Feb. 26, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 12/15 Kentucky women’s basketball team faces its second straight Southeastern Conference opponent on the road when it travels to Starkville, Miss., to take on Mississippi State Thursday, Feb. 27. The game will tip at 7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price calling the action. Live streaming video is available to members of the subscription portion of www.hailstate.com/hstvlive.
Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats and use hashtag #UKvsMSU to talk about the game.
Tickets are available on www.hailstate.com.
The Wildcats (20-7, 8-6 Southeastern Conference), who currently sit in fourth place in the league standings, are looking to clinch a double-bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., next week. In order to do that, they must win their final two regular-season games as Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt follow close behind with 7-7 records. UK plays host to Vanderbilt on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET for Senior Day.
“I’m well aware of where we stand and what a couple victories this week would mean,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It would be very significant for this team, opportunity-wise. I think still what we’re trying to focus on is this team really rounding into form and being its best. We’re getting close to a part of the season, if you win one then lose one, your season is over, so we’re trying to build some consistency here at the end of the season. Not only would two victories really help us as far as seeding goes in the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament, for that matter, but it would just help us end the regular season on a very consistent note. It’s a big week for us, there’s no question about it. We just need to stay focused and all in on trying to get a victory tomorrow night in Starkville.”
Thursday marks the 40th meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State. UK is 22-17 all-time vs. Coach Mitchell’s alma mater and he series is tied at 8-8 when playing in Starkville. Mitchell graduated from Mississippi State in 1995 with a degree in marketing.
The Wildcats won the lone meeting between the two teams last season in Lexington, 100-47, the largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent in school history (+53).
The Cats are looking for their seventh straight win overall vs. MSU and their fifth straight win in Humphrey Coliseum. The last loss came on Jan. 20, 2005, 72-59.
UK has fared well on the road this season, winning eight away from home, including four in SEC play and three vs. top-25 teams. The Cats are just one win away from posting their ninth road win which would tie for the second-most road wins in school history (2012-13, 1998-99, 1989-90 and 199-91). The school record is 10 road wins set in 1977-78.
One of those road wins came at No. 16/13 Texas A&M last Sunday in College Station, Texas, 83-74. It marked UK’s fifth win over a ranked opponent this season, including its third on the road. The Cats have met eight ranked opponents in 2013-14, including six in the top 10, the most in the SEC. UK’s strength of schedule currently ranks eighth nationally.
All-SEC candidates Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) are leading the Cats this season. O’Neill, who has scored in double figures six straight games off the bench, is putting up 13.5 points per game, while Stallworth follows with 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The last five games, Stallworth has averaged a double-double with 13.4 points and 10.0 rebounds, while shooting .509 percent from the field (27-53), including 2-of-2 from the 3-point line.
Senior forward and All-SEC candidate Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) is UK’s leading rebounder with 8.8 rebounds per game which ranks fifth in the SEC. She also has 19 career double-doubles, including eight this season which ranks sixth in the league. Narrowly missing the double-digit scoring mark is Walker (9.7), junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) with 9.5 ppg, sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) with 9.4 ppg and senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) with 8.9 ppg.
Goss also ranks sixth nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting an impressive 92.9 percent clip (78-of-84). Her career free-throw percentage of 81.9 percent ranks third on UK’s career list. She has not missed consecutive free throws in a game since March 17, 2012 vs. McNeese State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Media Opportunity - February 26, 2014
“We have a tough game ahead of us tomorrow night. Mississippi State has been really good at home this year. They are a very aggressive, defensive team, really hard-nose, and tough competitors, make it difficult on you to score and one of the real premiere frontcourts in the league. So our hands are full. We had a really good practice yesterday and need another one today. We have a tough, tough test awaiting us in Starkville.”
On the challenges Mississippi State’s Martha Alwal presents…
“She is just so active and has made a big jump from her freshman to her sophomore year. Really improved, great shot blocker, great athlete with long arms, big presence in the lane, goes and gets boards. Any time you have 20 rebounds in a game, I don’t care who you’re playing you have done some work. She plays with a lot of fire and emotion, I'm really impressed with her. So she’ll be a big test, she’s bigger than anybody we have and is very, very active and is a problem both defensively and offensively, just does a really good job of playing hard, plays a lot of minutes and is just a big presence for them.”
