Women's Basketball
No. 16 Kentucky Returns to the Road Thursday at LSU

No. 16 Kentucky Returns to the Road Thursday at LSU

by Evan Crane

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to bounce back from its first home loss of the season, the No. 16 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team returns to the road for the third time in the last four games Thursday when it faces LSU at 7:30 p.m. ET inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
The game will be streamed on the SEC Network+ with Lyn Rollins and Victory Howell on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick will have the call on the UK Sports Network on 630 AM in Lexington. Live stats and free live audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.   
Kentucky (15-3, 2-2 SEC) is coming off a setback over the weekend, dropping its first game home of the season to Ole Miss, 55-49. The UK offense struggled to get into a rhythm during the game, scoring a season-low 49 points behind a season-low 26 percent from the field. Freshman guard Rhyne Howard recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds in the game. Senior guard Maci Morris did not play due to knee pain while fellow senior Taylor Murray did not start in the game but did play as she still recovers from a bruised knee sustained in the first half at Tennessee.
Despite the loss, Kentucky stayed at No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 and moved up one spot to No. 15 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 thanks to the impressive win last Thursday at highly ranked Tennessee. Howard leads UK in scoring this season at 16.9 points per game while she is also averaging a team-best 7.1 rebounds per game. The native of Cleveland, Tenn., has hit 43 3-pointers with 50 assists, 40 steals and 16 blocks on the year. Morris is averaging 16.8 points per game and has hit a team-best 47 3s while Murray leads UK with 68 assists and 64 steals.  
LSU, who has been receiving votes in the national listings off and on this season, enters Thursday’s game with a 11-5 record and 2-2 mark in SEC play. The Tigers are 8-3 at home this season and are coming off a 76-53 loss to top-20 ranked South Carolina on Sunday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU’s league wins have come at home to Texas A&M and at Ole Miss, while it started SEC play with a loss at Georgia.
The Tigers are averaging 63.3 points per game this season while their defense has been stingy, allowing teams just 52.9 points per game. LSU is hitting 42.6 percent from the field, 30.5 percent from 3 and crash the boards with a +5.8 rebounding margin this season. Under eighth-year head coach Nikki Fargas, the Tigers have a +2.4 turnover margin this season and lead the SEC in fewest fouls, offensive rebounds per game and scoring defense.
Junior forward Ayana Mitchell leads the team with 13.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game, hitting 57.8 from the field with a team-best 30 steals. Sophomore guard Khayla Pointer is averaging 12.6 points per game and leads the team with 78 assists. Sophomore center Faustine Aifuwa is averaging 8.2 points per game with 5.7 rebounds per game while senior guard Shanice Norton is adding 7.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
LSU leads the all-time series in games played against Kentucky, 33-15, including a 14-4 mark in games played in Baton Rouge. UK has won three of the last four games in the series. Last year, LSU took down UK 72-70 inside Rupp Arena. UK won the last meeting between the two teams in Baton Rouge, 55-42 on Jan. 19, 2017. That was UK’s first win against LSU in Baton Rouge since 2010. The home team had won seven straight in the series before each team claimed road wins each of the last two years.
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @KentuckyWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement …
“Well, another tough Thursday night on the road in the SEC. LSU has a very powerful team. They are very disruptive and are forcing almost 20 turnovers per game and they really come at you. They have great interior size and explosive guards and are a tough, tough team. We have another big challenge ahead of us. We worked hard yesterday, I was proud of the team and how they bounced back with a great practice yesterday morning. We need to have another great session today and it will be important for us to go down and earn a victory at LSU, it is going to be a tough game.”
On the injury status of Taylor Murray and Maci Morris …
“Taylor will be non-contact today but seems to be trending in the right direction and Maci will be a game-time decision tomorrow.”
On grinding through the injuries …
“Yeah, it is just how the season is unfolding and you have to deal with these kinds of things. We are not the only team here in the middle of January – it is unbelievable that we are halfway through January – dealing with injuries. Basketball is a long season and you do have to stay the course and deal with these kinds of things that pop up. Our players’ health is the most important thing. We are so fortunate that we have done such a good job of putting ourselves in a great position. We just need to stay the course and keep working hard and earn every victory that we can and maybe the light at the end of the tunnel starts to show up there towards the end of the season. You can get really energized for postseason play if you can work really hard during these dog days to put yourself in that position. So it is part of the game. We have had very, very few seasons where we have went unscathed throughout the season without no injuries. You just have to stay the course and keep working hard and our team has done that all season long and I expect us to do the same now.”
