Dec. 14, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 5/6 Kentucky women's basketball team returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 15 when it plays host to East Tennessee State at 2 p.m. ET in the first of three-straight home games to conclude nonconference play. The game will be televised live on the UK IMG Sports Television Network and Fox Sports South. Fans can also listen to the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price or follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats.
Single-game reserved tickets cost of $9 for all ages. General admission tickets for adults are $8 while single-game general admission tickets for seniors and children (ages 6-18, 65 and over) are only $5. UK faculty, staff and children ages five and under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, while supplies last. Season tickets are also still available for just $65. Lower-level chair back seating ($80) is sold out.
The Wildcats are looking to tie the school record for the best start to a season at 11-0 set in 2009-10. They also look to chart their 44th consecutive win at home vs. a nonconference opponent.
"We have a tough game coming up here Sunday afternoon," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "East Tennessee State has all their really top players back this year. They have a new coach and they're playing with a lot of energy, a lot of effort. They've played a tough schedule. They have a point guard Brianna McQueen who can really push the pace. They have some really guard-like players all over the floor which will make it very important for our post players to be down in a stance and play some great defense. We are not going to have a lot of time to prepare because we got in late last night from Chicago. It was a good victory there and players will be off today, so we really have to focus in practice tomorrow. I would love for a big crowd to come out Sunday afternoon for an important game against East Tennessee State. We need to keep this train rolling down the tracks in the right direction and we'll need a big crowd to help us get a victory on Sunday."
The Wildcats are coming off a hard-fought 96-85 win over DePaul in Chicago on Thursday. UK overcame an 11-point first-half deficit thanks in large part to the gritty play of freshmen Linnae Harper (Chicago) and Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.). Harper netted a career-high 18 points in her homecoming, 12 coming in the decisive second half. Epps added a career-high 10 points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes of action. Also in double digits was senior Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) with 14, senior Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) with 13, along with a team-high eight rebounds, and junior Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) with 12 points. All 10 available players scored at least one point and the Wildcats shot a season-high 55.9 percent from the field, their highest shooting performance since hitting a 57.1 percent clip vs. Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 1, 2009. UK has already hit 50 percent or better from the floor five times in 10 games, after totaling five all of last season.
O'Neill leads a very balanced scoring attack. She averages a team-high 14.4 points per game and is one of six players to average in double-digit scoring this season. Senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.), who is sidelined three-to-four weeks following arthroscopic surgery on her left knee, follows close behind with 14.2 points per game. Evans averages 12.5 ppg and three Wildcats, sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago), Walker and junior guard Bria Goss adds 10.6, 10.3 and 10.1 ppg, respectively. Walker is also grabbing a team-high 9.8 rebounds per game which ranks second in the Southeastern Conference.
Located in Johnson City, Tenn., the East Tennessee State Buccaneers enter the game at 2-5 after wins over Appalachian State (81-72) and Alabama A&M (82-65) and losses to Memphis (77-74 OT), Morehead State (77-69), Saint Francis (92-79), Western Carolina (58-56) and Vanderbilt (92-71).
ETSU is under the direction of head coach Brittney Ezell, who became the eighth head coach on May 8, 2013. The former two-sport athlete at Alabama (women's basketball and softball), has a career record of 120-113 after spending three seasons at Belmont. She also spent three seasons as head coach at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College (now Northwest Florida State College) in Niceville, Fla.
Junior guard Cara Bowling leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game. Redshirt junior forward Serena Clark averages 12.3 points and a team-best 12.1 rebounds per game, while sophomore guard Brianna McQueen chips in 12.2 points per contest.
UK is 1-1 all-time vs. ETSU. The last meeting was a 59-50 loss on Dec. 12, 2008 in Memorial Coliseum. The teams first met on Dec. 11, 1982 with UK winning 97-52 in Memorial Coliseum.
For parking information, please visit www.ukathletics.com/wbbgameday.
Media Opportunity - December 13, 2013
"We have a tough game coming up here Sunday afternoon. East Tennessee State has all their really top players back this year. They have a new coach and they're playing with a lot of energy, a lot of effort. They've played a tough schedule. They have a point guard Brianna McQueen who can really push the pace. They have some really guard-like players all over the floor which will make it very important for our post players to be down in a stance and play some great defense. We are not going to have a lot of time to prepare because we got in late last night from Chicago. It was a good victory there and players will be off today, so we really have to focus in practice tomorrow. I would love for a big crowd to come out Sunday afternoon for an important game against East Tennessee State. We need to keep this train rolling down the tracks in the right direction and we'll need a big crowd to help us get a victory on Sunday."
On what Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper are doing differently now than a couple months ago...
