UK Hoops Meets Middle Tennessee Friday Night in Memorial

Dec. 11, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The eighth-ranked University of Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to Memorial Coliseum Friday, Dec. 12 to open a two-game homestand against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be shown live on the SEC Network and WatchESPN with Brenda VanLangen and former Ole Miss head coach Carol Ross on the call. The game also can be heard live on the UK Radio Network with Neil Price.

Gameday Central
Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee State
Friday, Dec. 12 - 9:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | MTSU Get Acrobat Reader
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Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Video via SEC Network+
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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.

IMPORTANT PARKING INFORMATION

Due to an event at the Singletary Center on UK’s campus beginning at 8 p.m. ET, UK Athletics encourages all UK Hoops fans to arrive early and utilize the free parking garages/shuttles, Parking Structure #5 (South Limestone Garage) next to Kennedy’s Bookstore and the Transit Center Garage on High Street. Parking Structure #5 will open at 6:30 p.m. ET and a voucher is NOT required for exit on Friday night.

The Transit Center Garage will be available at 7 p.m. ET. When parking in the Transit Center, pull a yellow token from the dispenser and keep in your vehicle. See the event staff attendant at the entrance near Lexington Avenue/High Street to receive a free parking voucher before the game. When exiting the garage after the game, place your yellow token in the machine, then scan the barcode on your free parking voucher to exit.

Handicap parking is available in the E-Lot (Employee Lot) north of the Craft Center, adjacent to the metered spaces running along the frontage of the Craft Center with a valid, state issued handicap tag. These spaces (typically 20-30 stalls) are available on a first-come, first-serve basis until full.

Please note: parking is prohibited in any R (Residential) lots. Vehicles parking in Residential lots without a proper permit, along yellow curbs, grass spaces, or other non-specified and unapproved areas may be subject to ticket and/or tow.

Shuttle Information:

  • Free shuttle services are available beginning 1.5 hours prior to tip off from the South Limestone Garage located off Limestone and Upper Street and the Transit Center Parking Garage located off High Street and Vine Street.
  • Parking Structure # 5 (blue route) picks up/drops off on Administration Drive, at the end of the pedestrian sky bridge accessed from the 3rd floor of the parking garage.
  • Transit Center Parking Garage (green route) picks up/drops off near the corner of High Street and Martin Luther King. See event staff in the area for assistance.
  • Shuttles will start back up at halftime and continue until 1 hour post-game to return guests to their parking areas.

Game day Information:

  • Doors to the Coliseum will open at 8 p.m. ET.

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

“Everybody needs to sleep in tomorrow and get some rest so you’re awake and ready to go at 9 p.m. because we do need you in the Coliseum tomorrow night,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It’s going to be a very tough game. It always is with Middle Tennessee. They’re a very good team, always tough and always able to score the basketball and well-coached. Coach (Rick) Insell does a great job with Middle Tennessee State and this is another good team. It’s a huge challenge for us tomorrow night, so we have worked hard over the last couple of days and we will try and put in one more good practice session tomorrow before the game and see if we can earn what would be a great victory for us tomorrow night. We need everyone to come out tomorrow night. It’s a Friday night, so you can sleep in on Saturday. We just need a big crowd tomorrow night.”

This marks the 17th all-time meeting between the Wildcats and the Blue Raiders, and the sixth-straight season that the two programs have played. UK leads the overall series 12-4, including a 7-1 edge in games played in Lexington. Kentucky is looking for its third-straight win over MTSU, and seventh straight in Memorial Coliseum.

The Cats own a 389-144 (80.2) mark in Memorial Coliseum, including a 99-16 (86.0) record under Coach Matthew Mitchell. UK is 4-0 at home this season, 3-0 in Memorial. UK has won 47 consecutive regular season non-conference games in Memorial Coliseum, dating back to Dec. 19, 2008 vs. Alabama A&M.

On Friday night, Mitchell will be looking for his 100th-career win at Memorial Coliseum, while also looking to notch his 83rd regular-season non-conference win, including third straight over the Blue Raiders.

