LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The No. 6/5 Kentucky women's basketball team looks to continue its record-breaking season when they meet Ole Miss on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum. It will mark the final home game for the Cats until Feb. 20. Game time is 7 p.m. ET.
This marks the first time in program history UK has started conference play 9-0, and UK's 20-2 start ties its best start in program history through the first 22 games. Kentucky's best start to a season was in 1982-83 (21-2). The Wildcats have also won a school-record 12 straight SEC games dating back to last season, and their current 17-game home winning streak is the fourth longest in program history.
"We are looking forward to playing tomorrow night," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We have another tough opponent coming into Memorial. We're happy to have a chance to play at home and Ole Miss has a good team and we'll have to be ready to earn a victory. We're looking for a good practice today and we're excited to have another chance to play."
UK earned its third consecutive 20-win season Sunday with an 82-68 win over Alabama. The balanced scoring effort was led by senior Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.) with 14 points, while junior A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) and freshman Bria Goss (Indianapolis) added 13 and 11 points, respectively. UK forced the Tide into 25 turnovers resulting in 29 points for the Wildcats.
Overall this season, Mathies, who was named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top-20 list, leads the team in almost every statistical category, including scoring (15.4), steals (2.9), 3-point field goals made (38) and 3-point field goal percentage (.388). She is also second on the team in rebounding (5.4) and assists (2.4). Goss follows in the scoring column with 11.4, while sophomore forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) is the team's leading rebounder with 6.3 rebounds per game.
UK ranks in the top 10 of five national statistical categories. The Cats lead the nation in turnover margin (+11.4), are sixth in won-lost percentage (90.9), seventh in scoring offense (78.1), eighth in scoring margin (21.0) and ninth in steals per game (13.1).
Ole Miss (12-10, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) enters Thursday's contest coming off a 54-67 loss at home to Auburn on Sunday afternoon. Sophomore point guard Valencia McFarland led the Rebels with team highs in points (15) and assists (four), and a team-high tying five rebounds and three steals.
McFarland leads the Rebels in scoring and assists. The 5-foot-4 Edwards, Miss., native is sixth in the conference in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game, and is second in the SEC in assists, passing out 5.3 per game. Senior forward Nikki Byrd cleans the glass for Ole Miss, grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game, second in the conference, to go with her 13.1 points per game.
Thursday will mark the 33rd meeting between Ole Miss and Kentucky. The Rebels lead the series 20-12, including an 8-6 advantage when the game is played in Lexington. However, UK has won two in a row vs. the Rebels and two in a row in Lexington. UK won last year's meeting 74-68 in Oxford on Jan. 27, 2011.
A limited number of reserve tickets remain for Thursday's game. Fans interested in tickets can visit the Joe Craft Center ticket office, go to UKathletics.com, or call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS.
All reserved tickets are $7 regardless of age. Age 5 and under are admitted free. UK students, faculty and staff are also admitted for free, based upon availability.
If not able to attend the game, it can be heard on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can also follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.
Women's basketball parking for Thursday's game is available in the following surface lots and parking structures:
- Student Center Lot - off Euclid Ave
- MLK South Lot - between Lexington Ave and MLK Blvd. and south (towards Euclid) of the center drive lane. DO NOT PARK IN NORTH MLK LOT (closest to Wildcat Lodge) AS THIS IS A RESIDENTIAL LOT AND SUBJECT TO TICKET/TOW
- Handicapped Parking (first come-first served until full) is located in the Northeast corner of the MLK South Lot, must have valid state-issued hang tag
- Joe Craft Center North E-Lot - large lot located north of the Joe Craft Center, and accessible via Lexington Avenue or Rose St.
- Good Samaritan surface Lot - accessible off MLK Blvd
- Parking Structure #5 - entrances off Limestone and S. Upper
Other important notes about Thursday's game:
- UK Athletics encourages women's basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum.
- Doors to the Coliseum will open one (1) hour prior to tip-off.
- Surface event lots (i.e. Student Center, Hardymon, South MLK, Joe Craft Center North and Good Samaritan Surface Lot) typically reach capacity approximately 45 minutes prior to tip-off, at which point, vehicles should proceed to Parking Structure #5 (PS#5).
- The PS #5 shuttle will begin one hour prior to tip and end one hour post-game. The PS #5 shuttle picks up on Administration Drive, accessible via the sky bridge located on the 3rd Floor of PS#5.
Pre-Ole Miss Media Opportunity - Feb. 1
UK Hoops Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
"We are looking forward to playing tomorrow night. We have another tough opponent coming into Memorial. We're happy to have a chance to play at home and Ole Miss has a good team and we'll have to be ready to earn a victory. We're looking for a good practice today and excited to have another chance to play."
On how practices have been since the win over Alabama on Jan. 29...
"Well we had a couple sessions yesterday. I was just so disappointed with the effort. It's one thing if you are trying really hard and teams are scoring on you. It's a totally different issue when you're not trying hard. Yesterday morning, early, we watched the film and watched what we needed to get corrected and worked on that some yesterday morning. Then, yesterday afternoon we had a very physical practice just trying to find the right kind of attitude that we need to have because if you play that way you give yourself a chance to lose and we certainly don't want to lose. We want to win this game Thursday night. I thought it ended up pretty good yesterday and the players felt like they got better."
