UK Hoops Meets No. 2 Duke in Sold-Out Rupp Arena

Dec. 20, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 5/6 Kentucky women’s basketball looks to continue its winning ways and chart its best start to a season in school history when it plays host to No. 2 Duke in a sold-out Rupp Arena for its annual “Pack the House” game. The game will be televised live on the UK IMG Sports Network and Fox Sports South with Garry Gupton and Christi Thomas calling the action. The game also will be broadcast on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.

'Pack the House' at Rupp Arena
Kentucky vs. Duke
Sunday, Dec. 22 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | DU Get Acrobat Reader
Radio: UK IMG
Gameday Live: Live stats, audio, blog, and social media
Text Updates

For the first time in school history, UK has sold out Rupp Arena for a women’s basketball game. It marks the second sellout for UK Hoops this season as the Cats vs. intrastate rival Louisville in Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 1 also was sold out. With a seating capacity of 23,000, the Wildcats look to break the single-season attendance record of 18,488 set last season vs. DePaul in Rupp Arena. They also hope to record the largest crowd to ever watch a women’s basketball game in the Commonwealth, surpassing the attendance of 22,152 set in the first Kentucky-Louisville game played in the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 5, 2010.

UK students will still be admitted free of charge, while faculty and staff will also receive admittance for themselves and a guest. UK students must present their valid UK Student ID and faculty and staff must present their UK Employee identification card in order to enter Rupp Arena. Please enter through the main Rupp Arena entrance located off High Street.

The Wildcats (11-0), one of just 14 teams in the country still undefeated, have several winning streaks on the line Sunday. UK has won 11 straight games, including eight at home. They have won 44 straight home games vs. nonconference opponents and 21 overall regular season games vs. nonconference opponents.

“It’s going to be a very tough game,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Duke has an outstanding team, outstanding players. They are extremely dynamic both offensively and defensively, so we’ll be tested every way imaginable. We’re going to work extremely hard to try to prepare for a victory. One more time, I couldn’t be more excited about the response we’ve had from this community and Big Blue Nation and our fans. We’ll be real excited to take the floor at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.”

The Wildcats matched their best start in school history at 11-0 with a 73-56 win over East Tennessee State last Sunday. Freshman Linnae Harper (Chicago) came off the bench for the second straight game to spark the Wildcats. After scoring a career-high 18 points at DePaul, she netted all 10 of her points against the Buccaneers in the first half, hitting 5-of-6 attempts. She was one of three Wildcats in double figures as senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) and sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) led with 12 points apiece. Harper was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for her performances last week.

Overall this season, senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.), who is sidelined three-to-four weeks following arthroscopic surgery on her left knee, leads a very balanced scoring attack this season as one of five players in double-digit scoring. She averages a team-high 14.2 points per game, while junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) adds 13.8 points per game. Senior forward Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) averages 12.1 ppg and Thompson and Walker follow with 10.7 and 10.5 ppg, respectively.

The Blue Devils (11-1) are coming off an 80-51 win over Albany on Thursday at home. Prior to that matchup they were coming off a tough loss at home to top-ranked Connecticut, 83-61.

Duke, which returns 11 letterwinners and all five starters from its Elite Eight team in 2012-13, is led by senior guard Tricia Liston with 17.5 points per game. Sophomore guard Alexis Jones and junior center Elizabeth Williams average 14.2 and 13.4 points per game, respectively. Senior guard Chelsea Gray posts 12.8 points and 7.8 assists per contest, while senior guard/forward Haley Peters averages 12.7 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game.

UK is 1-3 all-time vs. the Blue Devils. The Wildcats won the last meeting between the teams, 72-65, in Rupp Arena on Dec. 8, 2011.

One lucky fan at the game on Sunday will win a one-of-a-kind horse racing experience. Fans who attend the game will receive one numbered card per person as their ticket is scanned upon entry. The winning card will be randomly drawn in the second half of the game. The winner must be present with his or her card to win a chance to be a part owner of a 3-year-old filly named Patinka owned by Dr. Stuart Brown, a prominent Lexington area veterinarian. The winner will receive 10 percent of the owner’s winnings from any of Patinka’s races from Jan. 1, 2014 until Dec. 31, 2014 and also will receive travel expenses for two to at least one of Patinka’s races. The lucky winner will also be able to meet Patinka this winter before the 2014 race season at Dr. Brown’s farm in Versailles, Ky.

Patinka (pronounced pa-TINK-ah) is trained by H. Graham Motion, the trainer most notable for his work with 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Better Talk Now.

