Feb. 7, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 15/13 Kentucky women’s basketball team travels to Gainesville, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 9, looking to avenge an 83-73 home loss to the Florida Gators from its conference home opener earlier this season in Memorial Coliseum. The Southeastern Conference rematch will tip off at Noon ET in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) with Larry Vettel and former Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi calling the action. The game also will be broadcast live on ESPN3, the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price and SiriusXM Radio Channel 92 (Sirius) and 190 (XM). Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats.
UK (17-5, 5-4 SEC) currently ranks seventh in the league standings, while Florida (16-7, 6-4 SEC) is sixth. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive, 63-56, victory over No. 14 LSU last week at home and are hoping to ride that momentum into Sunday’s road matchup vs. the Gators.
“Well, it’s a tough game ahead (of us) down in Gainesville against the Gators,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They really took it to us here in Lexington and beat us pretty badly on our home court, so we definitely have to focus in on a very good opponent and try to get prepared this afternoon and tomorrow for what we know will be a tough game. It’s always a tough game with Florida.”
In the previous meeting, Kentucky shot just 35.2 percent from the field, while Florida hit 49.1 percent. Junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) led with 15 points and senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) added 10 points and 12 rebounds. It marked the first game back for senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) after missing five games due to surgery on her right knee. She scored just four points in seven minutes in her return. The loss snapped UK’s nine-game home winning streak and a six-game winning streak over the Gators.
“We just looked like a team that I thought was entitled to win, felt like they were entitled to win the game,” Mitchell said. “We have tried to talk about it at times. Playing at Memorial Coliseum gives you a great advantage but the building doesn’t win games for you and we just looked like a team that didn’t think there was much chance of us losing. It was a very poor attitude to have. Florida, for a large majority of the first half just had more energy and we just looked like a team that thought eventually something would happen that we would win. We were able to get it flipped and go up and I thought that hurt us probably even more. They were like, ‘well this is what we thought. We’re going to win the game.’ We lost a lot of composure when it got close down at the end, so that would be the best way to describe it. I just thought we sort of felt like we were going to win the game no matter what.”
Three Wildcats are averaging in double digits this season, led O’Neill with 12.0 points per game. Stallworth and Walker follow with 10.8 and 10.4 ppg, respectively. Senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) and junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) narrowly miss the double-digit mark with 9.9 points per game apiece. UK has had nine different leading scorers this season and only twice has a player led the team in scoring in consecutive games: Goss vs. Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee and O’Neill vs. Alabama and Florida.
Walker ranks second overall in SEC rebounding with 9.0 rebounds per game, and is tied for fourth in SEC games only with 8.6 boards per game.
Goss ranks sixth nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting an impressive 92.8 percent clip (64-of-69). She has now made 23 consecutive free throws which ties for fourth all-time on UK’s all-time list for consecutive free-throws made.
Along with Kentucky, Florida has recorded SEC wins over Mississippi State (82-72), Arkansas (59-52), Auburn (87-69), Alabama (75-67) and Ole Miss (81-60).
Senior guard Jaterra Bonds leads three Gators in double figures this season with 15.6 points to go with a team-high 4.3 assists per game. Redshirt junior Kayla Lewis and sophomore January Miller average 10.9 and 10.3 points per game, respectively. Lewis leads the team in rebounding with 8.7 per game, while ranking second in the SEC in rebounding during SEC games with 8.8 per game. All eight active players on the roster average at least 6.1 points per game.
UK holds a slight 25-23 lead in the overall series, but trails 10-9 when the game is played in Gainesville. The Cats have had success as of late on the road against the Gators after winning the last two meetings in Gainesville. The last loss came on Jan. 29, 2009, 74-59. The last six matchups vs. UF have been decided by 10 points or less. UK went 5-1 in those close games.
Media Opportunity - February 7, 2014
“Well, it’s a tough game ahead (of us) down in Gainesville against the Gators. They really took it to us here in Lexington and beat us pretty badly on our home court, so we definitely have to focus in on a very good opponent and try to get prepared this afternoon and tomorrow for what we know will be a tough game. It’s always a tough game with Florida.”
On if he feels like the team is over the hump…
“I feel like we’re making progress. To be able to gauge it, I think we’ll need a larger sample size because it’s not going to happen in one day or one game. If we win Sunday I don’t think you can tell everything about it. If we suffer a defeat Sunday I don’t think you can read anything into one game. I think you’re going to have to let it play out here over the last seven games of the conference season. The team needs to play well and win some games and get into the NCAA Tournament and take advantage of the SEC Tournament and see what happens. We didn’t start playing that way over night and I think it’s been some great stuff that we’ve been able to do as a team to try to see if we can get the situation to where we can become our best.”
