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No. 7 UK Hoops Heads to SEC Tournament With No. 2 Seed




March 8, 2013

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After earning its school-record tying 13th Southeastern Conference win with a commanding 78-65 victory over No. 8 Tennessee on Senior Day, seventh-ranked Kentucky earned a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament for the fourth consecutive season with a No 2 seed.

Gameday
SEC Tournament Quarterfinals
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt
Fri., Mar. 8 - 6:00 p.m. ET
Duluth, Ga.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | VU Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: SPSO
Radio: UK IMG
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The Wildcats are preparing to square off against the winner of Vanderbilt (No. 7 seed) and Missouri (No. 10 seed) in the quarterfinals on Friday. During the regular season, UK defeated both of its possible opponents. The Wildcats handed the Commodores a 75-53 loss in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 10. UK also defeated Missouri on the road, winning 69-43 in Columbia, Mo., on Jan. 13.

The Wildcats have had another remarkable season under the direction of head coach Matthew Mitchell. Mitchell, who became UK's all-time winningest coach with the win over Tennessee, has led the Cats to a school-record fourth straight 25-win season with a 25-4 overall record, including a 13-3 mark in SEC play. Another reason for UK's success has been the outstanding play of senior All-America candidate and SEC Co-Player of the Year A'dia Mathies. The 5-foot-9 guard leads the team in scoring (16.0), 3-point field goals made (60) and 3-point field goal percentage (.403), and has reached double-figures in 27-of-29 games, including 20 in a row. Mathies and fellow senior Brittany Henderson make up the winningest class in school history having charted a 106-28 overall record, including a 64-3 mark at home.

In the front court, All-SEC First Team selection DeNesha Stallworth and All-SEC Second Team and All-Defensive Team honoree Samarie Walker are giving Kentucky a dynamic inside presence this season. The duo combines to average 22.0 points, 14.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.

Media Opportunity - Mar. 5, 2013

Head coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening Statement...
"We are looking forward to going to Duluth. It is, in my mind, one of the great sporting events in the country, the SEC women's basketball tournament. A lot of great fans show up for it from all the schools and it's just a great atmosphere. The champion always has to play really good basketball over the course of several days. It would really be an honor for us to win it. That's what we want to go down there and do. We would love to go down there and cut down the nets in Duluth. I'm excited about how the team played on Sunday and certainly that should give us some positive momentum going into the tournament. Looking forward to it and we will be going down there to win."

On if the SEC tournament has evolved over the last few years...
"I have just always had tremendous respect for the tournament. I've always enjoyed it even when I was an assistant coach and some of the teams I was with got beat early on I still loved to hang around and watch the games and I just think it is a spectacular event and I think it's an honor for us to get to compete in this conference and to go to that tournament. To be the champion I think would be a really huge milestone for us and something we would be very excited about so I have tremendous respect for the tournament.

On how the team will carry over the energy they played with against Tennessee into the postseason...
"You just have very stark contrast of what can happen when your mind is in a couple different places like, we didn't play terrible at LSU and LSU is a good team and taking nothing away from them, but anybody that was there and watched that game we certainly didn't play with the passion and intensity that we had just a week later. We didn't get a lot faster or stronger or jump any higher it was a mindset and so I think that's a powerful message and this team needs to be very, very serious about going down there with the intention to win because we told this group, I really feel like this is a championship caliber team and when they missed out on that regular season title now the chances to be champions start to dwindle. I just think it's imperative that we share with the players how important it is to have the right kind of mindset. I think for us getting beat at LSU coming back examining some things and hopefully getting the bench a little bit more responsibility I think has been positive and that could really help us in the tournament, too. The mindset and the bench playing well are two really important areas of focus for me as a coach to try to communicate to the team."

On what more responsibility means for the bench players...
"I just told them before the Ole Miss game you are going in, you are playing the second four minutes, that's the plan. I don't care what happens, now what you do with it will dictate the rest of the game and I think that energized them a little bit, got them a little more focused. I don't think that's how it ought to be. I think you ought to earn your time but it's a long season and I just thought some of the kids had gotten discouraged so hopefully that sharpened them up a little bit where they knew they were over there talking about it on the bench, 'hey here's what's going on we are going in' it seemed to sharpen their focus."

