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Press Conference Quotes - Kentucky




March 21, 2014

PRE-GAMEDAY MEDIA OPPORTUNITY QUOTES – Kentucky

Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky, Head Coach:

On the state of his team entering the tournament…
“Well I think it’s with great excitement that we approach this postseason. The team’s worked really hard to get to this point. I think this team has a great appreciation for being in the tournament. Five or six weeks ago we were wondering if we would get in the tournament or whether we would play in it, so I think this team is very excited to play and I think they are looking forward to the opportunity. I think they appreciate the opportunity.”

On the advantages of playing in Memorial Coliseum…
“What we’ve really tried to talk to the players about is how important this 40 minutes is and you have to throw the seeds out right now and get prepared for a really formidable opponent. Certainly, I would rather be playing here than in Wright State’s gym. It’s an advantage, but we’re really trying to focus on our play and what we need to do to be successful Saturday morning. The benefit of practicing in the gym all week and getting to shoot more shots than Wright State hopefully will be an advantage but we haven’t focused a lot on that because I don’t want the players to think somehow the building is going to win the game for them because that’s not what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen is our players will do the things necessary to beat Wright State. We have the players in a hotel trying to make it very much like every other NCAA Tournament game. I just don’t think you can afford, at this point in time, to artificially boost your team up. I think you really need to stay squarely focused on the 40 minutes that is in front of you because it’s the only game that you have guaranteed right now.”

On how he prepares Linnae Harper and Makayla Epps for their first postseason…
“I don’t do much differently with them. I try to approach every practice with a very consistent energy to what we need to do and that’s the way I approach practice with them. They are both smart kids and I think they understand that it’s an important game. The key for this team has been us trying to enjoy being together, enjoy practice, making practice enjoyable and I think Makayla and Linnae have benefited from that as much as anyone. Our practices have been very similar to what has been successful for this particular team. They both have played very well in the postseason already. In the SEC Tournament there was a tremendous amount on the line there and I thought they performed well. For them, they just need to play basketball because they are both really talented players, so I haven’t talked to them about anything differently or approached them any differently than I would as a team.”

On doing more team activities outside of basketball…
“I think a great lesson I’ve learned this year – people talk about this is the fifth year in a row that you’re going to the tournament and you get caught up in the program. At times if you’re not careful and you’re not paying attention to this particular team and I’ve always been one big on saying every year is different. When we were not playing well, I just went to the team and asked them for their feedback and god bless them they gave it. They were like, ‘well you aren’t real engaged with the team’. Things that I didn’t believe were happening, but you can either listen to them or you can say, ‘you guys are wrong and I’m right’. They said they needed a deeper level of engagement. I showed up every day knowing that I loved all of them in my heart and working hard and doing things I thought were important to try to get us better and they said they needed something different. They needed a different level of engagement off the court and it was surprising to me because it was a lot of veteran players that I felt like I knew them and they knew me. You just have to, in my mind, make it about the players and they basically thought I didn’t want to be around them much and that kind of thing, so we just started to engage them off the court and make sure we had some conversations and take the time to talk about some things besides basketball. It has seemed to help the players out. We were a group that I definitely think was headed in different directions. We were weighed down by the expectations and everybody was reacting to it differently. My nature is probably to go harder and work harder and try to be more intense and thank goodness we were able to sit down and talk and everybody listened to each other. That’s how all that resulted in what we have now and it’s just a great lesson to learn. You have to listen to your players in my mind or I have to, to be a successful coach.”

On if that was painful for him to hear he wasn’t engaging enough…
“Yeah, because it’s not what you wanted to hear and it’s not what you want to believe. You don’t want to believe that about yourself and your initial reaction is ‘you’re wrong, I do love you and look at what all I’ve done for you.’ Then you start playing that game and you have to stop that very quickly and listen to what they’re saying. It was pain but I don’t know that you learn a whole lot without some pain along the way. I think that’s where you learn the greatest lessons a lot of the time. That’s why I’m real excited to go into this tournament with this team because I would love for them to have some success because they’ve worked real hard and they could have just shut their mouths and not said anything and we could have become a train wreck. They opened up and put themselves out there and really worked hard to become a team. I’m really going to do everything I can and hope for great success because they’ve worked hard to get to this point.”

On Wright State …
“Wright State is really explosive. They’re fourth in the country in scoring and have beaten a five seen in this tournament, in North Carolina State. They beat them by nine points earlier in the season. They are very, very explosive on offense, they have legitimate guard play. I look at their guard play on tape and they are just outstanding and one of the scrappiest, most together performances I’ve ever seen in their championship game on Green Bay’s home court. They played with a lot of fire and a lot of intensity. They will make it difficult. We do have a size advantage, but if you don’t really get tough in there and get a power base and keep the ball up high, they will strip you and really make it difficult to score in the lane. They are number one in the country in turnover margin. They do a great job of turnover margin and turning you over. It’s a big challenge. I can assure you they didn’t drive down here wanting to get beat. They want to win. Mike Bradbury is a tremendous competitor and has done a tremendous job as their head coach, so I am geared up and our players need to be geared up for a real string test on Saturday morning.”

