UK Hoops Returns to Memorial Wednesday to Face Northern Kentucky

Dec. 2, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 13th-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to Memorial Coliseum Wednesday, Dec. 3 when it plays host to Northern Kentucky at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be live streamed on SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro and Christi Thomas calling the action. SEC Network+ is exclusively available on SECNetwork.com and on WatchESPN via computers, smartphones and tablets. The game also can be heard live on the UK Radio Network with Neil Price. Freshman forward/center Alexis Jennings (Madison, Ala.) will sign autographs after the game.

Gameday Central
Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky
Wednesday, Dec. 3 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | NKU Get Acrobat Reader
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Single-game reserved tickets are available at a 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.

Children ages five and under are admitted free in the general admission seating area and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.

Fans interested in UK Hoops tickets can visit the Joe Craft Center ticket office, go to UKathletics.com, or call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS. Tickets are also available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

UK (6-1) returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum after winning the 2014 Paradise Jam Reef Division in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands over the Thanksgiving break. After falling to Illinois in the opening game 77-71, the Wildcats battled back from nine-point first-half deficits vs. Oklahoma (92-88) and South Florida (61-57) to win the round-robin event.

Sophomore guard Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.), who was named Most Valuable Player, was critical to the Wildcats’ success as she came off the bench to average a team-high 20.3 points per game, while shooting a team-best .576 percent from the floor. Epps also hit a crucial free throw with 0.4 seconds left in regulation vs. Oklahoma to send it into overtime. She went on to score nine of her career-high 29 points in the extra minutes to give UK the victory. Epps also pulled down a career-best 10 rebounds in the game for her first career double-double. Against South Florida, the Wildcats trailed for the first 32:45 of the game before taking its first lead with 6:25 to play. Epps once again was a key cog in the win as she came off the bench for 12 points, scoring 11 of them in the decisive second half. Senior Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) also added 13 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and was named to the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team.

“We are glad to be back from our trip,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We found out a lot about our basketball team down in the Virgin Islands and it was a very productive trip for us. We’re in a mind frame of getting better and moving forward. There are certainly a lot of things that we need to improve upon. We are looking forward to an opportunity tomorrow against a good Northern Kentucky team that I’m sure will be coming in fired up to get a victory. We will need to try and practice hard this evening and see if we can make some progress. We are glad to be back in Lexington.”

Wednesday will mark the 15th meeting between the programs since UK became a varsity sport in 1974-75. Kentucky leads the all-time series 10-4, including a 5-2 mark in Memorial. UK has won five straight against the Norse, the last meeting coming in 1990.

Northern Kentucky, located in Highland Heights, Ky., enters the game with a 4-3 record after winning its last two outings vs. Grand Canyon and UNCG in the Navy Classic.

Four starters return from last season’s squad that finished 18-13 overall and 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Last season’s leading scorer, senior guard Melody Doss, is picking up where she left off as she averages a team-high 12.3 points per game this season. Following her in the scoring column is junior guard Christine Roush with 10.4 points per game.

Overall for Kentucky, O’Neill leads three Wildcats in double-figure scoring with 17.3 points per game which ranks third in the Southeastern Conference. Epps follows with 15.7 ppg (9th in the SEC), while Linnae Harper (Chicago) adds 11.3 ppg (24th in the SEC). UK’s leading rebounder is 6-foot-3 center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) with 7.9 per game.

The Cats own a 388-144 (72.9) mark in Memorial Coliseum, including a 98-16 (85.9) record under Coach Matthew Mitchell. UK is 3-0 at home this season, 2-0 in Memorial. UK has won 46 consecutive regular season non-conference games in Memorial Coliseum, dating back to Dec. 19, 2008 vs. Alabama A&M.

For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit www.ukathletics.com/wbbgameday.

Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - December 2, 2014

Opening statement …
“Good afternoon, everyone. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday. We are glad to be back from our trip. We found out a lot about our basketball team down in the Virgin Islands and it was a very productive trip for us. We’re in a mind frame of getting better and moving forward. There are certainly a lot of things that we need to improve upon. We are looking forward to an opportunity tomorrow against a good Northern Kentucky team that I’m sure will be coming in fired up to get a victory. We will need to try and practice hard this evening and see if we can make some progress. We are glad to be back in Lexington.”

On what they learned in the Virgin Islands …
“We didn’t play with very much intensity or enthusiasm on Thursday night against Illinois. It was a great, great lesson for us to learn what our identity has to be. We are a team that has to come out and work really, really hard every single possession and play with tremendous intensity. We were able to watch that film the next day and then make a mental change for the Oklahoma game and the South Florida game. It was good to see the team able to make that adjustment and hopefully it was a great wake-up call for us, the loss that we absorbed down there.”

