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Kentucky-Syracuse Postgame Quotes




March 24, 2014

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Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky, Head Coach:

Opening statement ...
“The first thing I’d like to say is that we’ve been in other people’s buildings the last four years. Louisville, Albuquerque, Ames and St. John’s, and we’ve seen these events pulled off in a first-class fashion, and I just can’t thank our people here at Kentucky enough. It’s just been an incredible experience for our players. The event was put on in a first-class manner. We were just so impressed with how the event ran. So, we were just so thankful to everybody here at Kentucky. These things don’t happen by themselves. People have to work extremely hard to make this happen and myself and the team were very, very grateful for the experience here and how everybody treated us and what a quality event it turned out to be. We appreciated it very much. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our team right now. It’s hard to put into words. These are real, real difficult games. There is so much on the line. Our team has worked so hard to become a team and they wanted to go to the Sweet 16 in the worst way. They prepared so well for this game and I am just really, really pleased that we found a way with our defense to punch through to the next round. I want to compliment Syracuse. Clearly, a very difficult situation for them losing Brittany Sykes and I thought their kids were unbelievable. I thought that they were well-coached, I thought they competed just like you want a team to compete, and so I congratulate them on a tremendous season. That’s a first-class program there. We’re real excited to be moving forward and we’re real appreciative to be moving forward to be getting out of here. The last thing I’ll say here on an overview is the crowd really responded two days in a row. We had an unbelievable environment, so thank you to the fans as well.”

On how it feels to get the win ...
“Well, first of all, I’m just happy for these players. It’s a long way since the middle of January to be sitting here right now. To be moving forward in the tournament, you have to work to do it. I’m just so happy for them and they’ve put a lot of work into this moving forward. What it means for our program a lot of times is different than what it means for a particular team. For our particular team right now, we’ve got to stay really, really focused on the team that is next and right in front of us, whoever that may be. When you take a look back and you pause, for our program, it’s unbelievable. It’s never happened before and it’s a very, very difficult place to get too, and we had a lot of advantages in this game tonight with the home crowd and with Syracuse missing their top scorer, and a lot of things like that. It still was just very, very difficult to make it happen. I’m so proud of the players on a night where clearly the ball didn’t go in the basket for us and we didn’t make the best decisions. We were able to create 23 turnovers and get them at crucial times down the stretch and answering every run that Syracuse made at us is just a tremendous accomplishment for this team and it’s a great place for our program to be, too.”

On the game being close and what he was thinking down the stretch ...
“I was prepared for whatever tonight. I thought there was a chance we could win by large margin tonight. I was prepared for that. I was also prepared for what happened. These are very, very difficult games to play. You lose, and you’re done. Everybody has done all of this here at Kentucky and you wonder if that’s in the back of the player’s minds, that we’re at home and we have to win. I don’t know exactly what is going on in their minds, but what I tried to do was show up and be ready to coach 40 minutes. There were times where I wanted to run out to half-court and scream and go nuts. Sometimes I wanted to leave the building a couple of times with some of the decisions that we were making, but what we had to do tonight was keep our wits about us, we had to stay poised and when they cut it to two, I was glad we were up two. When we were up eight and they cut it to four at the under-four media (timeout), I just thought to myself, ‘Hey, if somebody told you that you were up four going into the final media break to go to the Sweet 16, that’d be a pretty good spot to be in.’ So, I just tried to stay really positive. I tried to stay with the players tonight. I don’t know that I did a very good job of getting them ready for a couple of situations, so give them credit for them finding a way to win. We tried to make a couple of adjustments in the game that hopefully helped us. When they cut it to two, I was just trying to see if I could help them figure out a way to get another basket or encourage them to get another stop. I was really trying to stay very disciplined and poised myself tonight.”

On Bria Goss’ ability to step up at the free throw line ...
“Yeah, it really helped us a lot. It helped us a tremendous amount on a night when it was difficult to score because the opponent played really, really well and the opponent worked hard to keep you from scoring and confused us in so many ways. To have a player fight for loose balls, hang onto the ball when she got fouled, attack the basket when we were struggling to score and have no fear just going up between three people and just getting to the rim and getting to the foul line was huge. A great night for her at the free throw line and it really saved the day.”