On the challenges Wright State presents …
“They are very up-tempo, so it could be a very up-tempo game.”

On what he liked from the SEC Tournament …
“I just thought that we were the aggressors so many times in that tournament. I thought we were the more aggressive team and that’s where we need to be tomorrow morning. We need to be the more aggressive team on the court and stay in attack mode and I think that was the greatest lesson we’ve learned out of the SEC Tournament. When that’s our mindset, that we are going to attack our opponent, and play out and we are from the jump very, very aggressive, I think that’s the greatest lesson we learned in the SEC Tournament. I thought in the last four minutes against Tennessee, we probably got too concerned about the outcome and that was probably the first time that we were concerned about the outcome. We just need to be engaged in attacking our opponent for 40 minutes and seeing where that gets us.”

On if Wright State reminds him of his early-year teams at UK …
“Yeah, they do. They don’t full-court press as much as we did, but very similar. They have four guards that just get after it playing with tremendous passion and purpose. They have an unbelievable bench. I just saw Mike (Bradbury) this morning, and I wish they hadn’t sent them down here because they are such a tough team, but it sure was fun to watch them play in that Green Bay game. Just one of the most together performances, and that’s exactly what we’ve been telling our team. Their bench is just alive and it seems like they just enjoy playing together and so that’s what you need when you’re undersized. You have to have a grit about you and a determination about you that you’re going to win, because if you don’t, you’re going to get beat. That’s where we were early on in the season, we were very undersized, so if we fooled around, we were going to get beat. We were very similar to that.”

On getting to the Sweet 16 three times on the road …
“Well, we’ll see how it goes. I’m real proud of what we’ve done, with three out of the last four years being able to advance to the Sweet 16 on the road. It was not in your home gum, and a lot of teams have benefited from that dynamic of being at home and advancing to the Sweet 16. We haven’t had that dynamic working for us. Looking back, I’m real proud of those teams, and now you just try and stay as focused as you can and what Kentucky needs to be successful tomorrow morning. I think I’ll be better able to answer that question if we have some success here.”

On the advantages of playing at home …
“I think that’s one of the really great benefits. If you think about it overall, probably the No. 1 overall thing, and I told the team this, you need to play well so you gain the advantage of playing at home. You need to play with a lot of fire, a lot of intensity and a lot of passion, because that gives the fans energy and then they give it back to you. So our fans do a great job. Sometimes we’re stinking it up in here and they’re still trying to get behind us and help us out. When you’re out there trying to make plays, they’ll get behind you. That’s where the advantage lies. If you can play well and reward the fans, they will give it back to you and I have been struck by how many people have come up and said how appreciative they are that they can watch us one more time here tomorrow morning and if we can find a way to win, they’ll get another one tomorrow night. It’s a great thing for our fans, but really for us to gain the full benefit of being here, we need to play well and we need to get them excited because that’s where the full benefit can come for us.”

KENTUCKY PLAYERS

Bria Goss, Kentucky, Guard:

On playing on her home court…
“We’re super excited this is our first opportunity that we get to show our fans how we play in the postseason, just really excited and fortunate to play on our home court.”

On their better play later in the season vs. the beginning of the season…
“Just coming together as a team. We’re spending a lot more together off the court here the past couple of weeks and I think that has helped on and off the court with our relationships and just getting to know each other better. The coaches also are around a lot more, we commend them because we went and talk to them about it and have responded so positively and I think that really helps us.”

On staying focused post-SEC tournament before NCAAs…
“The practices have been very intense but they also have been fun. You’ll se that in our practice that we take time out just to have fun. We didn’t really see that a lot earlier in the season but you guys will see it today.”

On the emotions of playing in the NCAA tournament…
“Oh yeah it just a whole new experience. You play all throughout high school and then you come to college and that’s a new experience. Then you get to postseason and that would be a new experience. I’m just really excited to see how far this team can go compared to my freshman year where I was more nervous and Oh how is it going to go and play out but now I’m more comfortable.”      

Denesha Stallworth, Kentucky, Forward:

On UK’s size advantage…
“They are very scrappy guards and they look to dig on post players. A key for us will be keeping the ball high and protecting the ball. Rebounding is going to be huge in this game. I think that our size is definitely going to be an advantage but we have to take that advantage and use it.”

Jennifer, O’Neill, Kentucky, Guard:

On playing at home…
“I am just really happy that we were able to get home court advantage for the first two rounds. I think that will help us tremendously. I’m just ready to play.”

On what the difference is between playing at home and away in the NCAA Tournament …
“It doesn’t feel like an away game. It is more comfortable for me. Just knowing the gym and knowing how well we shoot in here. I think that is going to help us.”


 

 

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