On the confidence in Makayla Epps and Jelléah Sidney…
“They have worked real hard in practice and like I said Sunday, I thought defensively the two freshmen were good in the zone and they didn’t have to play back-to-back-to-back positions and man-to-man. Offensively both of them were really dynamic. Then with Jelléah, we’re just looking for consistency out of Jelleah and really our whole team, I think that's the thing. You know Jelléah can make plays, you know she can do some things of great value we just need her to do those things consistently well. What I always love about her is her energy and her effort. She sure gave us that on Sunday and she’ll have to tomorrow night. This will be a tough, tough game for us. They have some really good front line players in their frontcourt, imposing and productive, and then some really quick, hard-nose guards and so we need to step up to the challenge tomorrow night.”
On if Samarie Walker is fading since DeNesha Stallworth has come back…
“Well, I think that she struggled shooting the ball a little bit and sometimes when she isn’t making shots she thinks she should make, she lets that affect her too much. She was really productive defensively and on the boards Sunday. I just think that we would like to see her shoot the ball a little bit better and a lot of those are layups and things that sometimes they look like she’s doing a really great job and they just don’t go in and we keep trying to tell her to let those go and just keep playing. I don’t think that she feels like she’s any less important because DeNesha’s back but you know she’s a big key to us being successful.”
On Makayla Epps playing a prominent guard position…
“She did a really good job on Sunday, so now what you’re looking for is some consistency and you need to bounce back with another good game. It’s going to be another big challenge just like it was in College Station. We’ll just see if she can build on the performance. That's what you want freshmen to be able to do is to understand there was a reason that she played well on Sunday and it was a lot of the things that you just mentioned. She really did a good job running the basketball team, she did a good job taking advantage of opportunities in transition to be productive, she moves the basketball, she’s a good passer and she played some good defense. Now you can’t feel like, ‘hey, I did a great job on Sunday so it’s just going to happen for me on Thursday night.’ You have to go out and prove it again on Thursday night. If we can get consistent play from her at the point guard, it makes us more dynamic, it gives us another talented player that can score and that can be productive and so I saw some really good things from her on Sunday and I hope she can take a step forward. She would really help us have a good game against Mississippi State if she can be effective.”
On what he needs to see from Linnae Harper and her consistency…
“I think that Sunday was a big step forward for her confidence-wise. She made a 3-point shot, she made a couple perimeter jumpers and she gets to the basket. She’s worked so hard on her shot. Earlier in the season teams were packing the zone in and the perimeter shot maybe wasn’t her strength, but she has worked tirelessly to improve that and that showed up big time on Sunday. Then she made some plays defensively in the zone. Sometimes she gets driven on a little bit defensively and that happened again Sunday, but you can live with some of that if you are more productive – if you have more good plays than bad. I think she’s just been working hard and real proud that she’s hung in there. We’ve had a lot of meetings about where she should be productivity-wise. She has aspirations of being a great player and I think she’s on her way to doing that and Sunday was a good day for her.”
On if it was a wakeup call for Harper when she first arrived being the No. 5 player in the recruiting class…
“I think you’d have to really ask her exactly how she’s thinking, but I think it’s possible that you have very high aspirations when you are rated that high – that you’re going to do certain things. She’s had, I think, a really productive freshman season from the standpoint of getting better. If we can make a run here at the end of the year and win the SEC Tournament, get to the NCAA Tournament and get to the Final Four and win a National Championship, I think all those things that maybe you have on your mind about personal achievements kind of fade into the background when you can really be on a great team. She has a chance to do that and she’ll be one of the reasons we do have a great season. If we can in fact finish strong here.”
On the strategy going forward in regards to when Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson are on the floor…
“Well, I think what’s so great for us is Janee and Jen (O’Neill) and Makayla are all pretty versatile players and so you might be able to see them all on the court at one time, especially if we are being effective with some zone defense. I really think right now for us it just calls for whatever the game dictates and how it’s shaping up. We have a lot of versatile players and who’s playing well that day. I think right now Makayla has to continue to play well and continue to work hard before we have a definite rotation at that spot. Tomorrow night will be a good indicator. Can she play well in back-to-back games and help us win back-to-back games? Can we get some consistency going? Because that’s really important, we’ve been winning one, losing one, winning one and losing one. That’s certainly not what we want to do tomorrow night. We want to try to go down there and work hard to get a victory.”
On if he has been keeping an eye on the SEC standings down the stretch…
“I’m well aware of where we stand and what a couple victories this week would mean. It would be very significant for this team, opportunity-wise. I think still what we’re trying to focus on is this team really rounding into form and being its best. We’re getting close to a part of the season, if you win one then lose one, your season is over, so we’re trying to build some consistency here at the end of the season. Not only would two victories really help us as far as seeding goes in the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament, for that matter, but it would just help us end the regular season on a very consistent note. It’s a big week for us, there’s no question about it. We just need to stay focused and all in on trying to get a victory tomorrow night in Starkville.”