Kentucky (8-1) is coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory, as the Wildcats rallied from down 16 points to beat No. 7 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center, 77-68. The 16-point comeback tied the largest for UK under Mitchell, and seventh-largest in program history. UK outscored UL 48-26 in the second half, shooting 55.6 percent from the field. The win over the Cardinals marked Kentucky’s fourth-straight over UL and second win over a top-10 opponent this season (No. 8/9 Baylor, 11/17).

Senior guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) leads Kentucky in scoring, averaging 15.6 points per game. Sophomores Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.)and Linnae Harper (Chicago) follow with 14.6 and 11.6 ppg, while junior point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) adds 10.3 ppg. The Wildcats’ leading rebounder is senior Azia Bishop, who has pulled down 6.9 boards per game this season. Following Bishop is Harper, with 5.6 rpg.

Middle Tennessee State (4-2) enters Friday’s game on a three-game winning streak after collecting a 90-68 win over Xavier on Sunday afternoon in Murfreesboro. MTSU has also knocked off Southeastern Conference opponent Ole Miss (71-65) and Clemson (69-28) in its current winning streak. Sophomore Olivia Jones scored a career-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting and collected eight steals against Xavier. The Blue Radiers are 1-1 this season vs. the SEC with a win over Ole Miss and a loss to Arkansas (58-51).

Kentucky’s two-match homestand continues Sunday at 6 p.m. ET as the Wildcats face Belmont on the SEC Network.

Media Opportunity - December 11, 2014

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement …
“Well, everybody needs to sleep in tomorrow and get some rest so you’re awake and ready to go at 9 p.m. because we do need you in the Coliseum tomorrow night. It’s going to be a very tough game. It always is with Middle Tennessee. They’re a very good team, always tough and always able to score the basketball and well-coached. Coach (Rick) Insell does a great job with Middle Tennessee State and this is another good team. It’s a huge challenge for us tomorrow night, so we have worked hard over the last couple of days and we will try and put in one more good practice session tomorrow before the game and see if we can earn what would be a great victory for us tomorrow night. We need everyone to come out tomorrow night. It’s a Friday night, so you can sleep in on Saturday. We just need a big crowd tomorrow night.”

On how practice is going …
“It’s going OK. This group is just not naturally competitive. I think what you’ve seen is us start some games where the competitive fire is just not where it needs to be and the large deficits that we’ve incurred. But, they clearly are competitive because when they get into the situation that’s sort of desperate, they come out swinging and lock in and get going. What I’ve tried to do is set that tone early in practice. It’s going to be about competition, it’s going to be competitive and in my mind, there are so many things that we need to work on technically that I tried to get that in in the beginning of practice when they are mentally fresh, and that’s just not a good formula for this team. You’ve got to get them to a spot where it’s ultra-competitive and see who is ready to roll and who is not and try to make sure that we are practicing with a sense of urgency so that hopefully we can start the game with a great sense of urgency and maintain that. We are just looking for consistency right now. We know what we are capable of doing. We know we can play some good basketball. We also know that when we are not focused, we can play some bad basketball, so just trying to get that consistent mentality of attacking and being aggressive and being tough and being competitive. That’s what we have tried to do in practice.”

On this team not being naturally competitive …
“They are obviously competitive because they are 8-1 against a real tough schedule and if you aren’t a competitor, and you’re down 16 to your arch rival on their home floor, you don’t come back and win. They are competitive. What I’m saying is that you must draw that out of them. They are very close. They are very much for each other and I think sometimes they would just rather hang out and talk to each other rather than just knock heads against each other in practice. They’re a competitive group, I’m really just talking about more of what I need to be doing in practice that what they do. I need to set a better tone and make sure that happens. Really, for me, I think it’s good we’re finding that out a little earlier in the season than we did last season and so hopefully finding it out when we are still in our non-conference will help us when we get to conference play.”

On if he has ever had a team that is not competitive from the get-go like this one …
“I think this is a little different team than I’ve had in the past, but that’s alright. I recruited every single one of these kids and love every one of these kids. It’s something a little different every year, and that’s what makes it so fun to coach and so exciting to try and figure things out and do a good job. This is a very different team than I’ve ever had.”

