Jan. 17, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 10/12 Kentucky women's basketball team looks to continue its winning ways when it travels to Auburn, Ala., on Sunday, Jan. 19 to take on Auburn at 1 p.m. CT/2 p.m. ET in Auburn Arena. The game will be televised live on SEC TV with Cara Capuano and LaChina Robinson calling the action. Fans can also watch a live video stream on WatchESPN, listen to the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price or follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats.
For tickets go to www.auburntigers.com.
The Wildcats (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a bye-week as their last game was an 80-69 win over Missouri on Sunday. Overall, UK is 8-2 at home and 5-1 away from home, including 1-1 on the road in SEC play. UK is averaging 82.5 points per game away from Lexington, with four players (Kastine Evans, Jennifer O'Neill, DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker) averaging 10.5 points or more.
"We have a very tough game ahead with a very good Auburn team and they pose a lot of problems for you there," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "They are very, very aggressive defensively, forcing 20 turnovers a game in conference play and they throw a lot of multiple looks your way. They are long, athletic, aggressive defenders and can make it really tough on you to score. They've done a great job defensively. I think, Tyrese Tanner is going be one of the top players in the conference. She's really improved since last year, just an explosive athlete, scorer, really does a lot of things well. Just their overall team is a really tough, explosive team. So going on the road in this league is always tough. It will be tough Sunday afternoon and we'll have to prepare well to win."
This marks just the 43rd all-time meeting against Auburn. The Tigers lead the all-time series 25-17, including an 11-6 advantage when playing in Auburn. However, the Wildcats have been successful as of late vs. the Tigers as they have won the last five games by an average of +23.6 points. The Cats have won two in a row on the road at Auburn, the last loss coming on Feb. 28, 2010 (65-53). Last season in Lexington, UK defeated the Tigers, 97-53, the most points scored against an Auburn team in program history. The 44-point victory also ranked as the third-largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent in school history.
Senior DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) leads a very balanced scoring attack this season as one of six players in double-figures. The 6-foot-3 forward averages 12.8 points per game, to go along with 6.3 rebounds per game. Junior point guard Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) narrowly follows Stallworth with 12.5 ppg, while senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) drops in 11.2 ppg. Senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio), sophomore point guard Janee Thompson and junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) round out the double-digit scorers with 10.5, 10.3 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. Walker is the SEC's leading rebounder with 9.8 rebounds per game, while Goss leads the league and ranks 11th nationally in free-throw shooting percentage at 91.2 percent (52-of-57).
Auburn enters Sunday's game at 11-6 on the season and 2-2 in SEC play after wins over Mississippi State (82-74) and Alabama (61-39) and losses to Vanderbilt (74-65) and South Carolina (72-60).
The Tigers are 6-2 at home, 3-3 on the road and 2-1 on a neutral court this season.
In SEC games, Auburn ranks first in steals (11.5), second in blocked shots (6.8), third in rebounding defense (34.8) and fourth in assists (14.0).
Senior guard/forward Tyrese Tanner, who led the team in scoring last season, once again leads Auburn in scoring and rebounding with 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Hasina Muhammad and Brandy Montgomery are the other Tigers averaging double-figures at 12.3 and 11.2 points per game, respectively.
This week marks the third annual SEC "We Back Pat" week. The week will feature 19 conference matchups. Since its inception all 14 SEC schools have participated annually in the week. This year, the SEC is expecting more than 75 teams nationally to participate in the campaign. Kentucky's "We Back Pat" home games are Thursday, Jan. 23 vs. Alabama and Sunday, Jan. 26 vs. Arkansas. Visit www.patsummitt.org to donate or for more information.
Media Opportunity - January 17, 2014
"We have a very tough game ahead with a very good Auburn team and they pose a lot of problems for you there. Very, very aggressive defensively, forcing 20 turnovers a game in conference play and throw a lot of multiple looks your way. Long, athletic, aggressive defenders and make it really tough on you to score. They've done a great job defensively. Some very talented players, I think, Tyrese Tanner is going be one of the top players in the conference. Really improved since last year, just an explosive athlete, scorer, really does a lot of things well. Just their overall team is a really tough, explosive team. So going on the road in this league is always tough. It will be tough Sunday afternoon and we'll have to prepare well to win."
On whether he has addressed his altercation with an Auburn assistant last season ...
"When I came in the league Terri (Williams-Flournoy) was an assistant at Georgia and always very kind and supportive and friendly to me, so our relationship goes way back and we definitely talked after that. We were able to repair any damage that was done that day in our relationship. So I think that is good and I've got a ton of respect for her and what she's accomplished in her career, what she's accomplishing right now with Auburn and how much their team has improved this year is impressive. I think that's all good."
On Kastine Evans' health ...
