UK Hoops Start 42nd Season Friday vs. Rice

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will open its 42nd season of varsity basketball on Friday when it plays host to Rice at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. The game will serve as both the season and home opener for UK Hoops, who have won six consecutive home openers in Memorial Coliseum.

Season tickets and single-game tickets for the 2015-16 season are on sale now through Ticketmaster. Season tickets (including Rupp Arena games) are available for $65 online at UKathletics.com/tickets or by calling the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818 or (800) 928-2287. Single-game reserved tickets are $9 for all ages, while adult general admission single-game tickets are $8.  For those aged 6-18 or 65-and-over, general admission costs are $5 per ticket.  Children age five-and-under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.

The game will be live streamed on the SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro and Christi Thomas calling the action. SEC Network+ is available through WatchESPN. The game can also be heard live on the UK Sports Radio Network with Neil Price calling the action for the 11th consecutive season. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call on Fox Sports 1580AM.

Gameday Central
Kentucky vs. Rice
Friday, Nov. 13 -7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky. - Memorial Coliseum
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | Rice Get Acrobat Reader
Coverage

SEC Network+
Radio: UK Sports Radio Network (1580AM in Lexington)
Game Center (free audio, live stats)
Twitter
Text Updates

Complete parking information is listed below, but fans are encouraged to come early as parking will be limited around Memorial Coliseum on Friday due to several events on north campus. For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit www.ukathleticsgameday.com/hoops.  

“By the time we take the floor tomorrow night, it will be 34 practices and a bunch of hours spent trying to get ready for it,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “And it’s always an exciting time when you open up the season. So this team’s put a lot into it. We are very much a work in progress, but I’m excited about the future of this team. And tomorrow night’s a big step for us against Rice University. I have a lot of respect for Tina Langley and what she’s accomplished and I know she’ll have her team fired up in her first game at Rice. So I know they have a lot of good players back and it’ll be a battle. I know our players are excited for it and we’re gonna get after it and play as hard as we can and try to take a big step forward tomorrow night.”

The Wildcats are coming off an impressive performance in their lone exhibition game of the season last Sunday vs. Union University, defeating the Bulldogs in Memorial Coliseum, 95-63. Six different UK players scored in double figures, while the Wildcats won the battle of points in the paint, 50-6, and scored 28 points off 26 Union turnovers. UK also won the rebounding battle and took control of the game with a 13-0 run in the first quarter.

Sophomore forward/center Alexis Jennings led the way with a double-double, going for 12 rebounds and 20 points, while senior guard Janee Thompson had 17 points and seven assists in her first game back after missing the last 17 games last season with an injury. The other Wildcats in double-figure scoring were junior forward Evelyn Akhator with 12 points, freshman guard Maci Morris with 10 points, freshman forward Batouly Camara with 15 points and junior forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers with 12 points.
    
Kentucky is in its ninth season under Mitchell, who is the winningest head coach in program history. Last year, the Wildcats posted a 24-10 record and earned a school-record sixth-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, hosting the first and second rounds for the second consecutive season.

Mitchell and Co. return two starters from last year’s team that defeated six ranked opponents, including three ranked top-10 nationally at the time UK defeated them. Senior guard Janee Thompson, who has recovered from an injury that sidelined her for the final 17 games last season, and junior guard Makayla Epps are the returning starters for Kentucky. Thompson was averaging 10.1 points per game at the time of her injury, while Epps led the Southeastern Conference in scoring during league play and was named First-Team All-SEC by league coaches.

The Wildcats also return junior forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, sophomore post players Alexis Jennings – a member of the All-SEC Freshman Team last year – and Alyssa Rice. Senior center Ivana Jakubcova returns as well after missing last season due to injury.

Five newcomers complete the roster for Kentucky, including last year’s WBCA Junior/Community College Player of the Year, Evelyn Akhator. True freshman guards Maci Morris and Taylor Murray join true freshman forward Batouly Camara and look to make an immediate impact in their first season with Kentucky. Cincinnati transfer Makenzie Cann will sit out the 2015-16 seasons due to NCAA transfer rules.