On the team’s slow starts and if they are too nice…
“They’re a really good group of kids and I just think that sometimes they feel like things will just happen instead of making things happen. They’re not too nice because they’ll get down 14 and they’ll scrap back and they’ll get back into a game where they’re down eight with 1:20 left and they find a way. They have some toughness to them, there is no doubt about that. I just have to make sure that the atmosphere is such that they are bringing that out of themselves all of the time.”

On a common tendency when things are going well …
“I think that they start driving the ball a little bit more aggressively towards the middle of the basket and that’s one of our strengths. I think that they understand on defense - with our freshman and sophomore classes, they are not as far along defensively as some of our juniors and seniors. I think early in the game, they are still in the mindset of ‘hey this is just one possession, I can kind of checkout and not be where I’m supposed to be’ and then maybe at the end of the game, maybe they’re a little bit more in-tune because we’ve had some good stops at the end of the game and done some of those things. I just think they understand that there is an immediate threat and so they respond. When there is 17 minutes left in the first half, they think ‘hey, maybe we have time to respond’ and I’m just saying that that’s not a sustainable course of action. We can’t be the team that we want to be with that kind of attitude. We need to try and break it into four-minute segments and just play like crazy four minutes at a time, regroup, and go again and see if we can become a little bit more consistent. I want us to stop digging ourselves such a big hole.”

On the slow starts …
“After the Louisville game, we tried to go back and let everyone know where they were suffering and where they needed to pick it up and where their strengths are. I think their role on the team is fresh in their minds after the Louisville game. What you don’t want to do is think that you have everything figured out. It was such a great win against such a good team on the road, people are excited about it and you can’t lose sight of the fact that for a large majority of the game, we did not look very good. I thought it was very important that we have a reality check when we came back to practice on Tuesday, and I thought they handled that well.”

On if he has considered changing the starting lineup …
“I do. The way I like to teach is I like to tell them what to do, give them a chance to see where they are in their development – if they make mistakes – point them out, correct them, give them a chance to correct the mistakes and so that’s why I’ve stuck with this starting lineup so long. I’m not one for just jerking one out of the game and not telling them what’s going on and play mind games. But, I think we are in a spot now at nine games in that the starting lineup is very much up for grabs because sometimes the bench is the only thing that gets through to somebody and it actually helps focus you in. I think that’s a very fair question to ask and we are mixing some lineups in practice right now trying to see where we need to be. We won’t just stay with it to stay with it because that’s how we’ve started. It’s very much a situation to where right now every minute is up for grabs in a competitive situation in practice and if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, it’s on you because we are being very clear on what needs to be happening in practice. For instance, a player like Kyvin (Goodin-Rogers) – there are very specific things. She needs to play more on balance with a lower power base. She is very loose with her shooting fundamentals around the basket, hence she is not making shots. She is out of position on defense, and so we’re not just saying ‘hey Kyvin, you better play better.’ We’re telling her what she needs to do to improve. Again, she’s a freshman and if she starts every game this year, great – and if not – she is still a big part of what we need to do. Her focus needs to be on getting better. But, my responsibility is for us to try and find a way to get better starts and that might be one way to shake it up a little bit.”

On a prior team that he is trying to compare the current team to …
“One team that I’m trying to hold up for this team to pattern themselves after is the 2009-10 team. That first team that we went to the tournament with here, because while we’re bigger than we were on that team, relative to our competition in the conference, I still think we’re going to have to win with speed, quickness and aggressiveness. So for instance, before the Louisville game, I showed them clips of that team’s aggressiveness and ball pressure. The administration of the rules is a little bit different now, so we got away with a little bit more hand checking and bumping, but the way that they were attacking and aggressive and the way that they rotated  to pass – that’s really what I have tried to pattern this team after and it’s good for them to see that. It gives them a mental and a visual picture of what it needs to look like.”

