Feb. 6, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 10/8 Kentucky women's basketball team looks to get back on the winning track when it travels to Arkansas on Thursday, Feb. 7 for an 8 p.m. EST matchup with the Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena. The game can be heard live 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.
A tough February awaits the defending Southeastern Conference champions as five of their last seven regular-season league games are on the road.
"We have a tough game ahead of us Thursday night in Fayetteville," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It's always a challenge to go against Arkansas. They're very well-coached. They have always been tough to prepare for and this season's no different. (It will) Be an important game for us to try to bounce back, get back on the winning track and we'll certainly have to play well to do that."
The Cats (19-3, 7-2 SEC), currently tied for second place in the SEC standings with Georgia and South Carolina, are coming off a tough 75-71 loss to No. 14/13 Georgia on Sunday in Lexington. Despite leading by eight points with 5:37 to play, Georgia outscored the Wildcats 16-4 in the final five minutes. UGA also shot 51.7 percent in the second half, while holding UK to just 35.5 percent. The loss snapped UK's school-record home winning streak at 34, giving the Cats their first home loss since Feb. 7, 2011. Four players scored in double figures led by senior guard A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) and redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) with 18 points apiece. Junior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) posted her second consecutive, seventh season and 10th career double-double with 10 points and a game-high 11 boards, while junior center DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) had 10 points, her 19th game this season in double figures. She also charted a career-high five steals and hit a career-high two 3-pointers.
Overall this season, Mathies leads UK and ranks second in the league (conference games only) in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game. The preseason SEC Player of the Year currently ranks in the top 10 of 12 career lists at UK, including third in steals (286) and fourth in scoring (1,772).
In the front court, Stallworth and Walker are giving Kentucky a dynamic inside presence this season. The duo combine to average 22.7 points and 14.8 rebounds per game and both are shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
Mitchell is in his sixth season as the head coach of the Wildcats. He ranks third on UK's all-time wins list with 133 and his winning percentage (.696) is first. He is just one win away from tying Sharon Fanning at No. 2 on the all-time wins list and five wins away from tying Terry Hall (138 wins from 1980-87) as the all-time winningest coach in UK Hoops history.
The Razorbacks are 15-7 overall and 3-6 in the SEC after splitting a pair of games in the Magnolia State last week. Arkansas opened with a win last Thursday at Ole Miss, marking just the second victory for the Razorbacks in Oxford in program history. Senior Sarah Watkins dropped in a career-best 28 points leading Arkansas to the win. The Razorbacks fell at Mississippi State despite a double-double from senior Quistelle Williams and 15 points from Watkins.
Overall, Watkins, a 6-foot-3 senior post player from Germantown, Tenn., leads three players in double-figure scoring, averaging 13.0 ppg. Keira Peak and Williams follow with 10.5 ppg apiece.
Tom Collen is in his sixth season at Arkansas. Previously the head coach of Colorado State and Louisville, Collen has a 108-73 (.597) record at Arkansas, and an overall coaching record of 325-143 (.694).
Thursday will mark the 30th meeting between the programs. UK leads the all-time series 16-13. However, the Wildcats trail 9-3 in road games vs. Arkansas. UK is looking for its first win in Bud Walton Arena since Feb. 7, 2010.
UK has won 10 of the last 11 meetings with Arkansas, including last year's game in Lexington, 84-72. The lone loss in that stretch came on Jan. 6, 2011 in Fayetteville with the Razorbacks winning 78-67.
Media Opportunity - Feb. 5, 2013
"We have a tough game ahead of us Thursday night in Fayetteville. It's always a challenge to go against Arkansas. They're very well-coached. They have always been tough to prepare for and this season's no different. (It will) Be an important game for us to try to bounce back, get back on the winning track and we'll certainly have to play well to do that."
On whether going on the road makes righting the ship more daunting …
"Not really. Where we play right now is not nearly as important as how we're practicing. I just feel really bad about the loss on Sunday because I think it was a direct result of how we practiced. I just have a lot to do with that. Certainly there were some plays players could make, but I think it was a product of how we prepared for Georgia. And we didn't have nearly enough edge to us to really dig down deep and get some tough stops. I'm more concerned right now with how we practice and how the players respond to that than the venue."
On the players' response to the loss …
"We had a real tough practice this morning early and I thought they gave pretty good effort and got after it. So we will continue on, go again this afternoon and see if we can just get our mindset back to playing real tough defense. It was a really lackluster effort in the second half defensively and I think that you have to approach these games with a tremendous amount of intensity and I think you need to build that attitude in practice. We'll see what we can do this afternoon with another session."
On whether two-a-days during the season is common …
"It hadn't been common, but that was not a common performance from us. And that's not taking anything away from Georgia. Just you look at the film and we had some real chances to put that game away and win that game. You had double-digit leads in both halves and it was a series of plays where Georgia ended up being tougher than us. You credit them, but we just can't allow that to happen. We have too good of players and too much talent to perform that way. So I need to make sure that we react to that appropriately and trying to get that corrected."
On how early the practice was and whether it delivered the message …
"We'll never know that until Thursday night. But we went six o'clock this morning and just have to know that we have to stay true to our identity and I think that is one of being real aggressive defensively and being real tough defensively. We just weren't Sunday."
On shooting fewer free throws this season …
"I don't know. We've tried to be real aggressive and attack. We've scored a lot of points this year and we've certainly taken it to the basket. So I don't have any theory on that and don't really know what that is. My main concern right now is more, 'Can you be tough enough to force the officials to call?' I think what we do sometimes around the basket is we don't really show that we're in control of our body. I think DeNesha (Stallworth) falls away a lot, I think Samarie (Walker) falls away a lot, I think A'dia (Mathies) rushes in there and I just don't think you're going to get those calls. So we're really trying to make that we are getting off two feet and going up strong and then that'll maybe help us get to the line more."
On DeNesha's recent game performances…
"That's not how she worked her way into being one of the best players that we've seen here in a long time. She was really playing well. She's has just not been aggressive, not played up to the standard that we all know she's capable of and so we certainly have talked to her about that. She started out slow in practice this morning but was able to get that turned around so hopefully that's a good sign. She just needs to do some real specific things fundamentally and she'll be fine. She starts thinking that things are in the air, in the atmosphere and things are happening to her. She is making these things happen with poor fundamentals. It's a long season and players want to do well and they sometimes over complicate things and that's why we need to be coaches to help them keep things as simple as possible."
On the message he sent to his team…
"Our success will rise and fall on our attitude. When you practice poorly like we did last week, which I take responsibility for, I was trying to hit the reset button and let them refresh at the midpoint, which wasn't the way we should've gone about it. There's no other thing you can do but try to learn from that experience but I think with this team, there needs to be edginess. They seem to be too willing to get into a comfort zone where we're not playing what Kentucky's been known for and that's being real aggressive and tough. The message they need to know is that's really all we need to do. We have talent at every position, we have more than enough fire power, we have more than enough ability to do everything we want to do this season but you can't show up and talk about it, you have to do it. That's the main message I'm trying to send right now. Our attitude has to be in the right place to go out here and play in a real competitive league. I think another thing that we're learning is that it's a credit to the players and a sign of respect. Teams have come to know that they have to play real hard. I thought you saw a really, really tough effort from Georgia and our players are walking around like we have the game won and it's not that important. Then, the momentum swings and we're not tough enough to get it back so, it's a process and a little bit unfamiliar for us. I may not have done a good enough job of making us understand that, making us understand that dynamic but it's here on us now and we need to respond to it."