On the key to Kentucky's success on the offensive glass this season...
"We felt like as a coaching staff, that we had a talented team. We felt like they did certain things they could give themselves a chance to win the SEC. One thing that I shared with the team early in the season as we were previewing the SEC season and trying to prepare for that in the non-conference, as long as I've been around in the league, I haven't seen a champion not be a good offensive rebounding team. That's just always been true with the great Tennessee teams, the great Georgia teams, the Auburn team that won. That just for whatever reason always is an indicator of excellence in this conference. We challenged them and tried to make it a point of emphasis. I think there were a few games early on where we weren't going. We had some video evidence and we just started constructing practice where effort on the boards is valued. It's hard to drill for offensive rebounding other than putting a lid on the basket. Things like that. Really, I think it's the player's mindset, reminding them of it, coaching it every day in practice and then having really good athletes. We can rebound from the guard position and that helps you. Bernisha (Pinkett) can fly in there, A'dia (Mathies) can fly in there, Maegan (Conwright) can fly in there. We can go get some boards and it doesn't just have to be our four or our five."
On championship SEC teams from years past being good offensive rebounding teams...
"On nights where you don't particularly shoot the ball well, it's just adding another dimension to your offense. It's a dimension we need because we struggle to execute a lot of times. It is sort of cleaning up a mess a little bit there. You can get away without being the greatest execution team if you can really pound the boards. Some of the Tennessee teams, and the one I coached on, were pretty good executing, but they were unbelievable at offensive rebounding. Then when you coach against them and you're preparing a scouting report, it's the same scouting report every time, and it still is. You have to keep them off the boards. It is a simple concept, but again, it's not easy to do and very few teams do it."
On if the offensive rebounds are more difficult with the number of 3s UK attempts...
"As far as second-chance points that might affect you a little bit. It really works to our advantage as far as getting it, because we're quick to the ball and a lot of those are long rebounds so we can hustle that down. You'll see Kastine (Evans) do that a lot. You'll see a lot of different players run the ball down. We might not be as traditional as some of those great Tennessee teams that had the big, big players that are getting in there close and putting them back in. I think it's very important for this team to understand the importance of offensive rebounding."
On if the second half play against Alabama caught the attention of his team a bit...
"Yeah, I think it does exactly that. We went on the road and didn't shoot the ball well at Auburn, but played fantastic defense. We didn't have anybody in the stands for us. It was not anything manufactured from something outside of the players on the court. They had to get the job done. Then we come back home to a sellout crowd on Alumni Day, everybody should be excited and you don't perform as well. What the lesson is, is nobody's going to do what we try to do defensively, except for the players. You don't get credit for doing well Thursday night and then Sunday you show up and can't do it. Really, the way that we play is a challenge because every time you have to repeat it. You have to go and put the effort out there. You have to really have the desire to do that. I do think coming off a Thursday night game when you turn the home team over 30 times - and we were on pace to do that in the first half. We turned Alabama over 16 times and we were trying to get there again. For whatever reason, long season, loss of focus, whatever it was, it didn't look too good. We showed that to them and I would expect a better defensive performance Thursday night."
On the camaraderie between the Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams...
"The guys come out and sit and watch the games. John (Calipari) and I - he comes over all the time or I go over there and we have a real good relationship. He has a terrific staff and I think our folks are good people. It's a great atmosphere and it's a lot of fun to see everybody doing well. I think it's a real credit to John because he walked through the door with that kind of attitude. He's a terrific guy and I've learned a lot from him and he's been a huge supporter of our program. It is a really good atmosphere."
On there being no real separation in the SEC championship race...
"You try really hard to stay focused on what you have to do and that's what I was alluding to earlier. I just don't think you can lose very many games and think about being the champion. It's shaping up to be that kind of year. It's going to always be hard to win the SEC title. We've never done it while I've been here and nobody's done it in 30 years. Nobody really knows exactly how hard it is, but we have an idea. It's just going to be hard - and it should be. Historically, it's the greatest league in women's college basketball, ever. It should be something you have to earn. I'm excited about that aspect. It's probably not going to be 12-4 winning the league, I don't think. But you never know. That's the crazy thing, we still have seven games left so anything could happen. I am not expecting Tennessee to lose a bunch of games. Every single game becomes very, very important. So actually, in a way, it helps you focus. You can't - and you shouldn't ever - but for the sake of this discussion, you can't say, `Hey if we get two of the next four or if we finish 4-3 down the stretch.' If you were to look at it that way, I don't think it would be a very intelligent way to look at it even if you were. I look at them being very formidable, very tough to beat. It simplifies things almost."
On eight SEC teams currently being projected to make the NCAA Tournament...
"I'm not sure what eight they have in, but the conference is very even right now which I think means healthy. The Florida-Arkansas game comes down to the wire - that's two really, really good teams. Florida lost two games to us by very slim margins. They're a good basketball team. Arkansas has reeled off however many in a row, I don't know, four or five. I'm not surprised at that. Tennessee is one of the top RPI teams in the league so that gives you some strength. It'd be great. I'd love to see eight teams in."