On Makayla Epps playing so well …
“Well, she’s an incredibly talented player. We are very fortunate that she is playing at Kentucky. She is very athletic and very strong. It is hard for people to guard her. She can get to the bucket and can really make some things happen. She is improving tremendously on the defensive end, which has been remarkable. Her progress as a defender has really been remarkable and so she has given us a lot in a lot of different areas. She can rebound the ball, she can guard multiple positions, she can play multiple positions on offense, she is a big key to what is happening for us right now. She still has some room for improvement, which is also good news for us, but she is just playing well and playing with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. That’s what this team needs. We have to play with tremendous enthusiasm, tremendous energy and tenacity every time that we take the floor. She is sort of embodying all of that right now.”

On if he is surprised about the development of Makayla Epps
“I’m really pleased that she decided to put in the effort that she needed to in order to improve. I don’t know if surprised would be the right word. When she showed up here, she was more talented than I even imagined. She is incredibly talented. Now, she is starting to mentally take an approach that is going to allow her to be her best. When she becomes her best, I believe that she will become one of the best players in the country. She is very, very gifted and happy that she made the decision to get in great shape. She is in great shape. She never was last season, and she played major minutes and did not seem affected by it at all, which is really a testament to how hard she has worked. I’m really happy that she is playing well and really happy for her that she has made some of the decisions that have allowed her to start realizing some of her potential.”

On NKU …
“They played a good schedule and they’re very well coached. The impression that I get is that they play really hard and they get after you and I expect them to be very energetic coming to Kentucky. It’s a big game against an in-state school and I’m sure their team will be very excited. If they watched the Illinois film or the Central Michigan film, there are times in our performances when we don’t play with enthusiasm or energy where we’re a very vulnerable team. So, I would expect a really strong test from them tomorrow night.”

On taking advantage of the length advantage vs. NKU …
“Well, you need to make those work for you. That’s what I tell our team all of the time. We are an athletic and fast team, but if you don’t make that an advantage in the game, you are going to suffer. We need for it to be very up-tempo. We need to harass them for 40 minutes and try and make it real difficult and make it a real tough night on them because that’s our formula and how we will be successful.”

On a key stat that he looks at to determine hustle plays …
“What we tried to make the South Florida game about and what I think is a big stat is rebounding. South Florida in that tournament was really dominating on the glass. I talked to Sherri Coale, and we played the second night. South Florida had beaten the night before and we had lost to Illinois, and she had commented on how aggressive they were on the glass. We tried to make that game, with very little preparation time, about rebounding. I was so happy we won the rebounding battle in that game by six and that spoke to how hard they’re playing.  I think for us a lot of times, it’s about deflections, turnovers created, if the team really passes the ball. We didn’t turn South Florida over because they had one player sort of dominate the ball and she would just dribble and shoot. So, she missed 17 shots which kind of made our turnovers forced down in that one. Turnovers forced is a stat that we try and look at, but for me, it’s more the eye test. It’s more me out there watching to see how quickly we are picking up the ball, how quickly we’re engaged in our defense, how much energy we have in our feet. Those kinds of things are really important for us. It’s not always just statistical.”

On practice time being limited with so many games …
“We put the team in a tough spot. The first seven games were really, really difficult where once we closed down preseason practice, the first seven games, we just didn’t have a lot of practice time. This team needs it. We took yesterday off, so just one practice before Northern Kentucky and then hopefully we can get a couple more good (practices) in before the end of the week. Over the next two and a half weeks as we lead up to Christmas break, we really need to take advantage of our time on the court and take some steps forward as a team. We are happy to be back, but really grateful for what we learned on our trip. It was a great experience for our players. They really had a great time and that was a very nice trip to be able to go on.  I know the players enjoyed it, but we’re happy to be home.”

On what concerns him about the team right now …
“I was very concerned about the Illinois game just because they play such an unorthodox defense and with the progression of our team at the point in the season – I knew that was going to be a very difficult game. We didn’t play as hard as we needed to, and so I was concerned. You had two more games and you could have lost all of them because they were against very quality opponents. I knew going in that we put the team in a difficult position. I was thrilled with getting out of there with two out of the three and it really worked out nicely to have a humbling and learning experience and then bounce back with a couple of victories to where we still are not executing the way we need to, and the way that we are capable of and the way that we will in a month. I think that we’ll be much better than we were down there. But, we did play with some tremendous heart and energy. The Oklahoma game looked very dire. Down eight with 1:20 left, it didn’t look too good, but we found a way to win. Many more positives came out of that trip than challenges and so I am not concerned about what the team is capable of, just concerned everyday as a coach that you have to find a way to create an atmosphere where they understand what their identity has to be and they need to practice that way and they need to play that way. That’s my job to make sure that happens.”

