Jan. 1, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The sixth-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team opens its 35th season of Southeastern Conference play when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Thursday, Jan. 2 to meet the Alabama Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price or fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats. Live streaming video is available to members of the premium content portion of www.rolltide.com/allaccess/.
Tickets are available at www.rolltide.com.
This marks the fifth time in seven seasons under Matthew Mitchell the Wildcats have opened conference play on the road. Since women’s basketball first came under the auspices of the SEC in the 1982-83 season, the Cats are 15-16 in SEC openers and 5-12 in SEC openers on the road. UK is 3-3 in league openers under Matthew Mitchell, 1-3 on the road. UK has won its last two SEC openers, both vs. Florida. The last time UK and Alabama met in an SEC opener was in 2005 under Mickie DeMoss. The Tide won at home, 69-63, in overtime. This marks the third straight season UK has met Alabama on the road.
“We are thanking God we’re at Kentucky and ready for another SEC season and really excited about it,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our first game will be a big challenge against a very tough Alabama team that has been a place we’ve had to go to the last two years and play. They have proven to be tough games our last two years. We have a lot of veterans on our team and they understand the challenge that is ahead of them. We had a very good practice yesterday and we’ll have to practice well today to get ready for a tough Alabama team. There are some good athletes on that team. They push the tempo, so we definitely need to do a good job in transition defense against them. They have really explosive guards. Shafontaye Myers has the second-best 3-point field goal percentage in our league and Daisha Simmons is really pushing the pace as their point guard. We have a big preparation day today to try and get ready for a good Alabama team and try to see if we can get a victory down there.”
Thursday will mark the 40th meeting in the all-time series with Alabama. The Wildcats lead the overall series 23-16, but trail 10-8 when the game is played in Tuscaloosa. UK has won eight of the last nine matchups, including last season’s meeting, 87-70, in Foster Auditorium.
The Wildcats finished their nonconference season at 12-1, just the seventh one-loss conference season in 40 years of varsity basketball. The only setback was vs. No. 2 Duke in Rupp Arena on Dec. 22. In 13 nonconference games, UK finished 7-1 at home, 5-0 on the road and 2-1 vs. ranked opponents.
UK currently ranks in the top 25 nationally in seven different statistical categories, including third in scoring offense (94.5 ppg) and steals per game (13.3), sixth in turnover margin (8.62), ninth in won-lost percentage (92.3), 10th in scoring margin (26.9), 23rd in field goal percentage (46.3) and 24th in rebounding margin (10.3).
Overall this season, senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.), who has missed the last four games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Dec. 18, leads a very balanced scoring attack this season as one of six 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.) follows with 12.6 points per game. Senior forward Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) and sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) are averaging 11.5 and 11.0 points per game, respectively, while junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) and senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) round out the double-digit scorers with 10.5 and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Walker is the team’s leading rebounder with 9.3 rebounds per game, while 6-foot-3 center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) has swatted a team-high 16 blocks this season.
The Crimson Tide, under the direction of first-year head coach Kristy Curry, enter the contest at 7-6 on the season after wins vs. Wisconsin (70-62), Alabama A&M (60-32), Cal State Fullerton (69-54), Houston (51-44), Jacksonville (75-62), Troy (113-105 OT) and Coppin State (82-60) and losses to Chattanooga (82-70), No. 15/12 Nebraska (62-48), No. 2 Duke (92-57), Saint Mary’s (86-76), UT Martin (75-57) and Princeton (79-59).
Senior guard Shafontaye Myers leads the Tide in scoring at 14.7 points per contest. Junior guard Daisha Simmons, who led the team last season in points and rebounds, follows with 14.1 points. She is grabbing a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game again this season. Freshman forward Ashley Williams averages 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Media Opportunity - January 1, 2014
Opening Statement …
“We are thanking God we’re at Kentucky and ready for another SEC season and really excited about it. Our first game will be a big challenge against a very tough Alabama team that has been a place we’ve had to go to the last two years and play. They have proven to be tough games our last two years. We have a lot of veterans on our team and they understand the challenge that is ahead of them. We had a very good practice yesterday and we’ll have to practice well today to get ready for a tough Alabama team. There are some good athletes on that team. They push the tempo, so we definitely need to do a good job in transition defense against them. They have really explosive guards. Shafontaye Myers has the second-best 3-point field goal percentage in our league and Daisha Simmons is really pushing the pace as their point guard. We have a big preparation day today to try and get ready for a good Alabama team and try to see if we can get a victory down there.”
On what areas the team needs to improve defensively…
“I just think consistency is the thing I would look for. We have some good players and we have players that make plays in the game, but I just still don’t feel like from a team aspect we always have five players in the right position and executing the correct fundamentals throughout the possessions. It’s I think 100 percent on me as the coach to create an environment in practice where you are held accountable for mistakes where they have enough reps where they don’t make mistakes. I just really think it’s a product of practice and trying to get there, but we’re just not quite as tight and sharp as a team as I’d like for us to be or we’re not as sharp as we need to be as a team to be the kind of team we want to become. This morning we’re really going to try and spend some quality time on some fundamentals of defense and try to get our team much sharper in fundamentals as far as your stance, footwork and your position.”
