UK Hoops Takes Winning Streak on the Road to Alabama

Jan. 5, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. –  The sixth-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team puts its school-record 12-game winning streak on the line when it travels to Alabama on Sunday, Jan. 6 for its first Southeastern Conference road game of the season. The game will be played in Foster Auditorium and carried live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price at 3 p.m. EST.

Kentucky at Alabama
Sun., Jan. 6 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
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Radio: UK IMG
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The Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 SEC) are coming off a hard-fought 76-69 win over Florida on Thursday at home in the league opener. The win tied the school record for consecutive home victories with 30 and set a new school record for consecutive wins with 12. The overall winning streak is tied for first nationally with Connecticut and Duke.

Four players scored in double digits against the Gators led by preseason and reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies' (Louisville, Ky.) season-high 20 points. She also dished out four assists and took a team-high four charges. Redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) charted her third straight double-digit scoring outing with 17 points, including 12 in the decisive second half. Junior center DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) posted her fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) added 10 points. It marked UK's sixth consecutive win over Florida.

"After going back and watching it, I was even more impressed with how our players responded in the game and really won a tough, tough game over an opponent that made us work and really tested us," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "That was a great win to start the season off with. Now, we have a different challenge here. It is our first road game in SEC play. Alabama is off to a good start and had a good record in the non-conference schedule. They are very athletic and have a lot of kids that can score the basketball and we certainly know how tough they are at home. We got beat down there last year so our team needs to be ready to go against a very athletic and aggressive Alabama team."

UK leads the all-time series over the Tide 22-16, but trails 10-7 when playing in Tuscaloosa. The Wildcats had won seven in a row against Alabama before splitting games last season, winning 82-68 in Lexington and falling 77-75 on the road.

Alabama (10-4, 0-1 SEC) enters Sunday's game looking to get back on the winning track after falling to Texas A&M 91-52 on Thursday in its SEC opener in College Station, Texas. The Aggies outrebounded the Tide 52-25 and shot 53.8 percent from the floor compared to UA's 32.8 percent.

The Tide went 10-3 in non-conference action after posting a 3-0 record in the 2012 Bank of Hawai'i Rainbow Wahine Invitational. Alabama earned wins over Cincinnati (58-47), LIU Brooklyn (80-58) and Hawai'i (44-43) at the three-day tournament.

Three players are averaging in double-figure points this season, led by sophomore Rutgers transfer Daisha Simmons with 11.9 ppg. Junior guards Jasmine Robinson and Shafontaye Myers follow with 11.3 and 10.9 ppg, respectively.

Leading the way for the Wildcats is preseason SEC Player of the Year and All-America candidate A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.). The senior guard has been the team's leading scorer six times this season after netting a season-high 20 points vs. Florida. She averages a team-best 13.8 points per game and also leads the team in assists (34) and 3-pointers made (24). After Mathies, six different players average between 12.8 and 4.9 ppg for a very balanced scoring attack.

Junior post players DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) are giving Kentucky a dynamic inside presence this season. The duo combine to average 22.3 ppg and 13.5 rpg and both are shooting over 50 percent from the floor.

The Cats' defense, often dubbed "40 minutes of dread", continues to dominate as they lead the nation in turnover margin at +11.4. UK forces 27.2 turnovers per game, while committing only 15.8 per game.

Media Opportunity - Jan. 4, 2013

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening Statement …
"We are really pleased from the result of last night's game. After going back and watching it, I was even more impressed with how our players responded in the game and really won a tough, tough game over an opponent that made us work and really tested us. That was a great win to start the season off with. Now, we have a different challenge here. It is our first road game in SEC play. Alabama is off to a good start and had a good record in the non-conference schedule. They are very athletic and have a lot of kids that can score the basketball and we certainly know how tough they are at home. We got beat down there last year so our team needs to be ready to go against a very athletic and aggressive Alabama team."

On if he brings up the loss to Alabama last year to this year's team …
"I think it is worth mentioning to our team as they see them on film this afternoon for the first time. I think some of the veterans know we didn't do that well. We do have a veteran team and a lot of people played down there last year. So I think it is worth mentioning what happened. It was all about energy last year. We got beat, I think by 22 the first half, then we beat them by 21, or whatever it was. It was a close game in the end but we didn't have the energy we needed in that game. A lot of the same players are back for them and a lot of the same players are back for us. So I do think it is worth mentioning. We won't dwell on it or harp on it, but just for them to know and to get our veterans attention I think we will talk about it."

