Dec. 30, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 6/6 Kentucky women’s basketball opens its 31st season of Southeastern Conference basketball when it travels to Gainesville, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 1 to take on the Florida Gators. Game time in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is 1 p.m. ET. The game will be televised live on CSS.
This marks the fourth consecutive season UK has opened conference play on the road. The Wildcats are looking to snap a three-game losing skid in league openers, as their last win came in 2008 against Florida in Memorial Coliseum.
“We are entering my favorite time of the basketball season and that’s Southeastern Conference play,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I just think it is a real honor to compete in this conference. It is clearly, historically, the strongest women’s basketball conference in the country. I think it’s going to be a very challenging year and I am excited about the team that we have to compete in the conference. We’re looking forward to these next 16 games. We’ll need to work hard in the first one. Florida is a very good team, a very well-coached team, a very athletic team. To start the conference season on the road is a real challenge but we’re excited about the game and excited about the chance to go down to Florida to compete.”
The Wildcats (11-2) also look to get back on the winning track after a 70-58 loss at Middle Tennessee on Dec. 28. UK hit a season-low 32.3 percent from the field, including a mere 11.1 percent (2-of-18) from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) was the only player in double figures with 12 points. Leading scorer A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.), who was limited to just nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, scored all eight of her points in the second half to go along with a team-high eight rebounds and three steals. Sophomore Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) also scored eight points in her first career start, while freshman center Azia Bishop (Toledo, Ohio) added eight points off the bench in just 13 minutes.
“We had a poor performance Wednesday,” Mitchell said. “A lot of that was caused by Middle Tennessee and how they prepared for the game, and played with more energy and executed better. I definitely think we have moved on from that and I have a lot of confidence that our team is ready to go and ready to play Sunday. We had a good session this morning, had a good session yesterday and we’ll go again this afternoon. I feel real good that they understand that we’ll have to go play hard and play really well to earn a victory.”
One thing that has remained constant this season is the Wildcats’ defensive pressure. UK leads the nation in turnover margin (+14.5) and ranks third in steals (15.8). The Cats have forced a league-high 427 turnovers for an average of 32.8 forced turnovers per game. Leading the charge is Mathies, who already ranks in the top 10 on UK’s all-time steals list. She averages a SEC-high tying 3.8 steals per game to go along with her team-best 15.4 points per game. Goss has also been a key contributor both offensively and defensively as she averages 12.2 points and 1.9 steals per game.
Florida (10-3, 0-0 SEC) enter Sunday’s game coming off an 81-56 win over Samford on Dec. 28. UF was led Wednesday by junior forward and reigning SEC Player of the Week Jennifer George, who recorded her fifth straight double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Senior guard Deana Allen came off the bench to net a team-high 17 points.
George, a native of Orlando, Fla., leads the Gators in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.9 rpg), and ranks ninth and second in the SEC in each category, respectively. George is also shooting an impressive .592 clip from the field, the third highest in the conference. Senior guard Lanita Bartley leads the UF offense with a team-high 3.31 assists per game.
UF leads the all-time series over Kentucky 22-21, including a 10-8 advantage when the game is played in Gainesville. The Cats have been successful against the Gators recently as they are looking for their third-straight win over Florida, including second-straight win in Gainesville after escaping with a 59-58 win last season.
The game can be heard live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network or www.UKAthletics.com with Neil Price calling the action. Fans can follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.
Pre-Florida Media Opportunity - Dec. 30, 2011
“Well we are entering my favorite time of the basketball season and that’s Southeastern Conference play. I just think it is a real honor to compete in this conference. It is clearly, historically, the strongest women’s basketball conference in the country. I think it’s going to be a very challenging year and I am excited about the team that we have to compete in the conference. We’re looking forward to these next 16 games. We’ll need to work hard in the first one. Florida is a very good team, a very well-coached team, a very athletic team. To start the conference season on the road is a real challenge but we’re excited about the game and excited about the chance to go down to Florida to compete.”
