Kentucky Media Opportunity - March 19, 2015

March 19, 2015

Kentucky Head Coach, Matthew Mitchell

On Jen O’Neill …
“Well when she arrived she was a player that spent a lot of time on her own with a great basketball skills trainer, and I think they worked really hard on her offensive game. In a lot of high school or club programs the emphasis is to showcase your skills so that you can get a scholarship, so I just don’t think she ever really viewed the defensive end of the floor as ever being really critical. The thing with defense, especially here, you have to learn about things like footwork, you have to learn a lot of fundamentals. Maybe it’s not the most exciting part of the game, but it’s something really critical to our success. I can remember her freshmen year I had my dad, who is not an expert on basketball, and a mentor, who was an expert, both would say to me play Jen O’Neill cause she can score and I heard that over and over and over. I think that was her mentality, to show me that I need to play her, and it was a battle of wills there that freshmen year and I had to show her just how important it was for her to be responsible for her assignments on defense, because we have to play team defense always. That is where she was when we got here, and I don’t think I can say it better than her, this was a process of just her understanding what she needed to do and also an understanding that I wasn’t going to give in on that. Now she is critical to our success in this tournament, her defense is right at the top of our list of things we need to do to be successful tomorrow afternoon. The way I know she is playing hard is her body language and energy, I know very quickly if she is engaged in defense or not just by her energy on the ball and her attention to detail, and it’s funny with Jennifer because we’ve battled this throughout her career. There’s an inconsistency from a focus standpoint sometimes, and when she’s doing all the little things right very consistently you know she’s ready to go. I’ll show her all the time in the same game sometimes she’s playing screens differently and that’s a lack of focus and a lack of commitment to defense, so I can pretty quickly diagnosis if she came to play. If she didn’t then I have to try and quickly get to her because she has to view herself that defense is one of her major responsibilities and I think she put that well.”

On how different Kentucky is now compared to when they last played Tennessee State …
“Well we are very different, we didn’t have Jennifer and we didn’t have Bria (Goss) and that first game back form Christmas is sometimes a difficult game just trying to get everyone back into the swing of things. I believe there are some players on the team that have made some great progress since then. We don’t have Janee (Thompson), we had her in the first game. It’s a different team, a lot has happened since then, we’ve been through a lot since that game, it was our final non-conference game. Going back looking at the film I’d say there were some pretty glaring deficiencies that night as far as our defensive intensity and hustle and we need to make sure that corrected. I think we need to out hustle Tennessee State tomorrow – we need to play with maximum effort. I think that’s something we have been stressing the last few weeks of conference play, and we need to go out and be the more energetic team tomorrow and there’s no doubt about that.”

On Alexis Jennings and the other freshmen’s defense …
“That’s something I’ve been really proud about with our seniors. They have really been coaching up the younger players. The younger players haven’t always done a good job at listening and we had that issue after the Ole Miss game and we had to try and refocus on some things, and they have done a good job since then. But I would say that defense, defensive effort, for some of the younger players has been an issue and for some of them it hasn’t, and really you just have to wrap your mind around the importance of it and I’ve always felt that for the post players it’s maybe a further trip than for the guards. If you put yourself in Alexis Jennings shoes, a high school All-American, top player out of her state, and she’s never heard anything different than that. So a very accomplished high school player who probably viewed herself as productive defensively so I think the major issue with Jen was understanding what she had to do and I think Alexis probably has those two. She thinks I’m a good player and I don’t understand the adjustments I need to make but I tell you I’ve been really proud of her focus this week and I’m looking for some good defense from her.”

On how to make the team focus on one game at a time …
“I just constantly talk to them about it and try to make sure they know how we have had success. The thing that makes the NCAA Tournament, for the men and the women, such a popular event is that fans who we are grateful to have, looking at the matchups and all the storylines is one of the great pieces to the tournament. And I’m a big fan of the tournament and I understand that and I get that and I think that’s what makes this so unique and such a great event. When you flip that to very practical thinking as a basketball team, and I said this on selection Monday, if you look into the future, well let me say this maybe there are some teams that can do that in this tournament, but our team has struggled with focus and detail but I don’t worry about that at all with Tennessee State, because if you can put on tape showing that this team can have success on you, they cut it to five points with 10 minutes to go in the game, it is tangible, visual evidence that this team can play some basketball. And they have probably improved since December as well.” 

Kentucky Student-Athlete Jen O’Neill

On how the team has been preparing for the NCAA tournament …
“Practice has gone well. Everyone has been very focused and tuned into what we have to do. I think it’s a privilege to be playing in Memorial Coliseum again, as a senior it gives me a chance to show the fans how much I appreciate them by playing hard.”

On the growth of her defensive presence over her career at Kentucky …
“I’ve come so far, I’d say maybe my sophomore year I understood finally what he (Head Coach Matthew Mitchel) wanted from me, the expectations that he had for me and I was more open to listen to what he had to tell me. Then my junior year I made a little more progress and now it’s just a responsibility. I have to do my job if I want my team to be successful.”

On what she remembers about Kentucky’s previous matchup with Tennessee State …
“I honestly don’t remember too much about the game, I remember that we won, but looking at film I know we will have to pressure the ball a lot and make sure that we box out and rebound.”

Kentucky Student-Athlete Bria Goss

On what it means to play at home to begin the NCAA Tournament …
“We are so excited to be playing in front of our fans,  I will keep on saying that we have the best fans in the nation, so having a chance to play in front of them, in our home, is just and unbelievable feeling. It gives us a chance to give back to them what they give to us by getting a win.

On the importance for Jennifer O’Neill to play as a defensive stopper …
“When Jen plays the defense that we know she is capable of playing the whole team resembles that play. I think Jen has every God given talent to play defense, and I think when she does that she brings an intensity to the team. Everyone talks about Jen’s offense but her defense isn’t always talked about, it’s really something that can open people’s eyes.”

On how the team avoids looking at potential future opponents …
“We are just taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time. We just focus on the team ahead of us and don’t look ahead in our schedule. Our assistant coaches do a great job breaking down the team we are about to play.”