UK Hoops to Face No. 11 Seed Gonzaga in NCAA Sweet 16

March 20, 2012

Last game: Kentucky 65, Green Bay 62 | If advance: UConn-Penn State winner

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 12/11 University of Kentucky women's basketball team, fresh off its thrilling 65-62 win over No. 10/10 Green Bay on Monday, will face 11th-seeded Gonzaga on Sunday, March 25 in the NCAA Sweet 16 at the University of Rhode Island's Ryan Center. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET.

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NCAA Tournament
(2) Kentucky vs. (11) Gonzaga
Sun., Mar. 25 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Kingston, R.I.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | GU Get Acrobat Reader
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Tickets are currently on sale through the Ryan Center Ticket Office at 401-874-7267 or order online through Ticketmaster. All session adult tickets are $50, while all session student tickets are $35. Single session adult tickets are $30, while single session student tickets are $20. Ryan Center ticket office hours are Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. ET and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. ET.

UK has compiled an outstanding résumé en route to one the most successful seasons in school history. The Wildcats won their first Southeastern Conference regular season championship since 1982 with a school-record 13-3 mark in league play. They are 27-6 overall and have now won 25-plus games for three consecutive seasons for the first time ever. UK has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years, and third time ever, after wins over McNeese State (68-62) and No. 10 Green Bay (65-62).

UK, now 10-8 all-time in the Big Dance, looks to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time since 2010. That year, the Wildcats fell just one win shy of the Final Four, bowing out to 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 88-68.

SEC Player of the Year and All-America candidate A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) has paced UK to its record-breaking season. The 5-foot-9 junior guard leads the Wildcats in scoring (15.2 points per game), 3-point field goal percentage (.372) and steals (2.6 steals per game). The Louisville, Ky., native is second on the team in rebounds (5.2 rebounds per game), 3-point field goals made (48), and assists (2.6 assists per game).

Amongst her SEC peers, Mathies is second in the league in scoring, third in 3-point field goal percentage, fourth in steals, 10th in 3-point field goals made and 13th in offensive rebounds. Mathies has reached double figures in scoring in every game but seven this season, and has 11 games of 20 or more points. Also, having an impressive senior season is shooting guard Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.). Snowden has averaged a team-high tying 14.5 points off the bench in UK's four tournament games (SEC and NCAA) combined and was a key catalyst in Monday's game as she scored UK's final six points, giving UK the 65-62 victory. Overall, Snowden is the Wildcats' third leading scorer with 9.6 points per game and she has netted a team-high 54 3-pointers which ranks ninth on UK's single-season list.

Gonzaga, which received votes in the final Associated Press poll and ranked No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today final poll, earned its third consecutive Sweet 16 bid after upset wins over sixth-seeded Rutgers (86-73) and third-seeded Miami (65-54) in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Gonzaga is led by senior forward Kayla Standish, who averages a team-high 16.1 points to go with her team-high 7.7 rebounds per game. Standish is also a defensive stalwart, blocking 1.5 shots per game and grabbing 1.3 steals per game.

The Bulldogs went 28-5 during the regular season and 14-2 in West Coast Conference play. The Bulldogs made their way into the tournament as an at-large bid after winning the conference tournament. Kentucky is 1-1 against the WCC all-time.

Pre-Gonzaga Media Opportunity - March 22, 2012

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…
“It’s a lot of fun to be playing this time of year and we’re really excited to have the opportunity to head to Kingston, R.I., for our regional. I’m proud of our players and what they accomplished in Ames, (Iowa) punching through to the Sweet 16 is a significant accomplishment for this team. (There are) three (other) really good teams in this region. I think it will be some exciting basketball and we’re looking forward to heading up there and seeing what we can do.”

