No. 12/15 UK Hoops Meets Vanderbilt On Senior Day
Feb. 28, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 12/15 Kentucky women’s basketball team will play host to Vanderbilt Sunday, March 2 in its regular-season finale and Senior Day in Memorial Coliseum. The game will tip at 4 p.m. ET with a special Senior Day ceremony slated to begin at 3:43 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 with Joe Davis and former Wake Forest star LaChina Robinson calling the action. It also will be carried live on the WatchESPN, the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price and Sirius Channel 92 and XM Channel 190.
|Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt
Sunday, March 2 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | VU
Radio: UK IMG
Gameday Live: Live video, stats, audio, blog, and social media
Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats and use hashtag #VANDYvsUK to talk about the game.
Tickets are available on www.ukathletics.com and Ticketmaster.com, and also on game day. 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 students, faculty, staff and children ages five and under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, while supplies last.
Sunday’s games will decide UK’s seeding for the upcoming Southeastern Conference Tournament in Duluth, Ga., on March 5-9. UK currently ranks fourth with a 9-6 record and a one-game lead over Florida, which is 8-7. Kentucky will host Vanderbilt on Sunday and Florida will host Texas A&M. A UK win or Florida loss will give the Wildcats a fourth-place finish and a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. A UK loss and a Florida win tie the teams for fourth place, with Florida getting the No. 4 tourney seed because the Gators (8-7) swept the series over the Wildcats this season. UK would be the No. 5 seed.
“Well, there’s a lot riding on the game and there are a lot of different things that are happening surrounding the game,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “But really for me what it comes down to on Sunday is, it’s Senior Day at Kentucky and that’s a really special day for the seniors we’re going to honor and they have put a lot into this program. So it’s an important game but there’s nothing more important to me than really preparing well and working hard to try to get ready for Vanderbilt so we can send these seniors off with a great victory. And obviously it has other implications that would be valuable to us as well, but we’re really going to try to keep our focus on preparing well against a very good team and making sure that we have a sense of purpose for our seniors on Sunday. So that is important for the team and then for the fans it’s just really, really important that we have a big crowd Sunday afternoon and you get in early and you’re loud all day long and that also will help us a whole lot. I really want to encourage everybody to come and let’s send these seniors off on Senior Day with a big victory.”
Four Wildcat seniors - Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.), Bernisha Pinkett (Washington, D.C.), DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) - will be honored before the game. The senior class has won 104 games (and counting) in their careers. That total currently ranks as the second-winningest class in school history. With Evans, Pinkett, Stallworth and Walker, the Cats have compiled a 104-29 record (.781), claimed an SEC regular-season title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons, including two appearances in the Elite Eight. They have also combined to chart an all-time mark of 58-7 (.892) in home games.
“All four of them have very unique stories and have contributed in my life all four in different ways but very impactful ways and I’ve learned a lot from these seniors and they’ve been very important people to me and will remain that,” Mitchell said. “So it is a great, great group and I want to prepare well and be ready to go and win in the worst way just because the way I feel for those players. They’re really a terrific group.”
UK is 28-10 all-time in regular-season home finales (1974-75 season not included). The Cats have won eight of their last 10 games on “Senior Day,” including four in a row.
The Wildcats (21-7, 9-6) are coming off another hard-fought conference road win. UK needed overtime to defeat a tough Mississippi State squad in Starkville, Miss., on the Bulldogs’ Senior Night, 81-74, on Thursday. Junior Bria Goss (Indianapolis) netted 20 points in the win, including eight in overtime, while Stallworth had an impressive game with 16 points, a career-high 20 rebounds, a season-high four blocks and two steals. She became just the sixth player in UK history to grab 20 or more rebounds in a game.
In the last five games, Stallworth has been a dominating force for the Wildcats by averaging a double-double with 13.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, while shooting .528 percent from the field (28-53), including 2-of-2 from the 3-point line in 30.6 minutes per game.