On the team's mental toughness …
"I thought last night was a really, really good indication of how tough they are mentally or how capable they are. Mental toughness is something, I think, that is a daily decision and choice you have to make. There are times where you have to be mentally tough and times that you are not. Last night, we really were able to overcome some adversity in the game and whether that was good play by Florida or a bounce not going our way, or a difficult call in the game, or whatever it may be. They really responded to every tough situation last night. Now they have proven they have the capability of being really tough because we haven't seen a better zone than that. They were so active that at times it didn't look like, even on the film, that there was anywhere to go with the basketball in the paint. You really had to be patient and tough and we just made so many tough plays down the stretch. I was really pleased with their mental toughness last night and I think it was probably one of the better displays of it since we have been here."

On if the team has a personality yet …
"I think we are, from a personality stand point, they have proven to be hard workers. We have pretty consistent, not as consistent as I would like, but we sort of have a group of about six players that day in and day out are really consistent and then we have a group of six that are inconsistent. We sort of divided them up the other day and we are trying to get everybody over to the consistent side. But for the most part, as a whole, they work hard and they are clearly the most talented team we have had here. So it is very good that we still sort of identify with that blue-collar work ethic that really got us to where we are now. They are a pretty high character bunch. They are not angels or perfect or doing things perfectly, but I just don't have a lot of trouble from this team off the court. They are a pretty responsible group and they have a lot of fun together it seems like. So personality wise, I give them a hard time about some things, but they are a pretty energetic, hard-working group."

On whether Jennifer O'Neill's lapses were defensive …
"I was pretty happy with her defense last night. Jen really battles making good decisions when she gets fatigued and that's what we talk about. What we want out of a point guard at Kentucky, you need to be the toughest person, mentally and physically, on the court. And especially for Jennifer and Janee (Thompson) both, they're not big players. They're not big in physical stature so they really have to be mean and tough and (have) what we call a junkyard dog mentality on defense. I thought defensively last night, she was a lot tougher than she's been. When she gets fatigued physically, mentally she just makes some bad mistakes and she had a really bad (stretch). We were up 10 or 11 and it got back down to six because she just threw the ball out of bounds and took some bad shots, so it was more offensive last night. But the good thing that happened is where in the past she may have had three or four of those, she only had one last night and then she didn't let that one derail her. She didn't go over there and dwell on it on the bench. I tried not to really give her hard time; she knew what she'd done. I just tried to get over there knowing that if we could get wind back and get her a little bit of a blow, she'd get back in. That was a real sign of progress because she's tends to hang onto things. She has done that too much in the past, hang on to things and let that affect what's in front of her. I thought she handled that a lot better last night. It was a big game for her. I don't know if we could have won the game without the way she played because of the way Florida was trying to take away the inside game. That eight straight (points) that she scored, we were having a hard time and we haven't been able to make those plays in the past."

On considering moving A'dia Mathies to point guard full time …
"We're never settled on a lineup because we open it up for competition every day in practice. I'm really comfortable with our starting five right now. They are among that group of six that I know what I'm going to get effort-wise every day, so that's good for them. So I'm really comfortable with that, so now it's a matter of who are the backups and who are the subs. The best scenario for us would be five and five. Instead of A'dia (at point guard), I'd like to get A'dia a break and bring Bernisha (Pinkett) in for her instead of giving Jen a break and sliding A'dia over, now A'dia doesn't get a break. So the reason we're trying to develop some depth is so we can play really tough, but last night you saw we had to do what we had to do to win the game. Janee is a talented player that we need to do a good job of coaching and, listen, it takes everybody a different time to come along. Janee sort of reminds me of Jennifer when she was a freshman. She's not a bad kid, the light just has not come on yet as far as how hard that she needs to play. I think that she still is really somehow confused about that. She is talented enough to get the job done, so that's why I'm not pulling the plug on that. I'm going to continue to try to coach her. She's a really talented player and I think it would be best if those two kids could handle the point. Last night, A'dia had to go 35 minutes and she looked terrific doing it and she had us steady at the point-guard position. There's no thought for me right now of changing the lineup."