On having a deep bench in this tournament ...
“Well, what I think is important right now is for players to play well and not necessarily the amount of players that you’re playing. I think that we had a few players tonight that struggled tonight because Syracuse worked hard and confused us some. We weren’t able to have some of our players have their normal-type game. You look at three of our really, really good guards go 2-for-17 and then you still get through to the Sweet 16. It’s a great night. What I think is important in this tournament, is you need to play well and you need to find players that can perform. We found enough from our team to move forward. We will try and see if we can play better in the next game, but for us, I think 10 players is important so we can keep the pace up and it’s to our advantage if our 10 players in the rotation play well.”

On having to get better for their next game ...
“Any win right now is a good one. We won by a large margin on Saturday and we sat down as a team and we figured out what we needed to sustain from that game and what we needed to improve. We’ll do the same thing here. No matter the margin right now of victory, you need to figure out what we need to do better in the next game. We need to continue to be a growing team, we need to continue to get better between now and Saturday. One thing I try and tell the players is that we can’t just be satisfied with who we are right now. We have a few more days to practice, but we need to get better. I think it’s a very, very beneficial game. There’s a lot to learn from it and it is just a joy to be still playing on the next-to-last weekend of the season. We are going to try and give it our best and see if we can get to the last week of the season.”

DeNesha Stallworth, Kentucky, Forward:

On Syracuse’s defense against her in the second half...
“I think a lot of my points came from my guards just attacking, just looking for me and finding me. There were a couple layups I didn’t finish, but I wasn’t really worried about my scoring just trying to be a presence inside, open up the outside for my guards.”

On playing a gut-it-out game...
“We know that this tournament is not easy. I mean, we have been here before. We’ve played a lot of tough games, played games that we have played really well. I thought today we got in a couple slumps where we weren’t able to execute like we wanted to, but I think having the mental focus to regroup and make plays down the stretch and that what were going to need to do heading to the Sweet 16.”

Kastine Evans, Kentucky, Guard:

On the difficulty of the game and how hard Syracuse played...
“I don’t think it was any more difficult than I thought because their teammate did get hurt and they were going to come out and play hard for her, I think that’s what any team would do. I think if that happened to us we would do the same thing. There still a great team, they won the first game, they proved why they belong in the NCAA tournament. We were more focused on what we had to do and to perform and less focused on them.”

On being able to deliver a key shot for Kentucky after Syracuse would rally to cut into the lead ...
“I think that every time we were focused on our offensive execution. Their press that they had was really trying to wear us down and coach made good adjustments to help us stay on the attack and keep scoring. In this tournament that is something that is going to have to be done, we’re going to have to make the plays down the stretch. It helped being in our house where the fans were really helpful and made a lot of noise when we needed it. Especially when we made big plays.”

Samarie Walker, Kentucky, Forward:

On playing her last game in Memorial...
“It hasn’t hit me yet, I think it will the further we go in the tournament because we’re not going to play here again. But it has been fun playing here and it has been a great experience for me.”

On Bria Goss’ performance tonight and throughout the season...
“Bria always plays hard, especially now she’s playing for the seniors. She obviously plays hard. She’s up for any role we ask her to take. She’s a hustle player now and that’s something that I look up to.”

Quentin Hillsman, Syracuse, Head Coach:

Opening statement ...
“Obviously, you have to give Kentucky a lot of credit. They did an awesome job of just staying poised during a run. That’s what good teams do. They stay poised when you’re making a run at them and they make plays. Every time we made runs, we got it to six, got it to eight, they made a play. We got it to six one time with a 3, throw it out and they get a 3-point shot. Every time we pushed at them, they made an incredible play to kind of stabilize the game. It’s a great team, a bunch of athletes in a great environment for women’s basketball. It’s unique for women’s basketball, to come to a place like this and they bring a great crowd, a very respectable crowd, too. It’s just a very good venue for women’s basketball. I thought the kids really, really competed at a high level today. They played very hard and one thing we talked about in the locker room is making sure we competed at a very high level. We guarded the basketball, we out-rebounded them and I’m very pleased with that. Our kids played hard. Obviously, with one of our best players out, we knew the game was going to be tough, but I thought that Brianna Butler did an unbelievable job in just trying to take on the role of scorer for us and she really did an awesome job of trying to press against shots. I thought Alexis (Peterson) came off the bench and really stabilized us as a point guard. Our point guard future is obviously very bright. We have a young team and they really played hard and I’m really, really pleased with their effort and everything that they’ve done. It’s a great group of kids and they put up with me every day and that’s tough. They just really get after it and they competed, I love them to death.”