On if the goal for the rest of the season is to sub five in and five out...
"We will see how it goes. I think that could be a great thing for us in the tournament setting. We just need to make sure that we get production out of that group. The second unit went in against Tennessee and increased the lead so that was huge. If they can do that that would be a great pattern to get into."

On if the second group of six has improved any over the past few weeks...
"Yeah, that was the group that we just had a meeting with them alone. We didn't have the starters in the meeting that day where we just tried to define some roles and get them a little bit more focused in on what we are looking for from them. I just thought that group had really been practicing poorly, lacking focus, each person on that group not giving and playing to their strengths and so as a coach you have to try to, it's your job to get people performing and it was a very short meeting just trying to get them, 'hey Bernisha (Pinkett) here's what we need from you, Azia (Bishop) this is what we are looking form you' and hopefully that helped them a little bit. We have certainly gotten better results. You might say hey Ole Miss didn't have a great season and certainly didn't win a lot of games but it carried over very well into the Tennessee game so we have talented players and I think our bench is critical for us to be the team that we want to be."

On what he takes from the win over Tennessee ...
"When we play defense that way, it is difficult for a team to function in a comfort zone and that makes it tough on your opponent because all of us want to do what we do well and all of us want to be comfortable and kind of execute our game plan. And so the defense was extremely disruptive. Tennessee had been putting up a ton of points on people, been scoring a lot of points and certainly hadn't been turning the ball over the way that we were able to make happen on Sunday afternoon. So that was encouraging. I think that can be a real weapon for us and I just thought the players were able to rise to the occasion. That's really important this weekend. We need to go down there with the correct mindset and really, really try to play some good basketball and see if we can win this tournament."

On whether the win brought swagger back for the team ...
"I think everybody had to feel better about what was going on Sunday afternoon. We played some very good basketball this year. We were just so disappointed with that loss in Baton Rouge and even the win against Ole Miss we did some good things but I still didn't think that we were back to our normal selves. And I thought Sunday we were able to get back to playing Kentucky basketball and I think everybody should feel good about that."

On this week's preparations ...
"I think that this week is always a little bit different because you're really needing to focus more on yourself because you don't know who you're going to play. You have an idea - it's down to two - but you still can't really totally commit to one team. So I think this week's more about pouring themselves into this team and what we can do to get better. There are some things that we can do offensively I think to get even better than what we're doing right now. But if we can continue to push the basketball--Jennifer O'Neill's just doing a great job, did a great job on Sunday. I thought it was one of the real big keys to the game to why it was such a dominating performance was the pace is just hard to hold up to. And I thought Janee (Thompson) gave us really good minutes, too. So if we could keep that pace going down in Duluth, especially you get down into that second and third day and your depth starts helping you. I think it's really more important to kind of focus on that that it is who we're going to play on Friday."

On facing a team that UK has already beaten handily and whether that could make players think they can coast to the next round ...
"I would think that it would be the opposite. I would think that you would have some confidence that we did perform well against them and, defensively, I think that's big for us. Confidence is big for us going into a game and saying, 'Hey, if I really play hard, good things are going to happen.' Listen, I cannot force them to do things and make them think a certain way, but I'll be doing everything I can - and we've done okay with this - of understanding that this is no time to be arrogant and think you're going to win and think you're just going to show up. We've had some tough games in the SEC Tournament over the years and we'll be looking for a real, real tough one on Friday night. I don't think the players would be overconfident either way."

On the personality of the backcourt ...
"I thought when we've been really good, Jennifer O'Neill's been a major factor in all those games. Jennifer's personality just off the court sometimes is a little subdued, and you might find that surprising as dynamic as she can be on the court. But anytime that there's a drop in energy or focus from her, it really affects the personality of our backcourt. So Jennifer's really, in my mind, the key and the catalyst to our backcourt. When she is aggressive and energetic and focused, I think it's one of the more dynamic backcourts in the country. You have the player of the year on one wing and Kastine (Evans) and Bria (Goss) are both having great, great runs here at the end of the season. So I think we have a really explosive backcourt when Jennifer is playing with confidence, focus and being really aggressive. So that's what we really desperately need. And listen, Janee Thompson only played six minutes. I was stunned Sunday when she told me she only played six minutes because I thought she played a lot more than that because of the way she played. She played explosive and fast and she pushed the ball. When we do that, I think we're a real tough team to play against. So I really will be trying to encourage our two point guards to go down there and have the personality of sharp, focused, aggressive and have the mindset of that we're going be the most relentless transition offensive team in the tournament."