Kentucky will begin the year ranked No. 17 in the USA Today/Coaches Preseason Top 25 and No. 18 Associated Press Preseason Top 25. The preseason rankings mark the sixth consecutive season the Wildcats have been ranked inside the top 20 of both major polls to start the season. UK has been ranked in each poll since week 13 of the 2009-10 season, the longest ranking streak in program history.  

Friday marks the first all-time meeting between Kentucky and Rice, including the first time Mitchell has faced Rice during his head coaching career. The Owls are entering their first year under Tina Langley, who spent the last seven years at Maryland as the associate head coach.
Last year, Rice finished with a 9-21 overall record, including a 4-14 mark in Conference USA action. The Owls won just one road match during the 2014-15 season, edging out UTSA in overtime for a 62-58 victory on Jan. 14. Rice held the statistical advantage over its opponents in rebounds per game (42.6-40.6), assists per game (13.1-11.5) and blocks per game (3.7-2.6)

The team returns two of its starters, while also featuring seven newcomers. Jasmine Goodwine is the returning scoring leader, as she was second on the team in 2014-15 in both points (10.8 ppg) and rebounds (4.6 ppg), and also led the team in blocks (34). Goodwine started all 30 games for the Owls last year.  

The Owls were knocked out of the C-USA Tournament in the first round, nearly upsetting the No. 5 seed Old Dominion but falling in a 62-57 decision.  

For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, follow @UKHoopCats on Twitter and Instagram, or like Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook

Spectator parking is located in the following areas:

  • All E-lots surrounding Memorial Coliseum are off control beginning 3 hours prior to tip.  This includes the College of Education E-lots, located off Scott Street.
  • The South Limestone Garage (PS#5, adjacent to Kennedy's Bookstore) and the Rose Street Garage (PS#2) are available 2 hours prior to tip-off.
  • Lexington Authority Transit Center Parking Garage is available after 5 p.m. ET on weekdays and all day on weekends.
  • 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. 
  • Disabled parking is available in the E-Lot (Employee Lot) north of the Joe Craft Center, adjacent to the metered spaces running along the front of the Craft Center with a valid, state issued disabled hang tag.  These spaces are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis until full.

Please note: parking is prohibited in any R-lots (Residential). Vehicles parked 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 2 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.
  • The Parking Structure #5 shuttle (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.  The pickup/drop off point near Memorial Coliseum is at the Euclid entrance. 
  • Transit Center Parking Garage (green route) picks up/drops off near the corner of High Street and Martin Luther King.  The pickup/drop off point near Memorial Coliseum is near the Ticket Office at the Lexington Avenue entrance. 
  • 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 Memorial Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.
  • UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
  • Surface lots (i.e. Joe Craft Center North, Rose Street lot and the Alumni Center lot) reach capacity approximately 1.5 hours prior to tip-off, at which point vehicles should proceed directly to the South Limestone Garage (PS#5), Rose Street Garage (PS#2), the E-lots near the College of Education or the Lexington Authority Transit Center Parking Garage near High Street and Lexington Avenue.

For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit http://ukathleticsgameday.com/hoops/.

Matthew Mitchell Pre-Rice News Conference

Opening Statement...
“By the time we take the floor tomorrow night, it will be 34 practices and a bunch of hours spent trying to get ready for it.  And it’s always an exciting time when you open up the season.  So this team’s put a lot into it.  We are very much a work in progress, but I’m excited about the future of this team.  And tomorrow night’s a big step for us against Rice University.  I have a lot of respect for Tina Langley and what she’s accomplished and I know she’ll have her team fired up in her first game at Rice.  So I know they have a lot of good players back and it’ll be a battle. I know our players are excited for it and we’re gonna get after it and play as hard as we can and try to take a big step forward tomorrow night.”

