Feb. 8, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 10/8 Kentucky women's basketball team travels to Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, Feb. 10 for a Southeastern Conference showdown with Vanderbilt on a national stage. The Wildcats will meet the Commodores in Memorial Gymnasium at 4 p.m. EST on ESPN2 and Watch ESPN. The game also can be heard live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Sunday is Vanderbilt's annual Pink Out game to raise awareness for the Play4Kay initiative and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
Fans can also follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.
"It will be a tough game against Vanderbilt, it always is," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I'd like to mention it's a Play 4Kay game our coaches association and ESPN have really gotten behind the Kay Yow Foundation. Coach Yow was someone that was a big influence on me in my career and very early in my career very kind to me and one thing that I did ask her before she passed is what could we do and she just said all the young coaches coming up really need to make sure we keep the spotlight on the issue of breast cancer and really try to help raise money for research. That was a passion for her and she's impacted millions of people. It's a Play 4Kay game and we'll need to go out and play real, real hard. Vanderbilt's a tough team. They are very dynamic on offense as they always have been, and they are very tough to guard. They are always a difficult team to go against with their defense. They really guard the ball well and make you make great decisions. It will be a tough game on the road for us and we'll need to prepare well over the next couple of days to have a chance to win."
The Wildcats (20-3 overall, 8-2) are in the midst of a tough stretch to finish out regular-season Southeastern Conference play as four of their six league games are on the road. UK is 3-1 away from home this season, and 10 games into the SEC slate, the Cats find themselves in a three-way tie for third place with Georgia and South Carolina.
The Cats are coming off a hard-fought come-from-behind victory at Arkansas on Thursday. Despite trailing by 11 points in the first half, the Wildcats rallied for an impressive 80-74 win in overtime. Sophomore guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis), the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, scored 16 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and overtime after not starting the game for the first time in her career, a stretch of 57 consecutive starts.
"For Bria, last night was just an effort to change the dynamic because she is one of the kids on our team right now that is the epitome of what we want a Kentucky basketball player to be," Mitchell said of the starting lineup change. "She is of the highest character, she has the greatest work ethic, she cares about people, cares about this program, cares about Kentucky and winning. There's nothing wrong with her other than her not getting out of her way. I was just trying to change the dynamic. I was not mad or angry or upset with her. I was just trying to help her anyway that I could, so that will be the approach. If that's starting or coming off the bench I don't know if either one of those is real important. Last night she got back to the things that make her successful and she had not been doing that beforehand, but I don't know what I'm going to do with that situation yet."
Junior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) added 16 points and six rebounds in the win, while senior guard A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) finished with 15 points, including hitting four her last six shot attempts in the decisive second half and overtime. She also had a season-high tying nine rebounds and five assists. Junior center DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Ky.) had 12 points, including nine in the first half, and five rebounds.
Overall this season, Mathies leads UK and ranks second in the league (conference games only) in scoring, averaging 17.9 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 (1,787). She needs just 10 more points to tie Leslie Nichols (1979-83) at No. 3 on the all-time scoring list.
In the front court, Stallworth and Walker are giving Kentucky a dynamic inside presence this season. The duo combine to average 22.9 points and 14.7 rebounds per game and both are shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
Mitchell currently ranks tied for second on UK's all-time wins list with Sharon Fanning and needs just four wins to become UK's all-time winningest coach with Terry Hall (138 wins from 1980-87).
Vanderbilt is 15-7 overall, 5-4 in SEC play and coming off a bye week. The Commodores' last game was a 79-53 win over Ole miss on Feb. 3. The Commodores have won two of their last three games and are fourth in the SEC standings. They are 9-1 overall at home this season, 3-1 in league play. Their only home loss came against instate rival and ninth-ranked Tennessee on Jan. 24, 83-75.
Three players are averaging in double-digit scoring this season led by senior forward Tiffany Clarke with 16.3 points per game (fourth in the SEC). She is shooting .548 percent (138-252) from the field (second in the SEC), while grabbing a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game (fourth in the SEC). Junior guards Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister follow with 15.9 and 11.2 ppg, respectively. Lister has run the Vanderbilt offense with 6.6 assists per game in SEC play, the most in the conference.
Sunday will mark the 45th meeting in the all-time series with Vanderbilt. The Commodores lead the series 27-17 overall, including a 14-5 advantage in Nashville.
