis has meant so much to that program. Just on a side note, there weren’t a whole lot of people when I was starting out as a high school coach in Mississippi that I learned more from than her. She spent a lot of time with me as a high school coach. I worked her camps. She is a great lady. She has meant a lot to me. She has meant a lot to this program too, she has the second-most wins of any coach in this program. I would have to believe they will be motivated to play for her and that’s just something else. We have to stay focused on what we need to do. We can’t get distracted by anything else going on but what needs to happen on the court.”
On the impact Sharon Fanning-Otis has had on him …
“I learned a lot about teaching the fundamentals of the game. I have been around a lot of very good coaches, and I haven’t been around very many that teach the fundamentals as well as Sharon Fanning-Otis. You know, as you play the game, and maybe it hasn’t been broken down to you from a teaching aspect, you are being coached, and you are not absorbent that way and you are just out there playing, I just think that she really helped me teach how to teach shooting footwork. I mean we are doing footwork drills and shooting that I learned absolutely from her. I was in Lexington, Miss., and I would drive a couple hours over to Starkville, and she would have her entire staff and we would go into a gym at 7:00 at night, and stay in there until midnight. I can now think those assistant coaches are kind of ticked off that we are spending that much time in there. But, I was a high school coach with no players, and I just had the desire to learn and she would spend that kind of time with me. We would walk through different stuff on the court. At the time, I didn’t know how special that was. It was just an incredible gift of her knowledge and her time. I think it indicates what kind of person she is.”
On what his reaction would have been if preseason you told him a win wins the SEC …
“I would not have looked at you like you were crazy. I would have known that we had a big hill to climb and a lot of work to do, and relying on a lot of young players to get that done. I would have said it’s possible, but it’s a great position to be in. That’s what I shared with them after the game last night. Last night was an unbelievable accomplishment because South Carolina was so tough. Now is no time to celebrate. We are right here and you all have watched them play all season and you know and you can just tell the work they have put in to get to this point. So now, lets finish this thing off, and lets find a way to beat Mississippi State.”
On Maegan Conwright not really having a position…
“She needs to play the point guard and she needs to play that well. She needs to stop bouncing around from position to position. The reason she gets on the court is because she defends. She just got into such a bad mental state offensively and she forgot what she really was and she just started hoisting 3’s up at an alarming rate and we kept trying to tell her there is a reason you are open. They want you to take that shot. She stopped driving the basketball, so she just went through a very bad stretch mentally and would get down on herself, and I just had the worst time trying to get her to come around. And then she popped up at Auburn and was very dynamic that night. The kid is very dynamic, she just has to get her mind in the right place. After the Alabama game, I just didn’t give her much of a choice. I said either you’re going to play at the point guard position, or you’re going to sit on the bench. That’s not a good option for us. She is a very good option for us at the point guard.”