Feb. 21, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 15 Kentucky women’s basketball team faces its third straight ranked opponent when it travels to College Station, Texas Sunday, Feb. 23 to take on No. 16/13 Texas A&M in Reed Arena. The game will tip at 1 p.m. CT/2 p.m. ET on ESPN2 with Tom Hart and former Tennessee standout and current WNBA star Kara Lawson calling the action. The game also will be broadcast live on WatchESPN and the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats and use hashtag #UKvsTAMU to talk about the game.
Tickets are available on www.12thmanfoundation.com.
The Wildcats (19-7, 7-6 Southeastern Conference), look to get back to their winning ways after falling to No. 4/6 South Carolina on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum, 81-58. With only three regular-season contests remaining, every game is crucial as the Wildcats sit in a four-way tie for fourth place in the SEC standings with Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt. Texas A&M currently ranks second with an 11-2 record. The top four teams receive a bye to the SEC Tournament on March 5-9 in Duluth, Ga.
“We have a big challenge ahead of us with Texas A&M who has a really good team,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I have been watching them today and they have a lot of good players, they are well coached and they really give great effort. It was a tough environment down there last year and I am sure that it will be this year. It will certainly be a big challenge and we will have to practice well for the next couple of days and get ready to play well and get a victory.”
UK leads the all-time series vs. the Aggies 2-1 with all three meetings coming last season in Texas A&M’s debut season in the SEC. The Wildcats won both regular-season matchups, winning 65-62 in Lexington on Jan. 10 and 70-66 in College Station on Feb. 18. UK fell to the Aggies in the third meeting in the SEC Tournament Championship game on March 10, 75-67. All three games were decided by eight points or less.
UK is 4-3 vs. top-25 teams this season, defeating No. 4/3 Louisville, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 9 Baylor and falling to No. 2 Duke, No. 10/11 South Carolina and No. 4/6 South Carolina.
Looking to help the Wildcats chart their school-record fifth consecutive 20-win season are All-SEC candidates Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.), DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio). O’Neill leads the way this season with 13.4 points per game, while Stallworth follows with 11.7 ppg. Walker is the team’s leading rebounder with 8.6 rebounds per game which ranks fourth in the SEC. She also has 19 career double-doubles, including eight this season which ranks third in the league. Narrowly missing the double-digit scoring mark this season is Walker (9.8), sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (9.7), junior guard Bria Goss (9.6), and senior guard Kastine Evans (9.2).
The Aggies enter the matchup at 21-6 on the season and 11-2 in SEC play. Texas A&M’s only two conference losses came against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Texas A&M leads the SEC in 3-point field goal defense (.246 percent) and ranks second in field goal percentage defense (.357). In SEC games only, A&M ranks first in scoring defense (58.1), 3-point field goal percentage (.242) and assist/turnover ratio (1.0)
Sophomore guard Courtney Walker is one of three Aggies averaging double figures with a team-leading 14.2 points per game. Sophomore forward/guard Courtney Williams averages 13.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while senior and 6-foot-5 center Karla Gilbert adds 11.0 points and a team-high 7.8 boards per contest.
The Aggies are coached by Gary Blair who is in his 29th overall season as a Division I head coach, his 11th at A&M. He currently ranks in the top 15 in career victories (666) and in the top 25 by winning percentage (.709) amongst Division I coaches.
Media Opportunity - February 22, 2014
“We have a big challenge ahead of us with Texas A&M who has a really good team. I have been watching them today and they have a lot of good players, they are well coached and they really give great effort. It was a tough environment down there last year and I am sure that it will be this year. It will certainly be a big challenge and we will have to practice well for the next couple of days and get ready to play well and get a victory.”
On what he has seen between now and last night’s game…
“South Carolina is a good team, played really well. We missed some opportunities that we had, and got a bit discouraged in the game, and when you do that against a team like South Carolina you cannot have much success. So we have to bounce back from that.”