On him talking about the team’s vulnerability…
“Well, just the way that we need to defend to compete at the highest level, so I mean we could do some different things and beat some different teams on our schedule and be an okay team in a different manner. We’re trying to be the very best in the country and trying to be the best that this team can be. So, you have to have a combination of tremendous physical intensity but then tremendous mental focus as well. That’s a daily thing that sometimes young people, you know, struggle with, and so we’re vulnerable on nights when we don’t come out really laser focused on what we need to do to be successful together mentally and then, you know, if you have a night where you’re just not hustling…then people can exploit you. In our defense, we’re clearly trying to impact the ball handler, and we’re trying to deny passes and disrupt. So, sometimes if you’re not paying attention you get really spread out, and the person on the ball is not guarding the ball well, people are driving and shooting layups. That’s what happened in the Illinois game. We just were not mentally focused that night and sort of playing individual defense. Our defense has to work together as a team, and so we’re vulnerable when we don’t do that and when we don’t push the basketball in transition offensively and use our depth and our speed. Then we suddenly become ordinary. There’s some times where when we are really committed to running, the team can score, and we’re pretty extraordinary because we can get it in and run back and answer very quickly while the teams kind of think…the opponent thinks they can catch their breath. We need to be the kind of team that will not allow them to do that. If we don’t play in our identity we’re vulnerable.”

On sophomores defining the team…
“They have a zest for life that is infectious. I mean, it really is. They are the kids that are…Makayla and I probably cut up more than anybody on the bus rides to and from the games and having fun. They’re kids that enjoy living, and they’re not moping around. They’re just energetic, enthusiastic personalities, and we really need that on this team because we need to be energetic and enthusiastic as a basketball team. They bring that to the team. We desperately need that, so a player like Janee, who is very focused and very business-like, and we need that too for a point-guard standpoint. She kind of keeps it all together and is sort of the steady hand. You can’t have too much of that too or then the energy is a little too…you know, we don’t have enough sparks flying. We need some sparks flying on this team, and Makayla (Epps) and Linnae (Harper) keep that going, and that’s good for us. They make dynamic plays, and that gets the crowd going and so, you know, their personality is very important to the team. Both of them just need to stay rock solid in their belief of improving as defenders because when they become top-level defenders, then they’ve become absolute top-level players. They have to keep that on their mind, and I have to as their coach, help them stay there. I love their enthusiasm for the game. When we were going into overtime with Oklahoma, Makayla was the one on the bench saying, ‘Hey, this is a heck of a lineup we have here on this bench. We’re going to go out here and win this game.’ (She was) very vocal, very verbal. It’s important and it’s good.”

On team taking on personality of the coach …
“It’s not fair to say because they don’t take it on nearly enough. On the court we’re too laid back at times. I want them out there like some fighters and, you know, just with that killer instinct and going at it. We need to progress along those lines, but, off the court, it’s a long year and we spend a lot of time together. There needs to be a lot of joy and a lot of fun because we’re all so fortunate to be at a place like Kentucky. Off the court, maybe they take on the personality a little bit. We need to work on our personality on the court because really, in reality, we’ve been very inconsistent so far. We’ve had good halves and bad halves, and we just have to get to a spot where we can level out and we can know what we’re going to bring every game. Hopefully, tomorrow we can be a very consistent team for two halves.”

On if falling behind early in games concerns him …
“I thought that the South Florida game was great for us because we had a game plan that we didn’t just play totally to the system. We made some adjustments because they had two very explosive drivers and so I thought it was a great 40 minutes holding them to 57 points. Neutralizing their offense was outstanding for us and I think it showed the team that in tough times, if the offense is not going great and things are not clicking, that we can hang our hat on our defense and rely on our defense if they focus. They were focused Saturday night. It was the third game in three days, we tipped off after 10 o’clock at night, we didn’t get done until almost one in the morning – so if you can focus in and hustle in during that time I think it shows you what you’re capable of. I’m concerned about defense. I always need to be because we don’t have a real margin of error. We don’t have a big shot blocker that can clean up mistakes, we don’t have a big, long, lengthy zone that we can put in, we have to disrupt you with ball pressure and with quickness and with attitude. That’s just how we’re build and that’s how we’ll have to be. Defense is something that we’ll always be very concerned about and spend a lot of time on.”

On if his team is focused on Louisville at all …
“We got back from a really long trip and the kids had to play real hard, and the travel was not easy. We got caught up in a long delay going down and missed out on some practice time and played a real late game. We traveled all day Sunday, got back very late on Sunday night and so I gave them yesterday off and then we didn’t practice this morning, just trying to help them recover a little bit. I haven’t heard them talking about much so far, but what we did say before we left the airport on Sunday night is that we have to take advantage of our practice time and we have to be very focused this week getting ready for Northern Kentucky and then the practices leading up to Louisville and then we’ve got some time in-between Louisville and Middle Tennessee that we’re really looking forward to taking advantage of that practice time and then hopefully during exam week we can practice some looking to close out this first semester of games. The practice time is going to be important and I’m confident that they understand what they need to do each and every day to take advantage of their opportunities.”