#32, Kastine Evans, Jr., Guard

On the difference between the LSU and Tennessee games...
"I just think it was a different mindset that we had for the game. Obviously our fundamentals were the same it's just your attitude going into every game really determines how you are going to play and how the outcome will be."

On how t heir attitudes were different...
"I just think having more focus on the goal at hand. I don't think we took that challenge how we should have and we kind of under-looked the opportunity that we had and didn't really take it how we should have."

On the dimension she has brought to the starting lineup...
"I just try to play hard every game regardless of whether I'm in the starting lineup or not. I just try to play hard, contribute to the team however I can and do whatever needed as possible."

On why the change in lineup has helped both her and Bria Goss...
"I just think both of us are very selfless people and were not necessarily thinking about who's starting and who's not it's really just what's going on with the team and the change needed to be made and I think we both took that how we should've to make our team successful as we've been since the change."

On how big the bench play will be in tournament play...
"It's going to be huge and I think Coach has taken feedback from the LSU game and trying to get the bench really in more rotations and just the dynamic of how both tournaments are, playing back-to-back games or just one day in between games is going to be really tough but if we use the tools that we have and being such a dynamic team it could be very good for us."

On the lift it gives the starters when the bench plays well...
"That gives us a lot of confidence in our team especially knowing that we've got people who can back us up and people who are very talented and can come in and play minutes that we will need them to play this late in the season with our bodies and just how the season goes at the end."

On if they need to worry about their attitude and energy level in the postseason...
"I think it's something that we need to be aware going into each game, especially taking from the experiences between those two games and understanding that when we're ready to play our mind is right and our attitude is right that we will be able to win any game we put our mind to."

On how important Jennifer O'Neill is to their postseason success...
"She's huge. I mean she's really a huge part of our offense, she's so dynamic, she's such a great point guard, she has really brought it to another level this year that I think we have been missing. Even though last year A'dia (Mathies) was playing point guard and Amber (Smith) but just knowing she has taken that role at full force is really important for us and having people playing positions that they won't to play and score that way."

On O'Neill's ability to get it up and down the floor...
"We work on that every day. Coach Mitchell always brings that up that there is going to be one time during the game where she is going to go coast to coast and he said it might come at the beginning of the game it might come at the end but we work on that every day for it to occur no matter what time in the game. She always has that in the back of her mind we want to push the tempo, we want to play up and down especially when fatigue is starting to hit."

On if not winning the regular season title put extra emphasis on the conference tournament...
"It means a little extra, I mean we have certain goals and we didn't reach the goal of the regular season SEC championship and this is another goal. I don't know if it's more emphasis than the other one it's just goals and our path to this season that we want to reach."

On what it would mean to her to win the conference tournament...
"It would be awesome. I think it would be fun to have that experience with Coach Mitchell, especially after all his accolades that he's had while he's here to be a part of that would be very fun."

#11, DeNesha Stallworth, Jr., Center

On her confidence heading into the SEC Tournament ...
"My confidence is pretty high. I'm trying to do the little things. I definitely realized the little things helped me throughout the game and just really focusing on finishing more because I think I didn't do too good of a job of that against Tennessee."

On the team's confidence ...
"I feel like the team, we're definitely coming in confident. Just being strong knowing that if we play our best, if we do our best, we can definitely win the championship."

On being named first-team All-SEC ...
"I'm very grateful. I really appreciated it. It's a really great accomplishment just to make for the first time coming into the league. So I'm grateful for that."

On whether she expected receiving the honor during the preseason ...
"No. My focus was just trying to just play hard and play for my team and whatever awards happen at the end happen at the end."

On the Tennessee win being a reminder of how good UK can be ...
"I think (it was) definitely a game needed for us as a team because that definitely helped our confidence and just knowing that, if we play like that every game and as a team, that it should be a pretty great outcome on the scoreboard."

On the difference between the LSU and Tennessee games ...
"Definitely one thing I have to say is just as a team just all 12 of us coming and playing hard. And I think it was just a main factor. Just playing great defense and knowing that, if we all hone in together, we can accomplish many things."

On if there is concern about playing teams in the SEC Tournament for the second or third time ...
"Definitely. We just have to hone in and our defense could definitely win us games. If we just lock up on the defensive end and I know we're going to make shots because we're a great shooting team, everything will be fine."


 

 

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