On post players disappearing during the game…
“We had a similar situation last year against South Carolina, so maybe they don’t like to play against South Carolina. I don’t know what else to tell you. If you think about last year in this game against South Carolina we had to go five guards and press them all over the place. I don’t know what to tell you on that. They have to play better, they have to play well, and they have to play tough. They will not get a break on Sunday so they will have to get real excited to play.”
On taking them to Dairy Queen after a win…
“Occasionally we will go to Dairy Queen, sometimes you can do that. With NCAA rules you cannot do it all of the time just occasionally.”
On trying to lighten the mood with trips to Dairy Queen…
“That started after a game in Missouri where they really hustled and played hard last year, so it has become whenever we can do it we do, and whenever it is allowed we do it if they hustle. We definitely try to do some things that make it fun. These kids show up in June and wake up at 5:30 in the morning four days a week and have a long tough preseason and have a long season. Yeah, I think you need to find a way to have a good time every now and then. That is one of our ways of doing that.”
On when last night’s game vs South Carolina slipped away from them…
“Well, we tried to get aggressive there in the first half and get to the bucket and get to the free-throw line and it just was impossible, you just couldn’t do it. We were not skilled enough to get fouled. So we just kept being aggressive. When they went up 11, I thought we had some really good aggressive tough plays and they just didn’t go our way. We battled decently in the first half. If we could have gotten to the line at all in the first half - I think if the players had gotten the ability to get there it probably could have been a close game. What got us is that we came out with no defensive energy whatsoever to start the (second) half. When you panic against South Carolina and you take bad shots it fuels their transition. They can just let everyone run out because they have two kids down there that are so big and clean up the boards so well. So you really have to keep your poise and if you are down six or eight points you cannot try to get all of that back you just have to be really patient and execute well. Some transition defensive opportunities got away from us. So I really thought it was the start of the second half that happened there.”
On how Makayla Epps has evolved at the point guard spot…
“Well, she’s practiced well the last three weeks. After that car wreck and the car flipped on her several times, I just think that really shook her up badly, even more than we realized at the time. She basically went a month there where she was just sort of in a fog. Physically, she was okay, but she’s really an energetic and personable kid and a bright personality, she’s smiling a lot. When she’s really acting normal and herself she’s full of energy, but she was just really not herself there for almost a month in the middle of the season, which caused her to not have good practices. She didn’t practice with a lot of energy and sharpness. Thank goodness she finally worked her way through that. So, for the last three weeks she’s really practiced well and she has a chance to be a really good player. She’s talented and you saw that last night. She has some strength and size to get in there. I think the key to getting to the free-throw line is just not getting knocked down. If you get knocked down, it’s not a foul. If you are able to get hit and stay on your feet and get the ball up off the glass, then that’s a foul. If you are a little small kid like Janee Thompson and you get knocked down on the ground, that’s not a foul. Makayla is able to draw a foul and she was able to get to the free-throw line four times, which was half the times we got there. She did a good job.”
On if playing Jennifer O’Neill at the No. 2 position could be a better set up for the team…
“It could be. The thing with Makayla is, she’s just behind defensively. She gets caught on help side, really hugged up to her player and she doesn’t see the ball and man. She needs to get better defensively, but I think Janee (Thompson) and Jen (O’Neill) have looked good together at times this year.”
On if he will discuss with the team about still being the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament…
“I’m not going to discuss that with them today. We’re just going to try and see if we can play with some defensive energy in practice today and put last night behind us. Last night’s loss counts the same than if we would have lost by one. It was a miserable experience to go through and we haven’t gone through many like that this season. It was a really, really downer last night, but the sun came up this morning, all my video equipment was working and I was able to look at everything. Saylor (Rose) still needed to eat breakfast and you know life goes on. You have to get out there and play. Texas A&M is not worried about how bad we got beat on Thursday night. They’re going to try and beat us on Sunday. I’m not talking to them, but the thing I’ve tried to do with the team is really stay focused on one game that we have in front of us. Certainly going to try not letting last night beat us twice.”