Media Opportunity - December 19, 2013

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…
“Let me start by saying it’s a big game on Sunday and we’re so excited that our fans have turned out and we’re very close to a sellout in Rupp Arena and that’s incredibly exciting. I just want to share with you that it really started – when it happens and we believe it will be a sellout – in my mind with three people. The first person was Lee Todd. This day has been building for a long time and Lee Todd decided we were going to have a comprehensive athletic program here at the University of Kentucky and he hired Mitch Barnhart, who said we’re going to have good sports across the board, in particularly really invest in women’s basketball, in a real significant way 10 years ago. He hired a woman named Mickie DeMoss who really laid the groundwork for what’s going to happen on Sunday. We went down to Rupp Arena 10 years ago right after Mickie had gotten the job, and walked into that arena and Mickie told me ‘we’re going to sell that thing out one day. We’re going to sellout Rupp Arena for women’s basketball.’ She had the vision and she did a lot of the hard work to lay the foundation for us to have the kind of success that we’re having. When that happens, and we think it’ll happen this Sunday, my mind will be on those three people who have meant so much to this program and who really sacrificed a whole lot and worked really hard so a day like Sunday could happen. We’re real excited about that part of it.

“It’s going to be a very tough game. Duke has an outstanding team, outstanding players. They are extremely dynamic both offensively and defensively, so we’ll be tested every way imaginable. We’re going to work extremely hard to try to prepare for a victory. One more time, I couldn’t be more excited about the response we’ve had from this community and Big Blue Nation and our fans. We’ll be real excited to take the floor at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.”

On if he thought DeMoss was crazy at the time she thought Rupp would sellout for women’s basketball…
“It was a bold statement, but I think that’s what great leaders do, is they cast a vision and they can see it before the rest of us can. It was sort of hard to believe at the time because the state everything was in. It was hard to imagine that that might happen, especially because we’d been on the other side of it. I’d been at Florida and Tennessee and Mickie had been at Tennessee and we’d been in Memorial and there weren’t a lot of people at the games, so that was a pretty remarkable statement at the time. That’s why she was so good. I did believe it at the time. It just goes to show you keep working and keep working and it’s happening now. I don’t know anybody that could have done a better job in the four-year time that she was here to transform it into a place that you at least had a chance to be competitive and to be good. I’m real grateful to her for that.”

On if he thinks the program will eventually grow to where more games will be played at Rupp Arena…
“I think that’s a legitimate question to ask and it’s certainly something we have to think about, but I think that day comes when – and listen we’ve had tremendous support and crowds here (at Memorial Coliseum) – demand exceeds supply. Then you really start thinking about moving down there. Until that happens, I think our plan going forward would be, I think it’s working well with what we’re doing. You might possibly add a conference game down there and play two (games a year). I’m telling you, it’s going to take my bosses to tell me to leave Memorial Coliseum. Memorial is an awesome place to play and we’ve had great success there and I think it makes a day like Sunday special. One time a year and people get excited about it. A lot of people, that’s the only game they come to and it’s working well for us. Rupp Arena is a great venue, as well all know and it’s exciting to be down there Sunday.”

On the marketing that goes into the game at Rupp…
“I’m telling you, where we are today took so many people and it wasn’t just one person and it’s not one person today. We had a lot of people that were interested in seeing what we could make women’s basketball at Kentucky. It were things like Mitch Barnhart moved out of his office and moved downstairs in Memorial and that placed a visible sign that we’re going to value women’s basketball. Mitch started investing money in marketing and billboards. I remember we were on Pepsi trucks riding around town at one time. Things like that and it just built over time. When I got here we had some momentum built but we needed to propel it a little bit farther forward and out of desperation we started this up-tempo style of play and I think that’s played a big part in people’s interest in the program. People over the years have come to appreciate our young women for how hard they play and how they attack the opponent and how they play with pride for Kentucky. To me, that’s the greatest marketing tool you can have is a very competitive team that plays really hard and is exciting to watch. You can put up all the billboards you want to and run all the promotions you want to, you need to have something on the floor that people can connect with and want to come watch. We’ve been very fortunate to have players that would pay that price over the last five years and make this possible.”

On if it was new for him to be the face of a program…
“It indicated to me that there’s a shortage of people to pitch products around town to, that’s really what I took from that. I feel bad for the businesses in town that that’s what they had to resort to (laughing). I think that in women’s basketball it’s a lot of things that you need to do to market the sport and I think you just have to be willing to engage the community. I think in women’s basketball it’s a grassroots, there has to be a connection. We don’t have that singular play that brings you to your feet. A slam dunk, it doesn’t matter what arena you are in. In an NBA game or a men’s college basketball game you have that monstrous dunk that brings everybody to their feet. I think in our sport there needs to be a real connection between the community and the team. That’s what we’ve tried to do to get into the community, try to make our players accessible to the fans and I think that’s our formula in women’s basketball. We’ve had a lot of people that have worked hard to help that take place. It’s really, really awesome to be in this position, to be in a town where people care about women’s basketball and people make the effort to come out on a day like Sunday and make it one of the real special places in the country for a basketball game to be played no matter what you’re talking about. It’s going to be special down there Sunday.”