On if he thinks concentrating on offense primarily during the offseason caused the defense to struggle…
“I think what we felt, big picture-wise what we needed to do, was take a step forward offensively and so I think that may have some impact, but I think also with the way games are being called and as you watch games from last year you say ‘well that would be a foul, that would be a foul.’ I think our fundamentals just have to be a little sharper than they have been in the past, and not that we’ve had poor fundamentals, but if you didn’t close out correctly and you let them go to the middle for instance, you might be able to get in there and bump them a little and level them off with your body and they wouldn’t call that. Now, you just can’t do that. That’s why it’s so important in our system to close out correctly on the wing and send them baseline where the help is. We’re just not as sharp on that, so I think it might be a combination, but I think it’s more the way we are calling the game, which all the coaches have gotten behind and scoring is up. We think that’s good for women’s basketball, but for our team in particular we just need to sharpen up on our fundamentals.”
On whether there is anything that makes Bria Goss good at taking charges …
“Yes, she takes them. I’m serious. She doesn’t hop out of the way when the ball handler’s coming toward the basket, is the distinct advantage she has over the rest of the team. So the fact that she will just take one is key to her success there. That’s another major issue on our team that we haven’t done as well as we can and we need to. You get people in a hurry, you get them out of their offensive set, eventually they’re putting their head down and going to the basket and we either have to start taking charges or, you know—I don’t know if Azia Bishop’s a member of a religion that’s not for taking charges or what that is. Somebody like her, I told her either take a charge or you’re going to have to start blocking shots because she will not take a charge. And so you have to make some kind of play at the rim. You either have to take a charge, which I think is easier to do because that’s an easier call for the official. Sometimes you think you (block) one clean and they call a foul. Sometimes you hammer somebody and they don’t call a foul. It’s just sort of up in the air. So I’m for taking charges and I think our team needs to that. It’s a little difficult to practice that. You kind of try to balance out how much contact you plan in practice, so we’ve worked on it some but I just think at some point it has to be our players’ mindset. And Bria has a great mindset for that. She’s really the only person that’s doing it consistently well on the team and that needs to change, I think.”
On whether taking charges is an art form …
“It can be. Yeah, I think that there are definitely players that are better at it than others. And it’s all just, in my mind, I think it’s all just—people that don’t do it that well are just afraid of the contact or afraid of the fall or not in a real good stance. I think you really need to get your stance really low and I think it helps when you keep position and take the hit. Azia tried to take one – I shouldn’t beat up on Azia too bad about it – she tried to take one the last game and she got there but she fell before the contact and they’re not calling that. And so being able to square it up and take it with your upper body and showing the official that collision and the more you can fall back. You know, Bria’s good at it. A’dia Mathies was really good at it. We’ve had some players here in the past that have sort of made it an art form. And we have several that have not.”
On whether taking charges can be taught …
“We try to teach how to beat somebody to the spot with defensive footwork and we try to instruct them on getting low and taking the hit. I think you can help people get in better position, but people who are really good at it—I don’t think Bria does a good job with it because anything that I’ve really taught her. I think that people that are really good at it have sort of figured out how to do it, whether that is before they got here. But I don’t know that I’m a great coach at showing them how to take charges. We try. We try to teach that as part of our defensive fundamentals.”
On if there have been less charges called based on the new rules …
“No, I think the charge call hasn’t changed and shouldn’t have. If you are in a legal guarding position, usually you have to be set - they will tell you that you don’t. For instance, sometimes you are moving your feet and the player displaces you. That is a charge. I don’t think there should be anything different this year.
On the strength of the SEC ...
“I have been asked this before and I don’t know where I stand as far as the other 13 coaches in the league. I think people have said the league has been weak because we haven’t gotten to a Final Four or won a national championship in a while. I don’t think that is the best indicator for how strong the league is. Connecticut has won a bunch of national championships and I think they have been the best team for a while, but I am not for sure that necessarily meant the Big East is the best conference. I don’t think that Final Fours or (national championships) – those identify great teams and the champion obviously is a great team. As far as leagues go, when everybody was saying the SEC was down I didn’t see it. I just thought it was a tremendous league. We were having players drafted and players were functioning at a high level in the WNBA and overseas professionally. The coaching is good. I think that it has been consistently very strong top to bottom. I think the strength of our league you really start to look at the middle and the bottom. How good are those teams? I don’t know what it says about us, but we were the champions in 2012 and we lost at Alabama and Alabama wasn’t just some terrible team. They didn’t have a great record, but they had great players and played well that night and beat us. To me, when you are in a league where every game – and clearly I think we have a chance in every game and can win every game with the players we have – but if we don’t play hard and play together I don’t see a team in the league that couldn’t find a way to beat you on a given night. There may be a couple of exceptions there, but I just don’t see them. I think the league is very healthy and strong.”