Jan. 8, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 9-10 Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to get back on the winning track when it travels to Columbia, S.C., on Thursday, Jan. 9 to meet the South Carolina Gamecocks at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price or fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats. Live streaming video is available on www.gamecocksonline.com/allaccess.
|Kentucky at South Carolina
Thursday, Jan. 9 – 7:00 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK
|Radio: UK IMG
Kentucky (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), coming off an 83-73 loss to Florida on Sunday, leads the all-time series vs. the Gamecocks 31-19, but trails 9-14 in games played on the road. UK has won three of the last four meetings, splitting last year’s two matchups by falling in Columbia, 55-50, and winning in Lexington, 78-74. The last five games vs. USC have been decided by eight points or less. The Cats went 3-2 in those games.
“It is always a really tough game,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It is probably one of the best teams that Coach (Dawn) Staley has had. It is very impressive to watch them and how hard they play. The have a very imposing front line, some of the biggest players in our league and toughest players in our league. It is a real challenge to play over there. They have a really good program and always play really hard and it is always a tough, tough battle for us. We will go over with a real emphasis on trying to get a good combination of hustle, toughness and fundamentals. You will need all of those when you are playing South Carolina.”
Kentucky is looking for win No. 700 as it holds a 699-479 overall record (59.3) in 40 seasons of varsity women’s basketball. Thursday marks UK’s fourth matchup vs. a top-10 team. The Cats are 2-1 so far, defeating No. 4/3 Louisville and No. 9/9 Baylor and falling to No. 2/2 Duke.
The Wildcats have welcomed the return of senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) who after missing five games due to arthroscopic knee surgery on her left knee (Dec. 11), returned to action last Sunday vs. Florida. She scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in seven minutes.
“I was really encouraged with her after I watched the film (of the Florida game),” Mitchell said. “I think it was a really good seven minutes for her. I thought she was challenged physically in a lot of ways. Her conditioning, just basketball-wise, would have been difficult for her to go a long time in that game, but we got what we needed out of that game as it just relates to DeNesha and I think she left the game with a lot of confidence. She practiced really hard yesterday, made all the plays, did all the defensive fundamentals, all of our defensive footwork. So I think we will see her round into shape, however many games that takes her to get back. But I would say for the bulk of this SEC schedule, I think we’ll have her ready to go. It’ll be a tough game Thursday. They are extremely big in the post and extremely physical and your physical conditioning will be a factor in this game. So still, we’ll practice hard every day with her and we’ll let her play as hard as she can play. She’s very anxious to play, so I see nothing but blue skies ahead as far as it relates for us to her coming back from her injury.”
Stallworth, UK’s leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, is an All-America candidate and on the watch lists for all the major national Player of the Year awards, including the Naismith Trophy, the Wade Trophy, Senior CLASS Award and the John R. Wooden Award. She also is one of four players averaging in double digits this season. She leads the way with 13.2 points per game, while junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) narrowly follows with 13.1 points per game. Senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) is averaging 11.6 and senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) averages 10.4 points per game apiece to go along with a team-high 9.7 rebounds per game. Junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis), who averages 9.9 points per game, ranks 18th nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting 89.4 percent (42-of-47).
Overall, South Carolina is 14-1 on the season, 2-0 in the SEC after wins vs. Arkansas (55-51) and Vanderbilt (76-66). The Gamecocks, led by head coach Dawn Staley, are 9-0 at home and are currently lead the SEC in field goal percentage, shooting 48.9 percent.
Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell leads the team in scoring, assists and steals at 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game, while also pulling down 4.9 rebounds per game. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch is one of three other Gamecocks averaging double figures with 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Freshman and 6-foot-4 center Alaina Coates scores 12.4 points per game to go with a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per contest. Junior and 6-4 center Elem Ibiam rounds out the double-digit scorers with 10.2 points per game.
Media Opportunity – January 8, 2014
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement …
“Well, we are scheduled for our annual visit to the dentist’s office. Our yearly root canal over in Columbia. They are obviously our permanent rival so we go to Columbia every year and it is always a really tough game. It is probably one of the best teams that Coach (Dawn) Staley has had. It is very impressive to watch them and how hard they play. The have a very imposing front line and some of the biggest players in our league and toughest players in our league. It is a real challenge to play over there. They have a really good program and always play really hard and it is always a tough, tough battle for us. We will go over with a real emphasis on trying to get a good combination of hustle, toughness and fundamentals. You will need all of those when you are playing South Carolina.”
On the players saying they expected a tough week of practice this week …
“I don’t know how tough it has been, they were off on Monday and we worked out twice yesterday and really tried in the morning session to work on some things fundamentally defensively that we saw from the film on Sunday to try to correct some things. We are going to have to sharpen those things up as we play in this conference and we just weren’t sharp enough and so it was a good session yesterday morning and came back last night and really tried to work on being tough on offense and setting good screens, whether it is a man-to-man or zone. I thought it was two productive practices and then we will practice this morning at 11.”
On his thoughts of the SEC’s balance right now …
“With what we are trying to do here and focus on our team, I am not for sure where everybody stands right now. I will say before anybody played a game I knew it would be a tough league and tough conference. These games are very difficult every Sunday and every Thursday. It’s going to be a long 16-game schedule and you are going to have to work really, really hard to rise to the top here. What I make of the SEC is as tough of a league as you will find in this country and it has been since I’ve been the head coach at Kentucky and an assistant here and two other schools. It is a tough, tough league and will be against this year.”