On what he saw in the film from the first matchup with Florida…
“We just looked like a team that I thought was entitled to win, felt like they were entitled to win the game. We have tried to talk about it at times. Playing at Memorial Coliseum gives you a great advantage but the building doesn’t win games for you and we just looked like a team that didn’t think there was much chance of us losing. It was a very poor attitude to have. Florida, for a large majority of the first half just had more energy and we just looked like a team that thought eventually something would happen that we would win. We were able to get it flipped and go up and I thought that hurt us probably even more. They were like, ‘well this is what we thought. We’re going to win the game.’ We lost a lot of composure when it got close down at the end, so that would be the best way to describe it. I just thought we sort of felt like we were going to win the game no matter what.”
On it not being just one thing that led Florida to win…
“I think it manifested itself most in transition defense and just the toughness of Jaterra Bonds. She was just so physical with us and so dynamic and running through people. I just thought her presence – we never matched her intensity. They scored 83 on us and a lot of it was just pretty easy stuff with them playing real hard in transition or driving the ball. Their coaches screamed the whole game for them to drive. When I thought back on it, we didn’t play great defense against Alabama. We played pretty good offense, 85-63, but there were a lot of opportunities Alabama had on that Thursday that I think she (Florida head coach Amanda Butler) picked up on the film. I think that was their goal was that we just couldn’t guard them. We weren’t tough enough and we weren’t working hard enough to guard and we were just going to be driven on. Our defense certainly wasn’t at a point where we could beat Florida that day.”
On what the team got out of the bye week…
“We tried to become closer as a team. Try to become closer as a team on and off the court. Our whole key is we have to have a team mentality. We can’t have a collection of individuals playing individually well. We really have to come together as a team. Our whole deal is playing for each other and great energy on the court, great energy on the bench. Those are the kinds of things we’ve been trying to work on. Trying to become closer as a team and playing for each other and playing for Kentucky. It sounds real, real simple, but it’s just not something you can take for granted. You have to work at it and this team’s working at it. I hope you see a big dose of it on Sunday afternoon. They played hard for each other this past Sunday and they need to do it again this Sunday.”
On Bernisha Pinkett’s status …
“She’s back with a full opportunity to earn minutes for Sunday, so she’s 100 percent. She just didn’t have enough preparation time for the LSU game and so while she was physically cleared she just wasn’t prepared for the game and didn’t really get any practice reps to be ready for that game so she could be a big, big help for us further down the stretch if she’s mentally in tune with what her role could be. She could be very powerful for us from a defensive stand point and certainly a good 3-point shooter, I think she’s key to us.”
On DeNesha Stallworth getting back mentally …
“Yes, DeNesha is getting closer all the time. I didn’t notice her in a negative way on Sunday, and that was good progress for her, there wasn’t that stretch in the game where ‘my gosh, she isn’t back’. It wasn’t a dominating performance but it wasn’t noticeable in a negative way. Now we want to notice her in a positive way. One of these nights she’s going to go for 18 or 20 and eight or 10 rebounds and that’s when you’ll know she’s back.”
On Makayla Epps not making plays before the LSU game …
“It just kind of depends Makayla and Linnae (Harper) both came in to positions where they are certainly good enough and talented enough to get on the floor, but they also have veterans that are in front of them right now, and so they have to be sharp in all those little areas and Makayla certainly was just not contributing very much because she just wasn’t doing anything. There were a lot of zero’s on her line. She would go into the game and really not do anything. The play where she went to the basket and scored in transition for the layup, she just wasn’t looking for that in practice or in games. The 3-pointer was after those and that sort of where it needs to be, she needs to have an inside-outside approach. She’s just been coming to games and just shooting the first open 3 available and I think the 3 was her third basket. I think she made two layups and a 3, that’s sort of where her mind needs to be and I think she’s in a much better spot where she was two to three weeks ago.”
On Makayla shooting more …
“I don’t care about the number, it’s how she goes about it. It’s how she’s carrying herself on the court and if she shoots a bunch of shots and makes them, she can shot all she wants to. I would love for her to come and score 30 points and you can’t just take her off the floor. It’s not so much about the volume and that’s one thing that the freshmen I think need to understand is, that how do you go out and perform. So maybe you’re not shooting any but you’re playing great defense and you’re rebounding and so it’s really not about statistics. But for Makayla scoring is important because if you’re not looking to score you can’t stay on the floor. It’s more about how you’re doing it than exactly what you’re doing. I don’t really care how many times she shoots she just needs to have certain aggressiveness about her in order to stay on the floor. Then also defensively, she needs to stay on balance she just gets way out of balance and out of fundamentals and so that’s an issue for her to that she needs to address.”