Overall this season, junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and Stallworth lead the Cats in scoring this season. O’Neill is putting up 13.3 points per game, while Stallworth follows with 11.6 points per game. Walker is UK’s leading rebounder with 8.8 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC. She also has 19 career double-doubles, including eight this season which ranks tied for fourth in the league. Narrowly missing the double-digit scoring mark this season is Walker (9.7), Goss (9.5), sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (9.4), and Evans (8.9).
Goss ranks sixth nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting an impressive 92.2 percent clip (83-of-90). Her career free-throw percentage of 81.9 percent ranks third on UK’s career list. She has not missed consecutive free throws in a game since March 17, 2012 vs. McNeese State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Commodores enter the matchup at 18-10 on the season, 7-8 in SEC play. Senior guard Christina Foggie leads Vanderbilt and the SEC in scoring at 19.0 points per contest, while senior point guard Jasmine Lister and freshman guard Rebekah Dahlman round out the double-figure scorers for VU with 14.1 and 11.4 points per game, respectively. Vanderbilt is coached by Melanie Balcomb who has compiled a career record of 440-220 in 21 seasons.
Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 27-19 but the series is tied at 10 apiece in Lexington. UK has won the last six meetings over Vanderbilt, including three straight in Memorial Coliseum.
Media Opportunity - February 28, 2014
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
“Well, there’s a lot riding on the game and there are a lot of different things that are happening surrounding the game. But really for me what it comes down to on Sunday is, it’s Senior Day at Kentucky and that’s a really special day for the seniors we’re going to honor and they have put a lot into this program. So it’s an important game but there’s nothing more important to me than really preparing well and working hard to try to get ready for Vanderbilt so we can send these seniors off with a great victory. And obviously it has other implications that would be valuable to us as well, but we’re really going to try to keep our focus on preparing well against a very good team and making sure that we have a sense of purpose for our seniors on Sunday. So that is important for the team and then for the fans it’s just really, really important that we have a big crowd Sunday afternoon and you get in early and you’re loud all day long and that also will help us a whole lot. I really want to encourage everybody to come and let’s send these seniors off on Senior Day with a big victory.”
On what he will take away from his time with UK’s seniors …
“They won a lot of games. They were very, very productive basketball players and they were here, you know, during a transformative period in our program’s history. As basketball players they are very productive and really helped us change the program. And then all four of them have very unique stories and have contributed in my life all four in different ways but very impactful ways and I’ve learned a lot from these seniors and they’ve been very important people to me and will remain that. So it is a great, great group and I want to prepare well and be ready to go and win in the worst way just because the way I feel for those players. They’re really a terrific group.”
On the growth of DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker after they transferred in …
“Yeah, you know, with Samarie, she came in during her freshman year so almost a full four (years) with her and DeNesha was here three with her year that she sat out on transfer. So they were here quite a bit of time and invested a lot in the program and we were fortunate that they transferred to Kentucky because at the time they came here we weren’t really in the mix on kids like that, of that talent level and that ability level and so they have put up some huge numbers and some big victories for us and they’ve both given a lot to the program. So really motivated for Sunday to make sure that it’s a packed house and people are excited and the players are excited to play for their teammates on Sunday.”
On Kastine Evans’ contributions …
“Yeah, Kastine is just really a gift from God in my mind. She was somebody that was all the way up in Salem, Connecticut, and she didn’t know a whole lot about us and we didn’t know a whole lot about her, you know, when we first started recruiting her and getting going there. You know, I was impressed with her and excited when we signed her but I don’t that you can ever anticipate somebody being as strong as she is in just every area of her life. She’s a very high-character young woman, has a sense of purpose, wants people that she’s around to do well. She wants other people around her to do well. She’s been a model student. She’s been willing to play any position. She played a bunch of power forward in her time here and that was clearly not the greatest position for her to be, but mentally she could handle and physically she was always tough. And so just a really, really great player for Kentucky and someone who I would like for my daughters to try to emulate. That’s how much I think of her. She’s a terrific, terrific person and her parents are great people and Kentucky, the University of Kentucky, is better because Kastine Evans decided to come here.”
