Feb. 15, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 18 Kentucky women’s basketball team travels to eighth-ranked Tennessee for ESPN’s new Sunday Package looking for its first win in Knoxville since 1985 and first-ever win in Thompson-Boling Arena. The rivalry game will tip off at 1 p.m. ET with Carolyn Peck and Pam Ward calling the action. The game also will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats and use hashtag #UKvsTENN to talk about the game.
The Play 4Kay game will pit two of the top offensive teams in the Southeastern Conference as the Wildcats and Lady Vols rank in the top five in scoring offense, scoring margin and field goal percentage.
The Wildcats, who rank seventh nationally in scoring offense with 84.5 points per game, are coming off an 108-78 rout of Ole Miss on Thursday at home, while the Lady Vols, who average 80.3 points per game, enjoyed a bye week. UK (18-6, 6-5 SEC) currently ranks tied for sixth with Vanderbilt in the league standings, while Tennessee (20-4, 9-2 SEC) is tied for second with Texas A&M.
“We obviously have a great opportunity ahead of us Sunday afternoon against a quality opponent,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We will be very excited to prepare for victory.”
Sunday will mark the 59th meeting between the border rivals. The Lady Vols lead the all-time series 49-9, including a 21-2 advantage in Knoxville. The Wildcats are looking to snap a 16-game losing skid in Knoxville as their last win came on Jan. 23, 1985 in the Stokely Athletics Center. UK has never won in Thompson-Boling Arena. However, UK has won two of the last three meetings in the series but both wins came in Lexington.
Four Wildcats are averaging in double digits this season, led by junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx,N.Y.). She is putting up 13.0 points per game, while senior forwards DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) follow with 11.4 and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) adds 10.2 points per game.
Stallworth, who posted her second straight double-double vs. Ole Miss, has looked back to her old self in the last three games. The 6-foot-3 forward and All-America candidate was forced to miss five games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Dec. 18. Prior to her surgery, she was averaging 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and shooting .560 percent (47-84) from the field. In the 10 games since her return, she is averaging 8.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, while shooting .439 percent from the floor (36-of-82). The last three games she has averaged a double-double with 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field (16-32), including 2-of-2 from the 3-point line.
Walker joins Stallworth as one of the league’s leading frontcourt players as she ranks second overall in SEC rebounding with 9.0 rebounds per game. She has recorded 19 career double-doubles, including eight this season which ranks third in the SEC.
Goss ranks seventh nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting an impressive 92.5 percent clip (74-of-80). She made 27 consecutive free throws, spanning 10 games, before missing one vs. Ole Miss on Thursday. That streak ties the school record for consecutive free-throws made.
Tennessee leads the SEC in rebounding margin (+11.7), assists (17.4) and defensive rebounds (29.2). The Lady Vols also rank second in the league in scoring offense (80.3), scoring margin (+17.7), field goal percentage (.468) and 3-point percentage (.380).
Senior guard Meighan Simmons is one of three Lady Vols averaging double figures with a team-leading 15.2 points per game. Junior center Isabelle Harrison ranks second on the team with 13.5 points, while leading the team and ranking third in the SEC in rebounding at 8.7 boards per contest. Harrison’s 11 double-doubles are second in the SEC. Junior point guard Ariel Massengale averages 12.5 points and a team-high 5.8 assists per game.
Media Opportunity - February 7, 2014
“First thing I would like to lead off with is women’s basketball this week lost a big giant in the game. Betty Jaynes passed away who was one of the founding members of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. She was the leader of that foundation for a very long time. Her contributions to women’s basketball are immeasurable. We probably would not have a game without Betty Jaynes. Our team will be wearing a patch to honor her for the remainder of the season. I just want to make sure that she is never forgotten. What she has done for all of us in the sport of women’s basketball is significant. Our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends and she will be laid to rest tomorrow down in Georgia.
“We obviously have a great opportunity ahead of us Sunday afternoon against a quality opponent. We will be very excited to prepare for victory.”
On concerns for Tennessee…
“My concerns are about Kentucky right now. I just want to get ready to do the things that we need to do to beat Tennessee, and that is more about Kentucky than them. I think we need to get our minds ready on playing Kentucky basketball. That means a fast paced game. Offensively, I think that we did a good job last night. When the time calls for it, attack their zone. There is a lot of zone defense from them, and there is a lot of changing zone. We need to be able to attack that, and then defensively you are just going to have to go to battle. They have some really powerful interior post players that they try to get the ball in there to. It will be a great battle and a great opportunity for us to beat a quality opponent.”