On the chance defeating Duke would help UK get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament …
“Yeah, it would help a lot. I think the team has really handled the non-conference schedule well. We have two left to play and we need to play really hard and 13-0 would be unbelievable with the schedule that we have had. But the team has done a good job and I think we are in great position (to get a No. 1 seed) right now with where we are with the quality wins. We have won five road games. All but four (teams played this season) are picked to win their conference and are probably going to win in excess of 25 games. So that is really good and I think we have got to stay really, really committed to great practice habits and I tell our team all the time that they just have to be in love with that concept of staying after it in practice. We have a very unique style of play where you have to be very sharp. You have to be mentally sharp and very tough and physically well-conditioned and you have to maintain that over the course of the season. We are not just going to show up and beat anybody, we have to prepare really well to do that and they have done that so far and if we can just stay with that we will have a chance to get a No. 1 seed, which is the outcome we would like. We just have to stay more in-tuned to the process right now. The way you get a No. 1 seed is you win games. We have a great schedule. We have a great non-conference schedule and great conference schedule and if we win enough games it will happen.”

On his biggest worry about Duke …
“You all will get bored with this, but it is their talent. Their talent is the No. 1 concern. They are just a very talented team. They are really tough at all five positions on the floor and all five positions on the floor can score and it makes it a very difficult game. They are big and they are bigger than we are. It will be a battle of wills there and we will have to make it an up-tempo, fast game. We can’t let them impose their will on us and run their stuff and get the ball where they want to get it because they have some really outstanding players. It is a broken record, but it is our formula for just about every game at this level. We have to have great, great preparation. The players practiced really hard yesterday and we need to do it again today. They’re very, very talented and then you put on top of that they are extremely well-coached and execute at an extremely high level of execution offensively. It is not tremendously complicated stuff, but it is solid, sound offensive schemes that they execute very, very well. They will be multiple on defense and run a lot of different defenses. We have to be mentally sharp to handle that. We have some experience with that from the Louisville game constantly changing defenses on you and it is difficult to function. You have to be at a really, really high mental sharpness in this game. They pose a lot of different problems with their talent and overall execution. (They are a) really, really good team that is ranked No. 2 in the country for a reason.”

On DeNesha Stallworth’s progress …
“Good. She had a very successful surgery and they liked the way that her knee looked after surgery. Now we are a few days out of that, they have taken the bandages off and had a chance to look at it and it looks good. Still some swelling and we will have to get that out of the knee, but she is working really hard. She is very, very disappointed that she is not playing in this game. I tried to tell her to cheer up at practice yesterday and she said she was trying to be positive but she really wants to play in this game. She knows it is an exciting time and I wish she could play. But she is progressing well and we are looking for an early SEC return for her.”

On how Makayla Epps is doing and if there were any effects lingering from her car accident …
“She is OK. She has looked really good. I think the toughest part of that is behind us. I think she doubted whether she could play on Sunday and once we got past that it was just a little bit of soreness and stiffness. It would have been like if you’d had a really bad collision in the game or something from an injury standpoint. She was cleared and didn’t feel great but was able to play and practiced really well yesterday.”

On if he expects Duke to come in focused Sunday after a loss to No. 1 UConn …
“I don’t know what the problem is, maybe it is something with me, but we just don’t have anybody play bad when we play them it seems like. I don’t know if I am just bad luck or what it is. I do not anticipate Duke playing poorly. I anticipate them playing really well. I think in that game you saw they just had one stretch that was really tough on them but a large portion of the game you could see how good they are. I have watched every game this season and they are an outstanding team. I don’t think we need to expect anything other than a really strong test on Sunday.”

On expanding his thoughts of the team moving all games to Rupp once supply hits demand …
“I don’t know how much sense it really makes for us to play all of our games or a majority of our games at Rupp Arena until every game in Memorial is sold out and there is some indication that there is double that, that wants to get in the doors. Now, you are thinking that Rupp Arena we could close off the top and get a 15,000-seat configuration I would think – and I don’t really think about this a whole lot just really thinking on my feet – I would think you would need to be in that neighborhood that we think we are going to get 15,000-16,000 every night. Then I think it would make some sense and Mr. Barnhart would say it would make some economic sense to go down there and do that. I don’t know if that is sound thinking or good thinking, but that is kind of off the top of my head. I am sure there are people in the business office and ticket office that understand that much better than I do. I don’t think in those terms. When we got here, we were playing five to six games at Rupp a year and were getting very nice crowds for women’s basketball – 8,000 or 9,000 – but it was not a really good atmosphere. I just thought, this place (Memorial Coliseum) was really special and the perfect size for us. If you get 5,000 or 6,000, which I am so appreciative of, when 5,000 people show up out there for one of our games you just can’t believe what an advantage that is for us. It is electric and it is awesome. The Louisville game, there couldn’t have been – I don’t care if the Pacers and Heat were playing – there couldn’t have been a better atmosphere in America than it was in Memorial Coliseum. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it or thinking about it, I just sort of think that people that are a little bit more expert in that area would come to me and say, ‘Hey Matthew, we probably need to think about this.’ That is probably how that would work.”