"The easiest way to explain it, I think for us, our modus operandi is just multiple things going on. It's a dynamic style of play and you have to put multiple actions back to back when you play here. You can't get one task completed and kind of rest and wait for the next one to come along. It's moving very quickly and players adapt to that at different speeds and it's really the pace of the game that's the most difficult thing for them to acclimate to. You just can see it as a coach; you can see it to start to happen. It's difficult for them to get, but you can start to see little plays in practice where you can see `hey it's starting to take place'. About three weeks ago I started seeing the corner being turned a little bit, but they aren't where they need to be. They'll be much better a month from now and they'll be much better two months from now. A year from now you won't recognize them. Last night didn't happen for Linnae Harper because she was at home and it was some emotional homecoming and she elevated her play. That was a result of her practicing and Makayla too. They were huge in the game. They can put plays together and they can transition from defense to offense and back to defense. You can see it building, but last night was big. We needed both of them, especially with the loss we suffered with DeNesha (Stallworth). Somebody had to step in there and fill that gap and the two freshmen were good last night."
On last night's performance by Epps and Harper and moving forward...
"It's very important for them to gain any confidence they can from the performance, but stay very humble, very hungry and not let that performance give a sense of arrival. They just need to stay rooted in the fact that practice is where a player is made at Kentucky. That is where you get it, you don't do it in games, you did it in practice and as along as they'll stay there they are talented young women. I don't get any sense from them that that's not going to continue to happen. They are working hard and I have been impressed with their consistency in practice. As long as they do that, they will keep moving forward and we'll have two really good players on our hands."
On Epps moving to the post due to injuries...
"Her basketball IQ helps a ton. She's a very smart, intelligent player and can run the point guard for us. Jennifer (O'Neill) and Janee (Thompson) could play the 2, but they would have a harder time guarding small forwards at the 3 and they couldn't play the post position. It's really unique when a player can play 1 through 4 and legitimately play the 1. We've been able to swing some players from the 3 to the 4, but Makayla can legitimately play the 1, 2, 3, 4 and it helps us so much that she's smart and can figure things out. You don't have a lot of players like that. Kastine Evans is that way. You might have one or two players and you are lucky if you have two players on a team like that. Makayla is one of those players and she can play the 4 and defend the 4 because she's strong. She's not all that tall, but she's strong, athletic and quick so she can guard taller players and then she's really difficult for a bigger, slower player to guard her. She just needs to keep working hard; we've got to get her up to speed on some of our offensive schemes at the 4. She's not quite as good at that, but that's just because of lack of repetition. It has nothing to do with her intelligence. She'll get it and I think she can be a very, very valuable player for us in that position."
On his team's offense and defense at this point...
"The way that the games are being called, it's more difficult than ever to get a player to pick their dribble up. One thing for a pressure defensive team that you need to be able to do is get players to take a couple dribbles and pick it up, now you are into denial and now the pressure is really hurting the other team. We ran into two teams in a row, Odyssey Sims (Baylor) you just couldn't get her to pick the basketball up. She's a really difficult, talented player and (Brittany) Hrynko last night for DePaul, you just couldn't get her to give up her dribble. Both those kids could keep their dribble alive and so we had to score to beat those two teams. I think we still have a good defensive team. I think last night defense was important and we were able to get more stops than they were and won the game. It's just going to be game to game and I still think there are some good defensive efforts out there. We didn't play bad defense last night, DePaul played well. DePaul has a good team and I got home last night very late and put the tape in and watched it. They made some plays, so I think you'll see more scoring with the way the game is being called. I think with the pace we play and we're trying to push it and get extra possessions, I think you'll see some high scoring games with us, but our offense is strong right now and we just need to try to keep getting better at it."
On the reason the offense is so good right now...
"We identified as we looked, everybody is excited about where the program has landed right now and where we are, but when you lose three out of four years in the Elite Eight and you lose two years in a row to the same team, it makes you sit and look really what do you need to do? As a staff we got together and looked at last year's tape and the offensive execution, attention to detail was not there. That's where a coach like Jeff House coming in - who spent nothing but time in the pro game on offensive systems and things like that - has been able to come in and help all of us get a more clear direction on fundamentals and it's little things. It's not big things; we haven't changed the offense that much as far as sets and concepts. It's just been a stronger commitment to details and it's been everybody in the program has bought into it and has really worked hard it. It's fun to watch a group of kids really start in June and really build up to this point. We need to keep going because I think with the way games are called you are going to have to score some points because it's just difficult to stop really good athletes. We just need to stay at it every day. I would say this, our players have practiced really hard at it and have tried really hard and have watched film and gone on individual workouts. It's been really, really encouraging to see us take a step forward on the offensive end of the floor."