UK has won the last four matchups with the Commodores, including an 80-71 win in the teams' last meeting in the Music City.
Media Opportunity - Feb. 8, 2013
"It will be a tough game against Vanderbilt, it always is. I'd like to mention it's a Play 4Kay game our coaches association and ESPN have really gotten behind the Kay Yow Foundation. Coach Yow was someone that was a big influence on me in my career and very early in my career very kind to me and one thing that I did ask her before she passed is what could we do and she just said all the young coaches coming up really need to make sure we keep the spotlight on the issue of breast cancer and really try to help raise money for research. That was a passion for her and she's impacted millions of people. It's a Play 4Kay game and we'll need to go out and play real, real hard. Vanderbilt's a tough team. They are very dynamic on offense as they always have been and they are very tough to guard. They are always a difficult team to go against with their defense. They really guard the ball well and make you make great decisions. It will be a tough game on the road for us and we'll need to prepare well over the next couple of days to have a chance to win."
On the difference between the Georgia and Arkansas game and how they closed out the games…
"We ended up with five players on the floor at the end of the game that just wanted to win and just refused to do anything but earn a victory. I just thought we were a lot tougher last night than we were Sunday afternoon. We overcame a tremendous amount of adversity last night and stayed the course and we were able to make some shots and get some stops against Arkansas and the opposite was true on Sunday. I'm very proud of our effort last night and it was a great victory."
On the team learning how to play with a target on their back…
"I was very skeptical about that because I had never been through it and I sort of didn't have a lot of, I don't know if respect is the right word, but I just didn't really believe that. It is amazing to be a part of this right now because you put on video of these teams and you watch them and you prepare for them, and this is the fourth or fifth game this year in the league where the game before, then the Kentucky game, then the game after, the two games before and after look pretty similar and the Kentucky game looks very different. People can think I'm crazy. I thought people were crazy for talking about it, but I'm a believer now. It is unbelievable what our players are going through right now as far as what they're facing game after game from an effort level and an execution level. I'm just telling you now, Arkansas is 3-7 in the league and has played real tough games against opponents, but they were unbelievable last night. From an execution standpoint they were so sharp. They made shot after shot that you put the tape on and you didn't see them making. It was an absolute battle last night and we embraced it. We just played as hard as we could down the stretch after we were able to withstand that poor play early and we were terrific. I just think that's what we need to get used and it's probably something we're going to see the rest of the season. It's great for our players to understand that you're going to get the best shot from another team. I think it's a great level of respect that these players have earned by playing so hard and establishing an identity of being a good team. It's interesting."
On preparing his team for being a target every game…
"I tell you what I tried to do this last week, I tried to make it a lot tougher, I tried to go back to -- you know I'm just kicking myself now you don't ever know it isn't an exact science but I used the bye week to try to let them catch their breath and try to rejuvenate and all that stuff and we played like a really, really talented team on Sunday but a soft team when it got tough and Georgia just wouldn't go away and smacked us there at the end. We wilted and also I don't know if it had anything to do with it but this past week we went back to how we used to practice when we were desperate for victories and you know we went twice Tuesday and Wednesday and still had enough in the tank to get an overtime victory on the road. I think maybe for us to understand the effort level it's going to take I may just have to force that in practice. Who knows if any of the two approaches had any difference or effect on them, I don't know, but I do think we need to have more of an edge in practice because it appears that teams are showing up with a real edge when teams take the floor."
On if Bria Goss will continue to come off the bench…
"I've thought about it and that dynamic to me is not of huge concern of whether she plays off the bench or starting. For her, last night was just an effort to change the dynamic because she is one of the kids on our team right now that is the epitome of what we want a Kentucky basketball player to be. She is of highest character, she has the greatest work ethic, she cares about people, cares about this program, cares about Kentucky and winning. There's nothing wrong with her other than her not getting out of her way. I was just trying to change the dynamic. I was not mad or angry or upset with her. I was just trying to help her anyway that I could, so that will be the approach. If that's starting or coming off the bench I don't know if either one of those is real important. Last night she got back to the things that make her successful and she had not been doing that beforehand, but I don't know what I'm going to do with that situation yet."