On UK’s lackluster offense against ETSU …
“Yeah, it was just a total lack of aggressiveness and totally out of character for this team and it just wasn’t a great effort and it just was not where we needed to do. We watched it yesterday, some examples of it. And the first half was really aggressive. The first half was real similar to what we’ve been doing all season and the second half just decision-making went way down, effort went down. None of the things that you want to see. But it’s a long season and they are working hard and, you know, I will continue as a coach to try to avoid situations like that and just hopefully we can line up one season and play with perfect effort every half. But my experience is this team has given a supreme effort in relation to other teams and second half Sunday was just a poor showing, lack of focus and we know we have to get better from that. But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue on Sunday. We certainly won’t be trying to practice that way. We’re trying to explain to them how important their aggressiveness is, and if you’re not aggressive against Duke it won’t be good. We really have to push the tempo. The point guard needs to make a good decision every time down the court. The post players are huge in this game. We’re going to be, probably, a little bit shorter, you know, and lack some size in the post, so we really need to make it an up-tempo, fast-paced game and need to make some really good decisions offensively in transition. That’s what really hurt us, was just our focus started to wane and we need to be really sharp Sunday.”

On whether a go-to player is emerging on offense …
“I think that the two point guards (Jennifer O’Neill and Janee Thompson), I feel really good about them being able to get their own shot. Janee has incredible change of pace, can freeze a defender and can get herself open. Jennifer’s got a variety of things that she can do. She’s got a really nice step-back that can create a shot. But I really think that for us to be the team we need to be, those opportunities need to be at a minimum and if we’ll move the ball and pass the ball and screen really well you won’t get yourself in those positions.”

On what he has seen from his team since the Baylor game …
“I think that we are a pretty close team. I think the girls really care about each other in a way that makes it important for everybody to succeed. And that’s extremely valuable, I think, for our team. The way that we play is so team-oriented and so reliant on all five players doing well that I really think for us to be at our maximum level of success we need to care deeply about each other and this team seems to have a good time together. They seem to be able to work through contact in a healthy way, meaning they don’t seem to hold grudges. We have all sorts of conflict from time to time. They’re very competitive people, you know. There’s conflict on a team; they seem to resolve that in a pretty healthy manner. That’s a good indication of a close team. And then they just play really hard and they cheer for each other, so those things are important, particularly for us. I think we have to be a close-knit bunch. And so the Baylor game was great evidence that we could pull together and get through a tough time and win. I thought the DePaul game to me was one of the best wins we’ve had here ever. To come out of that Baylor game – and like I’ve shared with you all – we play DePaul on Thursday, we played Baylor on Friday and Wednesday I’m still walking in the grocery store and people are still talking about the Baylor game. I just thought it was a difficult game to move on from. DePaul motivated from getting beat so bad the year before. There was a lot going on there, on the road. So the DePaul win showed me as much as the Baylor win just from their sticking together and working together and getting a big victory. So it’s good.”

On what makes Duke’s Elizabeth Williams so good …
“Just her talent level. A kid that size who can move that well, who can shoot the ball well, who can block shots, who can move laterally, who can run, make plays in transition. Just a really high level of talent, really smart kid, knows the game. She was No. 1 player in the country for a reason. She has a lot of talent, a lot of skill. Talented players with skill with great minds, they’re really good.”

On Rupp Arena being an intimidating atmosphere …
“Listen, I think that the crowd—There was 14,000 two years ago for Duke and they were boisterous and loud and rowdy and I’m not sure we were a ton better than Duke that day. But that crowd, there’s no question they helped us that year. It was 18,000 with DePaul (last season) and they were electric and fired up and our team played really hard. I think it’s a huge factor in the game and that’s what I’m telling the team. It’s such an opportunity. It doesn’t happen everywhere, it doesn’t happen often, so just practice the way a Kentucky team practices and get ready to just play like a Kentucky team plays. And if you do that, then the crowd will help. They’ll respond. Make no mistake about it: The reason this game sold out right now, or getting close to that and I think it will be, is because this team’s 11-0 and they’ve played their tails off and they’ve beaten good teams and people want to come watch them play. And so that’s what I’m telling the team. Don’t worry about the scoreboard, don’t worry about the opponent, don’t worry about those kinds of things. In your mind, ‘I have to go play…’ Just go be you. That’s why everybody’s coming out. That’s what they want to see. So just go play Kentucky basketball. And when they do that, I think the crowd can help us a lot.”