On Samarie Walker and what advice he would give her going into this week with the Connecticut media…
“My advice is, there’s a responsibility that comes with playing at this level and we’re real fortunate to be in a position where people are interested in what we’re doing. There are a lot of places where people aren’t interested. You have to take that responsibility seriously. It’s just a story of a kid who was homesick and wanted to get closer to home. It’s maybe not that interesting to us because we’ve lived through it. I think the thing with her, she’s so happy to be at Kentucky, and she has no ill feelings toward Connecticut. It’s just a case of her wanting to get closer to home. My advice to her is just to be honest. Be honest with how you’re feeling. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t want to be at a spot where people are only interested in the game. That’s just not reality. This time of year people want storylines, coaches going up against other coaches who are friends or not friends. There’s things other than the game going on. That’s just part of it. My advice to her is just to answer what questions are posed, be honest with it and embrace it.”

On if Samarie Walker is peaking at the right time…
“She’s a phenomenal physical talent. She, as a young player, doesn’t weigh success and failure the same. She’s too hard on herself and she’s too analytical at times and thinks too much. I think that’s probably due to her inexperience and youth. She’s made tremendous strides in that. She still needs to grow some more. We haven’t seen Samarie Walker’s best on a consistent basis. I think her progression this year has been fantastic because she’s closer to becoming the player she can become. She’s not there yet.”

On what Samarie Walker needs to do to get there…
“She needs to be a better shooter around the rim. Seven-for-10 is what she needs to be, and she’s been going 2-9, 1-8, those kinds of things. She’s never shooting the ball outside of 10 feet. She needs to shoot the ball. I think she can be a 65-75 percent field goal shooter around the basket. She just needs to continue to improve as a post player, as a defensive player. That’s hard for some of our post players to do because of the style of play at times. We really try to develop their overall game. So there’s a lot for her to work on. As you can see, in what I think was a game against a very quality opponent in Green Bay, she looked All-America caliber, All-Conference caliber – All-America may be too strong. She came out of high school with a lot of notoriety because she was so talented. You have to get the job done and I think she’s getting closer to doing that. The Green Bay game was a great example of what she can be.”

On the consistent play of Keyla Snowden throughout the postseason and her leadership qualities…
“I’m really happy that is taking place on our team right now because we need it badly. She seems to be behaving the way I’d like to see a senior behave. She’s really at a state now where she’s in complete belief that we can win every game and we’re going to win every game and this is not going to end. That attitude is important to have, I think, at this time of year. We have to have a deep belief in our team Sunday night when we take the court. We need to believe that we’re going to believe. I think it’s more powerful when the players believe that, more so than the coaches believe it. I think everybody needs to, but when you have someone like Keyla being as sincere as she’s being, and taking that leadership role, it’s great to see. You like to see that coming from one of your seniors and we’re getting it.”

On Gonzaga…
“They’re really a well-rounded basketball team. They do a great job scoring. They are one of the top scoring teams in the country. They have a good mix of athleticism and skill. They shoot the ball great. (Kayla) Standish is a really top-level post player and can get things done. They just have a nice team. Defensively, they’re going to make you make plays. They look to be very, very well-organized on the defensive end. They mix things up on you really well. They’re just what you would expect in this round of 16; an excellent basketball team, well-balanced. I don’t think you can be at this spot without having a little bit of everything. To be one of the final 16 teams standing you have to be a pretty good basketball team. They are and it’s going to be a real challenge for us.”

On if he talks to his players at all about the Final Four…
“For us, we had a big picture goal of going to the Final Four when the season starts. We’re at a place like Kentucky and we’re trying to build a program that is one of the best in the country. The players need to train with that in mind. It’s not something that’s mentioned every day. Right now, you have no chance of getting to Denver unless you were able to get out of Ames. We really talked about the mindset of going to win two games and we’ll talk about that here now. It’s real clear what you have to do. They do need to know today in practice that you need to practice like crazy because our season’s on the line and we need to win the first one. Then you get the chance to get to the second one. We want to go to Denver and we’re talking about it.”

On if he’s doing anything to try and take pressure off the team…
“I think they felt pressure last weekend being the two seed. If you’re a two seed you really need to get to the Sweet 16. Now I don’t think there’s any pressure. Now you have a chance. Now you have a real chance to make it to the Final Four. I don’t think there’s going to be pressure now. I haven’t seen them today, so they may be tighter than a banjo string, but I don’t think. This is a different feeling than the first two rounds, for me anyway. I don’t know what they’ll be like, but I don’t think there’s any pressure here except you play really good teams. That’s pressure enough. I could be wrong on that. We’re going to tell them, ‘you have to turn loose here and play. It’s 40 minutes fighting for your life here.’ The farther we go, the simpler it gets I think as far as getting motivated or working your psyche or anything like that.”