On whether he’s had a player make the most of her time at UK more than Evans has …
“It’d be hard to top it. She’s just—we’ve had very few struggles with her. She’s just really done a great job and you’re exactly right. That’s a great way to put it. She’s made the most of her opportunity at every turn and I just think she’s been real intentional about that. I think it’s important for all of us if we want to really accomplish something we have to enter into the process with intention of doing very well and she’s always been very intentional about achieving and very conscientious. My life is so much richer and better because she’s been in it and is in it and will remain in it. She’s a terrific person.”
On his first memory of Evans and his most lasting memory of her …
“Well, I went up to recruit her and she went to high school at just a beautiful, beautiful high school – Norwich Free Academy – and I was impressed, sort of like a college campus. And when I met her, you know, my first memory was just her energy and her presence was very impressive. Sometimes the maturity level of these kids differs. When you were first in her presence, you knew you were dealing with a very mature young woman that was impressive from the very start. So I just can also remember—sometimes you leave those visits and you wonder if people are impressed or excited and I can just remember we sat at their dining room table that night after the school day and she played volleyball that night and we sat down and we talked about Kentucky. I can remember leaving and I felt like there was some excitement in the room. I was sure excited because I was so impressed with them and I felt like she was excited. And then when she decided to—her ceremony to decide, she called and told me she was not coming to Kentucky. So she tried to play a little joke on me that day and I just told her she needed to stick with basketball. The comedy career wasn’t off to a good start for her. But all of her family and everybody’s real excited about Kentucky and they’ve been great supporters. I’ve got a lot of great memories about Kastine.”
On whether this year’s class has played any pranks on him …
“This class, I don’t know that they’ve really pulled much on me. They did a great job this particular year and all the seniors were pretty much in on it, they decorated my office up in a pretty spectacular fashion for my birthday and have done some fun things like that. They’re a good group. We joke around a lot and have a lot of fun and it’s been a really, really good experience and that’s why I want to finish the regular season off at home with a big victory with them playing hard and their teammates playing hard for them.”
On what it will mean to him to see Bernisha Pinkett graduate …
“Well, that one is very special to me because – and I’m just trying to collect myself here because I don’t want to get too worked up about it. But there’s—if you think about the neighborhood she’s from in (Washington,) D.C., two percent of the kids attempt college and less than one percent of the kids out of her neighborhood get a college degree. And so just the fact that she got here and made it and is going to walk across that stage (pauses for 20 seconds to collect himself) on May the 10th is something else. So if you really kind of dig down into her story, it’s something else. And then you can talk about the basketball stuff. She’s been terrific here and she’s had a lot of great moments basketball-wise and has given us a lot there, but it’s like I’ve always told Bernisha: She’s family and I’m proud of her.”
On if this was DeNesha Stallworth’s toughest season…
“It was real tough. It was real tough for her, real tough for all of us just because of how hard it was to get her back going. We were depending on her so much and she wanted to get going and it was just hard. It was really hard. It was hard physically. It was hard mentally. It was in a tough time of the season. The games that we lost her for, we handled okay, but the tougher part was trying to get her back in and we almost had to bring the team back together and rebuild the team. The chemistry of the team had to reform and it was hard. It’s a great experience, now coming out on the other side. These kids have worked real hard to bounce back from a 4-4 start in the conference and then you’ve got these eight games that we had staring us in the face. Through seven of them they’ve really performed well and DeNesha certainly had a chance to use the injury as an excuse and not do the work to get back. There’s been some times of frustration and some times of where we really had to soul search there for a while, but she’s come around and worked hard. Last night she had 16 points and 20 rebounds. It’s amazing to see the progress she’s made in the last couple months. You have to give a lot of credit to that kid for battling through and overcoming adversity. Our entire team really did a great job of bringing it back together. I still think that we have a lot left to accomplish and Sunday will be a huge accomplishment if we can get that game and get that victory. DeNesha will be a big part of it.”
