No. 8 Kentucky Puts Six-game Win Streak On Line vs. No. 13 Duke

Dec. 20, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. - After a week off from game action for final exams, the eighth-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team returns to the hardwood, looking to keep its six-game winning streak alive when it takes on No. 13 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday, Dec. 21. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 and WatchESPN at 3 p.m. ET with Tiffany Greene and Stephanie White calling the action. It also will be broadcast live on the UK Radio Network with Neil Price.

Gameday Central
Kentucky at Duke
Sunday, Dec. 21 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Durham, N.C..
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | DU Get Acrobat Reader
Coverage
TV: ESPN2
Radio: UK Sports Network
Online Audio
Live Stats
Live Video via WatchESPN
Twitter
Text Updates

Tickets are available on www.goduke.com.

Kentucky (10-1) has been forced to deal with a major blow to its roster this week as senior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis), who has played in 117 straight games, will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken left thumb. Goss, one of the team's best defenders, is averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game this season.

"We can either view that as a negative or we can really look at it as a great opportunity to sort of be forced into getting better with our bigs," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "In some of the tight games that we've been in, I've sort of bailed them out by putting Makayla (Epps) at the four and I think for us long term in a game like this, we're probably going to have to have some size on the floor as you look at some of the bigger teams in the SEC, it's going to be necessary for our young post players to come along and contribute this season. It's a big test for them, on the road, at Duke, against a really big front line and so I think they're getting better. There is nothing but opportunity ahead of them on Sunday because it will be a very difficult challenge for them, and we will see how they do. But, they are (improving). They're hard workers and I can see incremental growth and progress and we just have to stay with it, and I have to stay extremely patient with them right now."

Kentucky is coming off its sixth-straight win after defeating Belmont last Sunday, 71-55, in Memorial Coliseum. UK had solid contribution from its front court as Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) came off the bench for a season-high 15 points and career-high tying 12 boards. In addition, freshman center Alexis Jennings (Madison, Ala.), the reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, charted 10 points, five rebounds and a block off the bench. Sophomore forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Lebanon, Ky.) added eight points in just 10 minutes in action.

Overall this season, the Wildcats have benefited from a balanced scoring attack. Seven players average 7.0 points or more with its four veteran guards as the top four scorers. Senior Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.), a Naismith Trophy Watch List candidate, leads with way with 15.2 points per game which ranks sixth in the Southeastern Conference. Sophomores Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.) and Linnae Harper (Chicago) come off the bench for 13.6 and 10.0 ppg, while junior point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) rounds out the double-figure scorers with 10.5 ppg. Bishop is the team's leading rebounder with 7.1 per game, but Harper, a 5-8 guard, follows close behind with 6.5 rpg. Harper has grabbed at least seven rebounds in three straight games.

After losing three in a row, the Blue Devils (7-3) have won their last two games at home vs. Oklahoma and UMass Lowell. Duke is 0-2 vs. the SEC this season with losses to No. 7/6 Texas A&M and No. 1/2 South Carolina.

Senior center Elizabeth Williams leads Duke in scoring and rebounding with 14.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. She also leads the team and ranks seventh nationally in blocks per game with 3.5.

Duke leads the nation in rebounding margin, outrebounding its opponent by a +22.7 margin. The Blue Devils also rank in the top 10 nationally in defensive rebounds (3rd-33.0) and blocks per game (7th-6.5).

"We have quite a challenge in front of us," Mitchell said. "We have quite a mountain to climb literally and figuratively. (Duke) is an unbelievably big team. The biggest team in Duke history is what they're saying. They just have massive size, so it will be a very interesting game. We are not the biggest Kentucky team in history, but we do have some speed and quickness so we will have to try and see which style will win out. We are going to have to prepare like crazy here the next few days and go over and try and meet a real, real stern challenge at Duke. They have a very good basketball team."

The Wildcats are 1-4 all-time vs. the Blue Devils, 0-1 in Durham, N.C. However, the Cats are 2-0 vs. ranked teams this season after defeating No. 8/9 Baylor in Rupp Arena on Nov. 17 and No. 7/7 Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 7.

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Media Opportunity - December 18, 2014

Opening statement ...
"We have quite a challenge in front of us. We have quite a mountain to climb literally and figuratively. (Duke) is an unbelievably big team. The biggest team in Duke history is what they're saying. They just have massive size, so it will be a very interesting game. We are not the biggest Kentucky team in history, but we do have some speed and quickness so we will have to try and see which style will win out. We are going to have to prepare like crazy here the next few days and go over and try and meet a real, real stern challenge at Duke. They have a very good basketball team."