On if he believes he has the team’s attention…
“We had a poor performance Wednesday. A lot of that was caused by Middle Tennessee and how they prepared for the game, and played with more energy and executed better. I definitely think we have moved on from that and I have a lot of confidence that our team is ready to go and ready to play Sunday. We had a good session this morning, had a good session yesterday and we’ll go again this afternoon. I feel real good that they understand that we’ll have to go play hard and play really well to earn a victory.”
On having so many people getting in the gym after the loss to Middle Tennessee…
“Yeah, it was a very good response by our team yesterday. We were so disappointed by what happened Wednesday night and it happens, it’s a long season. What we’re trying to do in the growth of our program is to cut down on those. A couple years back we had a few. Last year we had four. Hopefully this year we only have one. We’re over it. It’s just a tough, long season. We ask a lot out of them in practice, it’s a tough style of play. I’ve told you all this many times, when you’re a step slow on a night you look silly, and we looked a little silly on Wednesday night. Those things happen. We must move past it and that was a great response from our team. We had a bunch of people in the gym after a long bus ride home. We didn’t get in until probably 3 (a.m.) and we had people in the gym at 9 (a.m.). so that was outstanding. I was really happy to see that.”
On why he believes the SEC is the toughest conference in the country…
“You look over the history of the league and year after year you just have tremendous players. You just have some of the best players in the country on the floor every game, every Thursday night and every Sunday afternoon. You’re going to play against really talented, high-level players and outstanding coaches and people who work hard and administrations that have given a lot of resources so you can go out and recruit and have good facilities. It’s just an outstanding league and we’re honored to be a part of it and would love to try to earn our first victory on Sunday. I hope we can.”
On if he told the team to get in the gym more after Wednesday’s loss…
“I just think that over the course of trying to build a program you have opportunities to observe how they handle losses or how they react to losses. I didn’t say anything to them when we got off the bus. They did that on their own and that’s growth and progress and what I hope Kentucky players will always do to respond to adversity is go back to work quickly, put the adversity behind them and try to work through whatever issues we have. That was just a lack of effort so that was a good response to come back and show effort the next day.”
On the physicality of Friday’s practice…
“Well, Maegan (Conwright) chipped a tooth and she’s at the dentist right now trying to get that taken care of. We don’t know what that does with her status. Usually they can repair that and she’ll be back on. It was a physical practice this morning. (There was a) big emphasis on hustling. That’s our entire starting point is with hustle and then everything has to flow after that. So, schemes don’t matter for us if you don’t have the hustle. When you are guarding the ball with two people that means somebody is open so you have to be sharp and you have to be hustling to play this style of defense. I thought they had a tremendous workout this morning and I look forward to getting back on the floor with them this afternoon.”
On the status of sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill…
“We are probably two weeks away from getting out of the boot. We are looking at January 15. We will continue to keep you updated and that will be a conversation that we have with Jennifer, Courtney (Jones) and I (where) we will all get together and figure out what we’re going to do with this season. January 15, January 25, February 1, there is still a lot of meaningful basketball to play. We’ll just have to see. I do think there’s an option where her season is in jeopardy right now. I think that anybody could tell that. We’ll just have to see and that could be unfortunate in the short term and maybe something really good in the long term. I think we have set a January 15 date out of the boot. I’m not sure if it’s two or three weeks. I think out of the boot it could be three, but it might be one. I’ll try to get more info on that, but I do know that is the next landmark on that, is January 15.”
On if he likes going on the road immediately following a loss…
“I like the challenge that the team has in front of them. I don’t like going on the road ever. I wish we played them all in Memorial. We have had a lot of success in there. I love the challenge and I just love SEC time. I love it. As I said earlier, I just think it’s a great opportunity to play in a great league and I have a lot of respect for Coach (Amanda) Butler and what they do at Florida. It will be a tremendous challenge and I just still think we are a little bit away from playing our best basketball. We have a lot of young players out there making some mistakes that in two weeks or four weeks are going to be better. Hopefully we can get off to a good start in the conference. I really think this team has a chance to be good by the end of the year. I really do.”