On how you recover from the 34 turnovers committed against Green Bay…
“What we’re going to do today in practice is put them in situations where they made mistakes where now they’re going to have success. We’ll use that as a teaching tool. I think what helps you recover from it is you are marching on. You are one of the final 16 teams playing. It’s a little different. It’s overused but it’s just so true. You survive it and you advance on. You have to have a short memory and you have to get ready for the next one. It’s not exactly the same as happening in conference where you have to win six more games to get into the tournament. It’s just a different feel. I know as a coach I’m not dwelling on it except for the fact that, ‘Hey, we let Green Bay really get into our head and speed us up.’ So when that happens the next time, the reason you’re turning it over is you’re not squaring up the basket, you’re not staying aggressive. We didn’t have those terrible stretches like we had in the second half in the first half. We had some real good attacking. I knew we’d turn the ball over against Green Bay, I just knew that was going to happen. I thought it would be like a 24-20 turnover game, like the winner would get the other team to turn it over 24 times and the winner would turn it over 20 – plus two-three in turnover margin. I really told them going into the game, we’re not going to worry about turnovers as much as our defensive energy. I never imagined we’d be minus 10 turnover margin and win. You have to be aggressive against a team like that and know that you’re going to make some turnovers. The ones you want to correct are the ones you inflict on yourself. That’s what I’ll try to work on today in practice with them.”

Keyla Snowden

On her senior leadership and if that’s part of the job…
“I just try to take on a role and encourage people, keep everybody mentally into the game every possession. Just having a voice out there keeps people in tuned with what’s going on.”

On not always having such a vocal role…
“I guess I wasn’t in a position to do that, everybody usually talks. I don’t know. Just being a senior, I don’t want this to end too early. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to get there.”

On recovering from a 34-turnover game…
“People haven’t really asked about it, but just to be able to win after having so many turnovers I guess says a lot about our team. In practice today we’re going to focus on eliminating those turnovers because we know Gonzaga’s a good defensive team. We’re just going to be more conscience with what we do with the ball.”

On the Final Four being a goal and if they’re talking about it…
“Yeah, definitely. We set that goal a long time ago when this team first started. Denver is definitely in our head and we know we can’t make it to Denver unless we take care of what’s in front of us right now. Right now it’s Gonzaga and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

On walking off the bus hand-in-hand prior to the Green Bay game, and how that started…
“It first got started the day before. We went to Wendy’s to eat lunch and A’dia (Mathies) just grabbed Crystal (Riley’s) hand and Crystal grabbed mine and it was kind of a chain reaction. That happened the day before and then the day of the game I kind of told everybody let’s get off the bus holding hands just to show that we’re together like we did yesterday and that’s kind of where it went from there.”

On if they feel like a more cohesive unit with it being ‘do-or-die’ at this point…
“I think it came at the right time. Our chemistry right now is really strong and we’re just going to bring it over there and see where it takes us.”

Bria Goss

On if it’s nice to have that voice of encouragement like Keyla Snowden’s out there…
“I feel like Keyla, she hit a few big shots and on top of that she was talking. I feel like her leadership on the court was definitely needed and she stepped up.”

On if it was Green Bay’s specific press or something more general that caused UK to turn it over so much…
“I know the big difference from the first half to the second half was we weren’t attacking the middle. I think that was just us not being in attack mode and going to the middle. We were doing what the zone wanted us to do.”

On if they feel like a more cohesive unit with it being ‘do-or-die’ at this point…
“I definitely do. This has been a long season and we don’t want anything to break right now. With us linking hands, Keyla (Snowden) talking on the floor and going through the adversity that we did,  I feel like this is the closest that we’ve been and we’re going to continue to get closer because we need to push each other in practice.”