On if there is concern about the slow starts …
“There is no question. That’s why the tone on Tuesday, yesterday and today is very much about what we need to do to get better. It’s not about 8-1 or 9-1, whatever we are. I don’t even know what the record is right now, I know we’ve lost once. Wherever you are ranked, whatever people are saying about you has nothing that will help you in this game tomorrow night against Middle Tennessee or going forward. It’s a very big concern and you as a coach need to do everything you can to get your team to be more consistent and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

On if he leans on his leaders for help...
“You try to include the leadership as much as possible, but sometimes, as a coach, if you wait around for the leadership to do it – everybody is different, everybody has different gifts – we have a lot of different gifts on this team. One of them we are lacking right now is somebody taking the bull by the horns, and so sometimes as a coach, you have to provide that. There is nothing wrong with that. I would rather have this group than anyone in the country. I am really good with our players and they know what they need to do and we have people. Janee Thompson is trying hard, Bria Goss is trying hard, we have people leading and working hard. I do ask the players to help me out, but I think right now for where we are, I’ve got to do a really good job with the atmosphere in practice. I think that can help us as I’ve really looked at our slow starts.”

On Janee Thompson developing as a leader …
“(It’s) really great. She cares a tremendous amount. It’s hard as a young person to lead with all of your peers there and sometimes it’s just so very difficult and it’s easier at my stage in life to lead than it is in her stage in life and I’m just real proud that she’s taken on the challenge of becoming a good leader and this morning when things didn’t go well at a particular time, she was very vocal and said we need to pick it up, which is good. She is doing a great job, she is trying hard. Like all of us, she still has some areas where she can grow. I still have areas where I can grow. I don’t think you are ever at a spot as a leader where you have everything figured out, but she is working hard at it. I’ll tell you, when she plays well, it makes a big, big difference on our team and when she leads well it makes a big difference. Janee is doing a good job. We need her to continue that.”

On if he said anything about free throws at halftime of the Louisville game …
“I will have to take credit for that. I went back and threatened them with severe punishment. I promise you we didn’t talk about the free throws. I went on a very, very long rant at the beginning of the halftime, so free throws could have been a part of it. I don’t know if anyone recorded it, but I had to go take a couple Advil after I got done talking. Then I went back in and we talked strategy. It could have been free throws.”

On if free throws at this point are mental …
“Yes. Correct. I can’t pretend to know. If I knew exactly what it was, I would figure it all out, but I agree with you, I think that it is very mental right now with us and that’s where we need to try and unite all in one mindset, one heartbeat, one direction taking the court every night with that sense of purpose where we are all united and we don’t have a lot of mental letdowns. We have tried to address some of the poor free throw shooters in practice with game-like attempts, sprint, running tired, stopping practice when they don’t know they’re going to the line and we’re trying to do some different situations because it’s really only three kids who are really letting us down from a mental standpoint because they are good shooters and they can do a lot better.”

On Azia Bishop’s free throws …
“She did a little bit better in practice this morning, Linnae (Harper) did a lot better in practice this morning, Jennifer (O’Neill) did better in practice this morning, so I think it’s a hard thing to get through and the only way that you do is you spend time outside of practice because when you get tense and you get nervous on the free throw line, you’re almost hoping there that it goes in. I think Azia’s work needs to come outside of practice and she needs to go up there with confidence. We’ve also tried to simplify some routines. Linnae had a very, very complicated routine that kept her on the line longer. If there is tension – it’s like standing over a putt in golf – if you just stand there and stand there you’ll finally tense up and decrease your chances. We’re tried to simplify some routines, get them on there quicker, maybe a couple of dribbles and them get them into their shot. It worked with Linnae in the second half at a timeout. I told her to stop dribbling so much and she made a couple there. That’s just mental. That’s nothing but a shorter time. It’s nothing technical. We’ll just keep plugging with that and hopefully that’ll be something that we can improve on.”

On Jen O’Neill missing free throws …
“We are just trying to tell her to get up there and concentrate, be as solid as you can, hold your follow-through – do all of the little things that you need to do to make sure that you’re not doing anything to cause the ball to miss with a short release or not getting your legs in it. Her shot looks pretty good. Her misses are not like Azia’s that are total just ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it, I’m just going to throw it up there.’ Jen’s are getting some funky bounces at times. I’m not nearly as concerned about hers as much as I’m trying to get Azia on track and Linnae.”

On Friday potentially being his 100th-career win at Memorial Coliseum …
“Wow. It’s just proof that miracles do happen. God is alive and well in 2014 that’s what that would be. It would be a miracle. I will just be so happy. Thank you for letting me know about that. I may do a little dance. Everyone would love to see that, I’m sure. Wow. Something else.”

Senior Guard Bria Goss