"We were so blessed. The good Lord blessed us with this bye week and we really needed it on a couple of fronts. Kastine was full go this morning, reported no issues, no pain. So she was off all week from practice activities. Stayed with low non-impact cardio and tried to stay up with that. So the time off for her and Bernisha (Pinkett) was very, very good and they looked good. And then on a flip side of that, DeNesha (Stallworth) needed a week where she could just turn loose and practice and you weren't worried about playing Thursday and you could really go at it. And there were some folks on the team who really needed some high level, high intensity practice. We got it on both ends, got what we needed out of the open date and so I think we're starting to round back into full strength and we'll need to be as sharp as we can be to win Sunday, I can tell you that."
On whether the team is fairly healthy ...
"Yeah. We're healthier than we've been in a while and I think that Kastine and Bernisha were starting to slow down by the time we got to Columbia and obviously they weren't good Sunday. So I think we're healthier than we've been in a while. We still need DeNesha to fully turn the corner and be back to full speed mentally, timing wise. Physically I think she's really turned a corner here."
On Makayla Epps' play ...
"I think Makayla had a tough set of circumstances when DeNesha went out and we moved her to the power forward. I don't that I ever did a really good job of really getting to understand what she could be at that position and I think she lost some confidence in that. Then she had the car wreck and I think that kind of shook her up some. And so I think that her confidence just in her game at that different position--had a few little lingering physical issues where she just didn't feel great and I think it was really the first true adversity as a player where she was sort of doubting herself and not confident in Makayla Epps as a basketball player. I think that sometimes happens for freshmen, especially when you're as good as Makayla has been for so long. She played very early in her career and was so successful all throughout it. So I think she is having to work through some of that. I think she's in a good spot now in practice. She's back at the point."
On whether he sees point guard as Makayla's natural position ...
"I think that if you asked her to narrow it down to one position she would call herself a point guard. I think she can play all of them and I think she was happy to play power forward. She just lost some confidence there that I didn't do a great job of helping her through. So a lot of that's on me. But I would say that point guard's a really, really good position for her. But she needs to mentally understand and buy into that her versatility's a real asset and she needs to be comfortable at any position because there's not many players that can do that."
On whether Samarie Walker's steadiness is what he looks for from a senior ...
"Yes, production wise, just being productive and as a coach being able to go into a game and count on someone to give you something consistently is very, very valuable. And so she's been able to do that. I just love Samarie so much and she's grown so much since she's been here and that's really the goal for us, is to, through the game of basketball, help them become the kind of people they can become. And so I'm still working with her on keeping her head up after tough plays and not getting down herself and not letting external things affect her. And I think she's probably done that more successfully this season than at any point in her career. Still think we have some work to do in that area. I really want her to fully mature as a player and, you know, really get that. She's just done so much for us this year and she's doing a great, great job and she's being so productive and as a coach you're always trying to push your players to be their best and to really fully realize their potential. And so there are some things that we're trying to work with her on right now, but it sure is comforting to know that you have that productive a player who's playing that consistently well."
On if Samarie is more emotionally consistent this season...
"Yes, she's much more consistent with that. She still lets some things bother her that I wish she wouldn't let bother her, but she's much better and God bless her for doing the work to turn that around. A lot of people just won't accept it and won't even look at it and won't even say, `hey, I have to work in this area,' and she sure has worked in that area. I think she's done a great job. I think her coaches have done a great job of spending time with her and trying to talk her through things. (Assistant coach) Shalon (Pillow) has just spent hours with her, talking to her and trying to help her grow as a person and as a player. All of our coaches have been real supportive of her and she's been really good this year."
On how much more upside Samarie has during the final stretch of the season...
"I think she can grow a lot. I think that when we're in shooting drills and she's just having fun and she's not putting a lot of pressure on herself, she just has outstanding range. She has 3-point range. When she gets into a game I'm afraid she limits herself, so that's what we're trying to work on with her right now. We've played a couple opponents that are standing from me to the cameras away from her and she's 15-feet out and that happened in the South Carolina game and I said never again. That can't happen. If you're 15 feet out and they don't guard you, you've got to take that shot in rhythm with confidence. She did it against Missouri and I don't even care if she makes it. If she'll step in with confidence and do that, she'll make plenty of them. To me, that's the mental part of her realizing what she can do and that's a huge advantage for us just the way people are playing us defensively. They have a lot of respect for what DeNesha, Samarie and Azia (Bishop) can do around the basket. They have a lot of respect for how quick our guards are and can get in the paint and you are just seeing a sea of humanity in the lane. It's incredible, they are just in the lane and so at some point somebody has to make some 13, 14, 15-foot jumpers. Samarie can do that, so I think that can happen with her and just with her mental and emotional stability of playing through bad plays, bad calls, mistakes she makes or whatever it may be, those two things right there we can still do better and we'll just keep fighting and keep plugging and keep coaching her until the very end. It's just too important for these seniors right now in the moment - and this is what I tell them all the time - in the moment it's important, but gosh it's going to be even more important for them five or 10 years down the road. This is their last chance to get as much as they can get right now. We're still working hard with Samarie and all our players."