On the team being a work in progress and what he hopes to see…
“Well, we’re as inexperienced as we’ve been in a long, long time here.  Starting my ninth season, I don’t recall (being as inexperienced). In my first two teams that we had here, my first year here we had quite a few veterans back my second year.  It’s probably been since the 2011 season where we really played a lot of inexperienced kids.  So it’s been several seasons since we’ve been this short on experience.  But I just want to see them really hustle and play with a lot of grit and determination and really scrap tomorrow night, because that’s where the magic’s gonna be for this team.  And the things that we’ve tried to emphasize, we want to do well.  I was so proud of them on Sunday for the way that we avoided fouling and we didn’t have hand checks.  Something simple like that, we’re going to try tomorrow night to be very tenacious defensively without fouling and we’re going to try to be very tough on the boards.  So simple things like staying in your stance, leveling off the ball, holding your box out, securing the rebound.  Real, real simple things.  But if they do that with great effort , we have some explosiveness on this team and some offensive firepower that I think we all saw a glimpse of last Sunday.  So we’ll keep it real simple tomorrow night and try to play harder than Rice.  That would be a great outcome for us if we could do that.”

On how much he has had to change the philosophy in the past few weeks…
“Well, when you have experience and you have depth, you can throw a few more things at a team and you can practice maybe a little bit longer.  When you have smaller numbers, and we’ve really been banged up this last week, not only with lack of experience but injury and players missing practice for different reasons, we haven’t been able to throw as much as our players as you like to do.  Sometimes when you’re early in the season, you like try to install a lot of stuff and get that stuff in, and then you can sharpen it up as the season goes on.  We’ve had to stay pretty basic with this group, which is not bad.  It does not mean that they can’t play good basketball, it just means that we have simplified things a little bit.  And then we just don’t practice as long as maybe sometimes I would like to.  Because as a coach, you’re trying to get everything in and trying to get things installed.  And so sometimes you have to realize as a coach, your comfort level is not the most important thing.  It’s really responding to what you have in front of you from your team.  So we’ve had to shorten our practices a little bit and we’ve had to simplify schemes, but it’s all in response to what’s best for this team and this group of players.  And one thing that I’m not concerned about right now is ‘are they gonna come in practice and hustle?’  So that’s a very comforting thought for me as a coach.  And certainly, we’ve tried to hang our hat on being a team that plays with great effort.  So they’re doing that right now.”

On the differences four periods instead of two halves makes on the game…
“Well, I made the mistake of calling them quarters.  So I just want everyone to know they’re periods.  So you would think they’re quarters.  You would think they’re four quarters.  But I had to learn this.  The four periods that we played last Sunday, I think, are going to lead to a lot of excitement for our game.  It’s gonna change a lot of strategies in the last minute of the game.  Now you can call a timeout and advance the ball.  So a six-point lead with 10 seconds left used to be some type of miraculous situation.  Now you just need a kid to miss a couple of free throws a couple times and if you have the timeouts, you can get it in there and make a three in two or three seconds.  Foul again, they miss more free throws, go back, tie the game.  So from that standpoint, you can see some major changes, so I think that’s going to be exciting.  And then you just have doubled your end of clock situation.  So we’ve worked on that.  At the end of one of the periods, the way we played defense needed to be a little bit different because the clock was gonna run down and that wouldn’t have happened without that.  So there are gonna be some changes that we all have to become good at strategically, and I think it’ll just make everybody better and make our game more exciting, I believe.”

On Makayla Epps’ injury situation…
“Well, we still don’t know.  She has to complete the concussion protocol, so we are still in that, and I’ll be able to get you a better update probably after the game tomorrow night.  So right now, she is in the concussion protocol, which means she is not cleared to practice.  So we are hopeful.  But today’s a big day for her to see where she is, but one thing you have to make certain is that you take care of the player.  And we’re just not rushing anything to make sure that she’s ready to roll when it’s time.  There’s no pressure for her to play on Sunday whatsoever, and it’s just part of the game and part of the things that happen.  She really got her bell rung there and it’s been a tough thing to get past.  But she’s been doing well and we anticipate a full recovery; we just don’t know when.  We’ll have more information for you after the game.”