On if it's frustrating to see Goss go through struggles…
"It's frustrating as a coach for the player because you know how much she cares. That's frustrating just for her personally. It's very frustrating for our team because the reason you think we are capable of making a Final Four or being a championship caliber team, you include Bria Goss playing well in that formula. You really need her to play well and she really hasn't played well offensively, and then it finally started affecting her defense, and so it's frustrating for the team too because you're not who you know you can be. I'm sure every team goes through that. It's a long season and everybody goes through those things. It is a level of frustration but it really makes a night like last night very rewarding to see the kid hang in there and get rewarded with some good play and a very crucial victory."
On sending a message by increasing the level of intensity in practice …
"Yeah, you know, I think you send a message every day that you take the practice floor you need to be sending a message to the team. The message was, we just have to be a lot tougher. We can't, we've never been a team that was sort of nonchalant, just kind of hoped you win, we've always had this sort of desperation that we had to play so hard to win and I think that's a good thing. I just wanted to let them know, look if we're not going to play real hard it's not going to be a real comfortable situation for anyone because we're not going to get where we want to go. To this group's credit, I'm telling you, our 6 a.m. practice Tuesday morning was fantastic so we have a really, really great group of kids, we really do. And the two games that we lost in conference were to top-15 teams that beat us by four points. It's not, we haven't played poorly but I just wanted to make sure that we are playing as hard as we can and understand that appears to be what's going to happen to you these last four games where we take the floor in the conference, you have to be ready for a really, really strong test."
On if 6 a.m. practices are normal …
"Well, we generally do that in preseason, so no we don't do that a lot in season. We haven't done that in season much. Just trying to shake it up a little bit and make sure we are in tune."
On taking a different approach entering a road stretch …
"No, we're really not talking about venues right now or locations. There is absolutely zero control over the schedule. It's a real, real tough road. That's what the people in Birmingham decided that we're going to do, a computer picks that by random. It just comes out randomly. So you don't have any control over the computer. If I had better computer programming skills and could hack into the system I would have changed it but it's just not one of my areas of expertise, I have very few of those. We have outstanding computer science students here; we could maybe hack into the system. I probably shouldn't say it publicly though, that's a mistake. I've already made a mistake there. I don't know if anybody else that is in the hunt for the championship has to play four out of the last six, that's what we're left with here, I don't know any of those things, I don't look at those things. There is no use in us talking about it. What's more important right now is it appears that teams are coming after us with reckless abandon and we need to be ready for that Sunday afternoon in Nashville. We need to be ready for Vanderbilt's absolute supreme maximum effort and that's what we're focused on now, not where we're playing."
On Jennifer O'Neill responding last night after the loss Sunday …
"She didn't respond well last night. It wasn't a good response for her last night but she and I met this morning and she's going to respond better. Listen, she has come so far as a person and a player here that this is a real, real difficult league to play in, I don't know, I don't listen to it a whole lot but it seems to me that people think the league is as strong as it used to be, that's the most insane thing I've ever heard in my life, this is an unbelievably difficult league. It's the toughest league in the country, night in and night out. We are right there at the top of the league and top of the rankings in the country and we went on the road to a team that is 3-7 in our league and had to battle to win last night. You're going to have some tough games because it is so difficult. We wouldn't be where we are without Jennifer's play so Jennifer is going to be fine. Jennifer wants to play and wants to help her team win. She didn't have a good game last night but I would expect she's going to have a real good one on Sunday."
On A'dia Mathies' play at the end of close games …
"It's just a willingness to accept that role and not shy away from it and last night was particularly exceptional because a lot of people that miss nine of their first 11 would just say, 'hey, it's not my night.' And she made four of her last six and they were unbelievable shots, plays, when everybody on the Arkansas team was trying to prevent her from scoring, she found a way. She's just a great, great player. She's the best player in this league and she showed it last night. You just have to understand that everybody is geared up to stop her, you knew who was going to get the ball at that point in time and they weren't able to do it so she is a great, great player."
On how often they have 6 a.m. practice …
"We just had them this past week, I don't know where we'll be. I don't know if that'll continue or not but we didn't have one this morning because that would have given them about three hours of sleep. We got in at about two in the morning so we're going to go at 7 p.m. It doesn't really matter when we practice, it matters more about how they practice. If we continue to get good results with that, we'll do whatever we need to do to try to give our players a chance to win because we have an outstanding team and they deserve every ounce of energy we can give them as coaches to try to be the very best we can be this year. This is an outstanding group of young women, I'm real, real lucky to get to coach them."