On the importance of a game win such as last night…
“I think that it is very important for this team right now. I think that most of our problems, while we had some physical problems with injuries and some of what has been going on has been physical, but to me the lion’s share of it has been mental and emotional. I think that confidence is very important for this team right now. That’s what we have been trying to work on for the last two weeks, explaining to them who they are and they need to view themselves accurately. We are a really, really good team when we view ourselves that way and when we play with a purpose and passion. That was good last night so there will be a lot to point towards on that. We need to really find ourselves right now and go out and play some Kentucky basketball.”
On the purpose of showing the team past footage of themselves…
“We got off to such a great start, and it was not fueled entirely by poor competition. We played one of the best non-conference schedules out there. I just wanted to tell them the reason that I believe we can move forward and be a great team and be heard from in this league and beyond, is because they have already proven to me that they can do it. This year’s team, not last year’s and not five years ago. An example is, this year’s team. In the first 11 games beat real quality teams, beat two top 10 teams in one week, beat good teams on the road. The comparisons of what lie ahead are eerily similar to what they have already accomplished. So just trying to get them to understand that and the reason they were that way, was because they were showing up in the gym every day believing that they could be the best. And so we took some hits and as a coach I obviously did not do a good job monitoring that. And at some point we stopped believing that we could be one of the best. You start speeding up and hoping good things happen for you and, ‘oh will this ever end, and can somebody else step up and do something to get out of it.’ When really all it is, is showing up every day with a mindset that we can be the best team in the country. Whether we ever get there or not is not the point, the point is that you believe that and then prepare that way. We just need to know that we can show up every day and if we choose we can be the best team in the country. That mindset is what I was trying to get them back to.”
On if he just showed the team footage from earlier in the season…
“Yeah, I just tried to show them that we’re not sitting in some raw-raw session where I’m making things up and trying to make you look good. It’s just here’s what you look like, so as a coach right now you know these kids and you know what they can accomplish and I’m just trying to help them along that way and help them be the best they can be.”
On Tennessee’s Meighan Simmons…
“She’s real fast, really fast, explosive and an explosive scorer. She’s one of the fastest players with the basketball that I’ve coached against. When she’s on, she’s one of the most explosive scorers I’ve ever been around. She’s a really good player.”
On what Simmons has shown this season compared to last season…
“I just think, to me, my opinion of her hasn’t changed a whole lot. I’ve never thought that she was anything but what I just described. She’s really explosive, high-level scorer who can get from one end to the other with the basketball as fast as anybody around. Some kids are fast, but rarely you’ll see a kid with the ball in her hands and seems like she’s faster than when she’s running without it. It’s impressive, she’s explosive.”
On if he feels DeNesha Stallworth is mentally and physically 100 percent…
“I think that when I will be convinced that it’s all working together is when her defense gets to a level of, she’s blocking some shots, aggressive in the lane and she’s seeing the man and ball. I think offensively she feels really confident right now and she looks good. Defensively, she needs to get back and turn around and find the basketball and her player and get matched up. Last night, too many times the ball is getting driven to the basket in transition and her back’s turned and she’s jogging back. If she’s turned around she can block that shot. To me, that’s the missing piece, so it’s good to see her feeling good about herself because that’s very important for her game.”
On his relationship with Jennifer O’Neill…
“It’s a complicated relationship. She’s a joy in my life because she has brought so much to us and so much to our program. She’s a kid that’s done a lot for me in a lot of different ways and hopefully I’ve helped her, but she’s just real, real stubborn. She really complicates things that I try to simplify and so you’ve just had that tension. It’s real simple to me and last night she was better. I’m not asking her to get out there and solve any complicated physics equations or anything. It’s not complicated, it’s simple: you need to push the ball as hard as you can down the floor because, like Meighan Simmons, you’re maybe faster with the ball than you are without it. You need to attack every time and when you don’t have the ball you need to be ready to shoot. Every time you need to be down, whether you do or not, but you need to be ready because it’s a threat. Defensively, you need to be in a stance getting after the basketball every time. It’s not complicated. I’m asking her to do three things. You guys asked me after the Alabama game when she shot two times. I don’t know why she shot two times. It doesn’t make any sense, so I have to spend a lot of time talking about those three simple things, but that’s just where we are right now. I’ll continue to do it and then she comes and tells you guys that she needs to know what to do. I’m making sure she knows what to do.”