On filling the void without Bria Goss ...
"We're making progress. There is no doubt that we're making progress. It's like I told them, Bria's (Goss) injury - we can either view that as a negative or we can really look at it as a great opportunity to sort of be forced into getting better with our bigs. In some of the tight games that we've been in, I've sort of bailed them out by putting Makayla (Epps) at the four and I think for us long term in a game like this, we're probably going to have to have some size on the floor as you look at some of the bigger teams in the SEC, it's going to be necessary for our young post players to come along and contribute this season. It's a big test for them, on the road, at Duke, against a really big front line and so I think they're getting better. There is nothing but opportunity ahead of them on Sunday because it will be a very difficult challenge for them, and we will see how they do. But, they are (improving). They're hard workers and I can see incremental growth and progress and we just have to stay with it, and I have to stay extremely patient with them right now."

On the continued work of the post players ...
"Yeah, and we have too. We just have too. I appreciate that Coach Amadou spends with them, because it's just necessary. We don't have a chance any other way. We hope that in a month's time, or two months' time, I hope we're not still talking about their progress. They'll still be growing all season, but I'm just saying that we need to come alive there. It's hard to ask that of them. I recruited Alexis (Jennings) and Alyssa (Rice) both because I thought they had the character to come in and do the work necessary to come in and contribute to this team because we knew we were losing real major people in Samarie (Walker) and DeNesha (Stallworth.) They have to work that hard. We had a good session after practice yesterday with just Alyssa, Azia (Bishop), Coach Amadou and myself were just down there for about a half hour after practice and there was some really good stuff happening. You just want to see it show up on the court at some point in time, and I think it will."

On someone needing to step in defensively for Bria Goss ...
"Well, it's another great opportunity. Who is really going to step up and be a defensive stopper now? Who is going to step up? When we were against South Florida and they had that great, dynamic scorer, we just put Bria on her, and Bria didn't let her see much daylight. Mariah Moore is a great player at Louisville, and we were very concerned about her, and we just put Bria on her and it was hard for her to get open because Bria just has that toughness and tenacity and experience. Now, Makayla needs to become that. Makayla is very strong and in great shape. I don't think she views herself that way, so now here is an opportunity for her to get in the game. Sink or swim. Bria can't bail us out, so what are we going to do and how are we going to respond? I think that you have to find the silver lining in these kinds of things. You must. And really, if we respond correctly, maybe we can be stronger in a month when Bria comes back and I told Bria it could be something greater for you. Maybe this gets us deeper into the tournament and makes us stronger. I don't know. It will be up to the players on the team to decide on how we're going to respond to it, but that's the biggest thing to me, is that Bria is a real security blanket for us defensively when somebody's really got the hot hand and Bria can kind of bail us out if somebody is not there, so Jen (O'Neill) is very capable of denying somebody and getting in somebody's face, Janee (Thompson) is, there is no doubt that Makayka is, and even a player like Kyvin Goodin-Rogers is a player that athletically could maybe try and get on a wing player and try to do that. There are a lot of prospects for growth there if we try and view it that way and go out there and get it done."

On who his starting five will be without Bria Goss ...
"We're working our way through that. I don't know exactly. For certain, we've got to replace Bria, so I would think those candidates would be Makayla and Linnae (Harper).  One thing I really love about Makayla coming off the bench is it gives you that lift, and Linnae does the same thing. It won't matter a whole lot. We'll just do what we think is the best for the team. Both of those kids obviously are very important to our team, they both have been given us a lift off the bench, so that will be the route we will go.

On the guards being critical to the outcome of the game ...
"I don't think it'll be any secret that we'll need to try and speed it up if we can. If the ball gets down there in the paint a lot, Elizabeth Williams is just fantastic and (Azura) Stevens is just so big, and they're just so big down there that it's almost like when we play Kelsey Bone at A&M. When she got it, it was just let's get ready to get the ball out of the basket and go the other way because there isn't much we can do. It's a hard cover once it gets in the paint. You're just trying to make them as uncomfortable as possible and you're just hoping you can keep it out of the paint as much as possible, and if it gets in there, try and make it tough, but if they score, try and go back and see if you can keep the tempo up. It is very important for our guards to play tough and solid, and we'll really have to rise up to the occasion here. We're really going to have to play with tremendous intensity on the perimeter because they're just so big. I mean, really, if you give them any chance at all, they'll just lob it up to Stevens or Williams and it's almost like a jump ball. So who can jump the highest? They're probably going to jump higher than us. The guards are critical for us defensively in this game for us and without Bria, it's a big challenge."

On the probability of facing the zone ...
"I think we'll see a bunch of zone. We always do in the conference. It's critical. One thing that I'm optimistic about is that we have a little bit more shooting right now with Alexis and Kyvin who both give us some added shooting dimension that we really haven't had in the past and Jaycee Coe has been working for a couple of months trying to catch up and the tide has seemed to turn in practice for her. She looks totally different in practice and so her 3-point shooting, whether she's a factor on Sunday or not - the point is I feel like we have added some shooting. If they can just continue to progress, it helps you in the zone. We're really looking forward to today's practice where we can get some great reps. We feel like we have some good action that we can go over and attack their zone."