On Alexis Peterson and Briana Day’s performances ...
“It was one of those things where when you go through the process of recruiting these players, you always tell them that they’re going to have to play in some big games and they’re going to step up and help you. That’s what happened today. They played in a big game and really stepped up to help us. So, it’s not surprising that they did that because they’re both outstanding players and they both can play at a really high level. For them to come into an atmosphere like this and play fearless and play courageous was just tremendous. You look at those two players and their stat lines, you have 25 points between the two of those players. They’re freshmen and they’ve never played in an environment like this and even when we played at (Texas) A&M, every big game that we’ve played and we’ve won, they had a lot to do with it, so I’m really happy for them. I’m not surprised because they’re really terrific players.”

On the weekend as a whole ...
“It’s really bittersweet and it’s kind of, this will sound crazy, but it’s kind of an intimate trip because when you look down at the other bench and you see JJ (Jelleah Sidney) and you see kids that you watched grow up and you see Jen O’Neill. I’ve known them since they were 12-years-old. Before the game, in the handshake line, before we go through starting lineups, JJ and Jen came over, gave me a hug and told me it was good to see me. It’s kind of a moment where you just don’t want to compete against those players and Jeff (House). He taught me a lot. Jeff, he was in the WNBA and I would go and sit over there with him and go through things. It was a really intimate game and to have Brittney (Sykes) get hurt this weekend, have our kids win the first game, come into tonight and play really tough, it was a very tough weekend, all the way around. It’s bittersweet because I like to see Jen, JJ and those guys be successful. Obviously, I really wanted to win the basketball game and I really wanted to win for our university, for our kids and you hate to have the feeling like you let your kids down in some way, but I think that overall we just really had a great weekend for our program, for our university and most of all, for women’s basketball. I thought it was two very good games.”

Alexis Peterson, Syracuse, Guard:

On keeping the game close, but not being able to take the lead in the second half ...
“I don’t think it was necessarily frustration. I think we just wanted to stay close, wanted to make it a great game. If we could stay within three or four (points) we thought we had a chance. We just wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to win the basketball game.”

On playing without Brittney Sykes...
“Obviously, Brittney is an important piece of our offense. We rely on her, rely on her athleticism. We needed a lot of other people to step up tonight. We not only wanted to do it for Brittney, but for our seniors as well. We just had a great opportunity tonight.”

Brianna Butler, Syracuse, Guard:

On being the focal point of UK’s defensive strategy...
“Offensively, they were definitely pressuring me a lot. They switched defenders so the person guarding me was not tired also. I think they did a good job of pressuring, fighting through screens and doing things that made it hard for me to get an open shot.”

On playing without Brittney Sykes...
“I definitely think under the circumstances, without our best scorer and one of our key rebounders, I think we picked up our intensity level. Other players stepped up. Lex (Peterson) had a good game. We also had (Taylor) Ford step up, Briana Day they all stepped up to pick up the slack. I definitely think we did a great job.”

On Brittney Sykes’ pregame talk with the team ...
“Right before the game she just really said that she was really going to miss us. She understood how much she meant to us. She just really wanted us to keep our heads up, play hard and play smart. She really encouraged us the whole time.”

On the feeling after reflection on the overall season ...
“I think it’s a great feeling to come this far. Building and developing our program, it was a big game for us. First win in the NCAA Tournament was big for us. We just had a very successful year. I think our team did a great job of leading us with a young team. I think we did a really good job making history. It just shows how far Syracuse basketball has come, and where we can go from here.”


 

 

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