On if this team has personality issues …
“No. This team from a personality standpoint is really similar to many. It was just on Sunday we did not start the game with the kind of effort or intensity that we have all around here grown accustom to. That is all that was. Kastine (Evans) has been here four years, I have been here seven. Kastine knows what a successful Kentucky teams looks like and plays like and she has played in some games where we haven’t been successful. She hasn’t gone undefeated so she knows the difference between a good game and a bad game. I feel comfortable knowing everybody’s personalities and we don’t really get into personalities at this point in the season, we get into effort and execution. By this point everybody knows that we are here to help them develop as people in every way they can develop: off the court, academically, socially in this community, all those things. Then as players we are here to help them develop and be their best as players. That is what everybody at this point knows so your personality doesn’t matter at this point. It matters on can you show up and be focused. We did not come out with the correct amount of intensity or focus or effort to beat a Florida team that came out with all of that. You credit them with being ready to go and you look inside yourself and your team to try to figure out how to make sure that doesn’t happen again. It is a long season and most teams, some don’t, but most teams and even the teams that are great and go undefeated and things like that I’m sure they have ups and downs. We just did not get the job done and we all want to get the job done. So when it doesn’t happen it is pretty easy to spot. I don’t think it is anything but the clear recognition of who we are. I would say we have a good handle on what we need to be.”
On how DeNesha Stallworth has practiced …
“I was really encouraged with her after I watched the film (of the Florida game). I think it was a really good seven minutes for her. I thought she was challenged physically in a lot of ways. Her conditioning, just basketball-wise, would have been difficult for her to go a long time in that game, but we got what we needed out of that game as it just relates to DeNesha and I think she left the game with a lot of confidence. She practiced really hard yesterday, made all the plays, did all the defensive fundamentals, all of our defensive footwork. So I think we will see her round into shape, however many games that takes her to get back. But I would say for the bulk of this SEC schedule, I think we’ll have her ready to go. It’ll be a tough game Thursday. They are extremely big in the post and extremely physical and your physical conditioning will be a factor in this game. So still, we’ll practice hard every day with her and we’ll let her play as hard as she can play. She’s very anxious to play, so I see nothing but blue skies ahead as far as it relates for us to her coming back from her injury.”
On whether he knows a percentage for her health …
“You know, I haven’t asked that question. We’ve been getting back to the point when to she can go full contact and when she can go and I don’t know–at this point in the season and as it progresses whoever’s at a 100 percent, but what I deal with is, can she go full contact and full speed and practice and she’s back there. So now it’s a matter of basketball timing, knocking the rust off, continuing to gain confidence with her situation and that all looks to be going really well.”
On this being a tough road trip, but potentially good for the team …
“Yeah, and let me tell you, it’s a great place to play. I say all of those things about a root canal and a visit to the dentist’s office totally in a complimentary way to South Carolina because this is how much respect we have for how hard they play and how tough they make it on you. So it’s really a good place to go. It’s a great facility and a really, really nice town and we’re always really treated well at South Carolina, but it is a good game to get the players’ attention. I think if you’re a veteran on this team, you understand that you don’t show up anywhere in this league and win automatically on the road and South Carolina, we’ve won some over there but we’ve lost some over there too. It’s a tough, tough proposition and it’s because they’re such a good team. It’ll have our players’ attention – certainly needs to have our players’ attention – and the key to this game is being able to hustle and stay really tough mentally, emotionally, physically and rely on your fundamentals because they will really, really play hard and really play tough. And so it is a battle for 40 minutes with this team, always is. The key, can we keep that strength about us and can we really hustle and try to outhustle South Carolina. I think that’s going to be such a key because I don’t think there are really any secrets between the two programs. We play twice (each season) and the team that plays harder usually wins.”
On Makayla Epps only playing six minutes vs. Florida…
“I think she’s been caught doubting herself at the 4 (position). I have to look in the mirror on that and take the blame for not being able to get her to have the confidence to play there because I have a lot of confidence in her. Obviously I haven’t communicated that well enough to her. After going back and looking at the film I was just trying to stay positive with some of the players who were missing shots. As you go back and look in hindsight I probably should have gotten Makayla some more minutes because it couldn’t have hurt us any. All those things are sometimes lost in the heat of the battle and you don’t see it as well. I think she has had some really good practices. She had two really good practices yesterday and I think she probably just needs some success in a game to get her going. It’s my job to make sure she’s in position in a game to put her in a position to be successful because right now I think what she needs is a little boost of confidence. She’s still real talented and real valuable to us.”
On what is causing Azia Bishop to miss layups…
“Azia struggles playing from a place of power. That starts all in your core and it starts with your habit of getting your hips low and getting into what we call the power position. It’s a real struggle for me as a coach to get her in that position. We really try to work on it, we run wind sprints and we pay attention to it in practice and we have individual breakdowns, but at some point a player has to take what the instruction is and just say, `I’m going to make a commitment to it and I’m going to do it every day in practice and I’m not going to have to be reminded every single time.’ My job is to always be there to teach and to help, but there are some fundamental things that after you have trained over and over and over, you do have to take some responsibility. She just gets off balance and rushes and does not play from a place of power. In this league you are going to go up against some players that are strong. You see a kid like (Aleighsa) Welch for South Carolina, she’s just always in a power position and she’s always looking for contact, hunting contact and she creates contact. The officials call that against the defense. Azia shies away from contact and tries to get away from contact, so that causes an off-balance situation. If you are moving up there it’s hard to put up off the window where you need to. We just really, really have to find a way to motivate Azia to really accept that as something she’s going to have to do, that I simply can’t do for her. I wish I could because I definitely want her to do that.”