On the decisions to sub and what lineups to play as the game goes on…
"Most everybody got a shot last night and it really comes down to, so if you practice hard and I have confidence that you know what's going on with the game plan and what we're trying to do you are going to get an opportunity. Then it starts becoming a series of how you function in the game. I had a breakfast meeting yesterday with the two point guards and I told Janee (Thompson) she was going to get a shot and she got in there and didn't function well and so you know as you make adjustments I think she went in and came out you try to coach her up a little bit and put her back in and then at that point she wasn't functioning in the game. Samantha Drake really functioned well in the game last night. You go back and look at the tape, she did some really good things, which now gives me more confidence in her for Sunday. It's just when we start making those decision on who can get in the game is who is functioning well and then you may get down to a point in that kind of game where (Samarie) Walker is just playing so hard and she just needs a little bit of a break, then out of necessity maybe you put somebody in just to try to get one of those players – she was really, really working hard last night. She and DeNesha (Stallworth) both. Samantha looked like the one that was the most equip to play in that tough kind of game last night so it's, those decisions are happening in real time."

On if they expect to see more zone defense moving forward in conference and if they feel good about their zone offense…
"Yeah I mean, we scored 76 points and if we score 76 points in this league we are going to win a bunch of games. I just was so pleased on a night when the opponent really played well and they were tough and aggressive and making shots and sometimes making some shots that they don't make. I just thought both teams really played well. It was a great game, we made some shots maybe that we don't make sometimes too. It was just really good to see us against a very aggressive but packed in zone. There was just nowhere in the paint to go unless our players reversed and were able to drive the ball. We did some great things against that zone last night and that is very encouraging for us. We just feel like we have a talented team and if we can score against a zone and they go man to man – I thought Florida's man-to-man was good, they got out of zone and went man-to-man and we had some struggles but 76 points is very good in an SEC game. We will win a bunch if we can get that."

On if he said anything to A'dia (Mathies) before that game to give her extra motivation…
"We didn't have one single discussion but she and I have been talking a lot. The only thing that I've asked A'dia to do is recognize how important she is to this team and then just understand that the only person that I've ever seen stop her is her and that she needs to have total belief in her ability and she needs to understand how important she is to the team. We have had that conversation a lot and we had it on the California trip and we had it coming back in anticipation to the league play. But she is so smart; I don't take a lot of credit for much that she does. She is a very intelligent person and I think she wants to win a championship really badly and I thought she played that way last night."

#32, Kastine Evans, Jr., G

On if last year's loss at Alabama has been brought up at all…
"It's only come up once because that is the reality of what it was, we went down there, didn't play the game we wanted to play and got beat. So that's going to be some motivation coming into this game and preparing the next two days for them."

On how the team will respond in the quick turnaround of games…
"I think Coach Mitchell has definitely prepared us for that even just through the schedule and through preseason and it's more of a mental aspect now. All of our work has been done in the preseason. It's more of a mental aspect than anything so as long as we are mentally focused and ready to go it will be a good trip."

On how the offense flowed against Florida's zone…
"In the preseason, we worked a lot on offense. Just how dynamic we are as a team, we know people are going to throw that zone at us so we have worked a lot with that. Even just playing together and being more cohesive I think we have worked a lot on. So seeing different looks and being able to still play through those different looks has been a progress for us over the last couple of years."

On if she has seen a growth progress for Jennifer (O'Neill) over the last few weeks…
"Yeah, definitely. You could just see it as a mindset almost that she knows that obviously Janee (Thompson) is a freshman, she's still going through her growing stages coming in, and she's the other person to step up after Maegan's (Conwright) unfortunate accident. So, she knows that she's going to have to step up because there aren't too many people behind her. It's something that she knows she has to get done and if she doesn't get it done its going to put our team in a tough situation."

On having Jennifer being a pure scorer as a point guard…
"It just makes our team that much better. Anytime you have another scorer on the team that takes away from A'dia (Mathies) and then it helps out with A'dia and it helps out with Samarie (Walker), DeNesha (Stallworth) anybody else that's on the court, when you have somebody else who can go out and score. Just having that scorer's mentality and being able to put that on your back and knowing that's something you need to do is really important for us as we go further in the season."

#23, Samarie Walker, Jr., F

On getting past the Alabama defeat last season…
"I think we have been past it. It happened and we know it's something that won't happen again. I think we are a lot more talented this year and more together as a team so we won't let it happen again."

On what she learned about the team in the Florida game…
"We're tough. That was a very tough game, one of the toughest I know I have every played in, I think all of us. I think we have learned that we will never give up, we can trust each other, no one will ever give up and we all play really hard."

On the personality of the team…
"Coach always says that we are like a blue-collar workers, we work very hard. That's something that starts in practice and transfers over into games."

On getting everyone to buy into working hard…
"I think we are comfortable getting on each other when someone isn't working hard or picking somebody up when they are down to make sure that they continue to work hard. I think you are always going to have those one or two people where you have to kind of drag along with you but as a whole I think we all work very hard."