On Vanderbilt’s lack of size and how DeNesha and Samarie can impact the game…
“I think they really need to. They need to have a big game. They need to play really hard. They need to really step up and be counted in this game because I do think we have some advantages there, but there’s only one way for you to realize that advantage and that’s to play. They have to do a good job, but I just want them to be excited to play. I want them to deal with all the emotions of the day, but in the end just play with energy and aggressiveness. Just work on the stuff they can control like their energy and their effort and their rebounding mentality. It’s such a big difference for us when those two kids are really assertive on the boards, so those are the kinds of things I’ll talk to them about over the next couple days. Let’s just really try to get on the backboard and compete really hard. We feel like we may have some advantage there, but if you stand around you won’t realize it. I think they could be big in the game and we’ll try to prepare well so they can take advantage of that height advantage we possess in this game.”
On if he’s ever worried Kastine has had too much on her plate…
“I haven’t and I’ll tell you why. She’s always had such a disciplined approach about her daily agenda and so all that sounds like a lot, but she’s done a really nice job of her priorities and handling that and staying really focused and organized. I think she’s not real scattered and she doesn’t get herself spread too thin. She’s just a very responsible person in that area. For Kastine, on the basketball court I’ve always felt like she had to work harder and she had to really be sharp and get every ounce of her ability out just through hard work and being smart. She’s been able to do that and that’s really her approach to life as well.”
On if there were any concerns with Bernisha’s health issues and playing his style of basketball…
“We didn’t have a lot of trouble with that throughout her career. Bernisha had a tough end of the year last year and a tough summer. Like I’ve said many times, it’s just much more important for me to see her graduate and finish. Basketball sort of took a back seat for a while there and I just think it was difficult for her to ever fully get back to where she once was and that’s okay. She’s contributed this year – last night her four minutes were huge. They were important; she made a 3-point shot. She is still contributing, but I just don’t really know if her preparation was at a level that was able to allow her to really play her best. The good thing for Bernisha is that we still have a lot of basketball left. She has a lot of experience and she just needs to keep working hard. She’s been practicing really hard and it’s not that I don’t have confidence in her, it’s just the way the rotations have been here lately and what the games have called for. She’s still working hard. I don’t think it was really the sickle cell, I just think it was probably a lost summer of preparation that she probably needed for her to really be clicking.”
On what he would say is Samarie’s legacy…
“Samarie’s a terrific person just to be around. She and I have a lot of laughs and she brings a lot of value into my life just with who she is. I’ve had to learn a lot through coaching her about patience. She’s been real hard on herself and she’s sort of up and down and so that’s sort of been a roller coaster we’ve been on together. That’s been difficult at times, but you never questioned her heart for others and for people. She has just played some terrific basketball here. I mean she’s just been so tough in so many games, so she’s added tremendous value to our basketball program. I can remember when Coach walked in and said ‘hey, Samarie Walker is leaving and wants to get back closer to home.’ We recruited her when she was much younger, but I can remember going, ‘wow, this is really going to be big for us.’ You look at her time here, we’ve been really successful and we’ve won a lot of games, advanced deep into the tournament, we won an SEC Championship. Those things hadn’t happened a lot before she got here, so she’s part of something really special and we’re really lucky that she came to Kentucky, as we are with all these kids.”
On if this Senior Day is different since the First and Second Rounds will be in Memorial Coliseum…
“I thought about that and I’m really, really trying to make sure they understand the significance of the day. Their families are here, they’re going to be recognized. Not so much them, I want their teammates to understand we’re not taking this one for granted at all. It’s a precious, precious time: Senior Day at Kentucky. The crowd turns out. Our traditions are unlike anybody else and it’s really something our players need to appreciate and value and honor with a great effort. My approach won’t be any different because of the NCAA Tournament games.”