On Janee Thompson’s play after coming back from injury…
“It’s still a work in progress there, so we’re still paying attention to her workload.  Right now, what it is, as you saw she performed very well.  She’s continued to shoot the ball great in practice this week and it’s just a matter of how much recovery does she need and making sure we don’t put too much workload on her right now.  But she felt good, a little sore and banged up after the game but that’s to be expected right now with the type of injury that she had.  She looks good right now. But we just have a great plan with Courtney Jones.  Our trainer is just the best there is and Janee’s taken an active role in taking care of her body, so I feel really good that we’re on top of that situation and it looks good for her right now.”

On the mindset he and Janee have taken on her recovery and practice…
“I’m really trying to pay close attention to it, because she’s a competitor.  But she’s been great.  If I see a sign and I’m like, ‘hey, do you need a break right now?’ she’ll be like, “yeah, I do.’  So it’s not totally her because she’s such a competitor and she understands how important she is to the team.  But what I’ve tried to explain to her is that patience right now and having the big picture in focus is so important because we just need to do it right and get her fully back on her feet where she is as if the injury has not occurred.  That’s what you’re trying to get back to, and so everybody’s got to a great job paying attention and making sure we’re handling it well.  And like I just said, I think we are.  I think we’re in a good spot there.  But she has not ever tried to handle it poorly.  She’s handled it great.  And if I ever mention to her, ‘it looks to me like you need a break,’ she hasn’t fought me on that or been resistant.  So she’s really, really handled it well and done a good job.”

On how the post presence has changed…
“Well, one thing we’ve really tried to commit to early in the season is being more intentional about giving the players time to drill post entries.  I would say, after 34 practices, I bet you 28 of them began with post entry drill every time.  So it’s a signal to the players that we want to get it into the post.  We want the post players really working hard so they could get open, and we want the guards with their eyes up.  And as I’ve examined it over the last few years, we just haven’t been as good in the area as I’ve wanted to be.  So what I’ve seen with this team, if you emphasize something , they’re such hard workers and conscientious kids that they’ll give it to you.  So I wanted to try and be intentional with that.  And that’s something that we’ve tried to begin practice with every day is that post entry drill.  And it’s really paid off.  We’re throwing it more into the post now probably more than we ever did at any point last season.  In practice, I mean.  So some of that is working on it and helping the players be more confident in their ability to do that.  Certainly if you have targets like Evelyn (Akhator), Alexis (Jennings) and Batouly (Camara), the people that showed on the court on Sunday.  And when Alyssa(Rice) gets back, all of those players are good players and are working hard.  So our confidence level is higher in that area than it’s been in a while.  And I think it’s a combination of having good players and being really intentional about it.”

On if the increase in post plays will help in the long run…
“It puts a lot of pressure on the defense to make a decision when you can throw it in to a kid like Alexis Jennings.  Are you going to double team her?  Or if you don’t double team her she’s got a great chance of scoring. Evelyn Akhator, just finishing a play instead of having to manufacture something.  Do a great job of the fundamentals, throw the ball in and score.  So it’s a huge advantage for offensive efficiency when you can get the ball close to the basket and finish.  And last year, frankly, we just had a hard time.  Alyssa was rushed a lot, Alexis wasn’t in the best of shape and couldn’t do it the whole time.  We just had some challenges with some lineups, throwing the ball in and getting buckets.  And it made it hard on us.  We were a two seed in the NCAA tournament shooting the ball below 40 percent.  It’s a real testament to how tough that team was, not being a very good offensive team.  So we should benefit from that, and I think post play for us is gonna be important this year.”