On if any particular player has stepped up with Morris and Murray injured …
“The thing that we have done all year is that we have been a great team. The sum is always great than our individual parts are. It was what I expected, the entire team really came out and had great energy. Listen, we didn’t wake up Sunday morning and wanted to lose. It was a terrible day for us from a focus and energy standpoint. It was a tough, tough day. Again, you have to credit the opponent for being hungry to come in for a win. If you look at the entire body of work throughout the season, we just played with tremendous energy and enthusiasm and passion and have beat some really good teams. We will continue with that formula. They certainly were energetic and enthusiastic Tuesday morning.”
On the importance during this time for the younger players …
“Exactly, and experience is so awesome. I think you can see the growth of the players from a year ago right now. We have gotten better and the younger players are still in the infancy of their SEC careers and are still learning each and every game. Then even players that maybe aren’t freshman but have an increased role this year, experience is so valuable for them and you know more each game than you did heading into the game. The reps and the practice time and learning how to practice and get yourselves prepared for an SEC game, all those things are very valuable.”
On getting off to a strong start on the road …
“I think the challenges on the road again, you go back to experience, you can gain from that. We did have some times getting off to a poor start, certainly at Mississippi State and had a big scoring drought at Louisville. I think both of those times you were able to go back and say, ‘here are the things that we can do.’ One thing that we did great last Thursday that we need to try to duplicate this Thursday was that we had tremendous focus and tremendous energy from the start. They were locked in on the fundamentals they needed to get off to a good start and they did. I was so impressed with their focus and energy to start the Tennessee game. Now, you start to learn from the success that you had. If you have a challenge, you try to bounce back from that, if you had something that worked, you try to lock back in and replicate that. LSU is a very similar team and this will be a very similar game to Tennessee. It is a tough place to play, they are always well prepared and well coached and big, strong, athletic and disruptive. You have to be well prepared and locked in and bring tremendous energy and focus to start the game and we will certainly be talking about that at practice today and try to replicate that.”
On the team’s practice yesterday …
“Well, we just tried to keep everything in perspective. Again, these are high character players and great students and great people out in the community. They did some great team community service last night. They are great, great people. Listen, good teams every now and again play poorly and that is what happened on Sunday. What you have to do is you have to own up to that and face the facts. What are a team that overachieves. We have to be overachievers. We are not showing up blowing you away with sheer talent. We have to overachieve and come with tremendous focus and energy and when you don’t do that you get the result that we got on Sunday. You have to think about, though, what kind of energy did they give the Sunday before against a very good team and what kind of energy they gave Thursday night. So you go back to those and you know they are capable of it. That is what we talked about before the hit the court. Because of our class schedule, we practiced early on Tuesday. I think that was good to get up and get going before the sun was up. They really, really did a good job and that is what they have shown they are capable of doing and that is what we expect from them every day at practice. That is what they have been doing all season long. I was excited to get back on the floor with them and really proud of them for how they approached yesterday’s practice.”
On LSU’s matchup zone …
“You have to just try to execute with tremendous focus and tremendous energy because it is not always going to be obvious exactly what scheme they are playing. It is always going to be aggressive and always going to try to disrupt you and turn you over. So we have to stick to our fundamentals. If you slow down and start worrying about what defense they are in or what they are trying to take away, then as a coach you are trying to orchestrate it and by the time you decipher what is going on, you are not in what you need to be in. We just need to go attack their defense, there are things that we can do fundamentally that will help. We have to shorten our passes, we have to meet our passes, we have to be crisp with our passes, we have to go meet the ball, we have to be physical, we have to use our screens well. All of those fundamental things that really help you in a game like this. That is the thing about LSU, they are going to fight you tooth and nail and not give you anything easy, it is going to be really, really tough. You have to hit some perimeter shots to beat them. They are big, powerful and tough on the interior. It is going to be a total team effort tomorrow night with focus and energy being so important for us.”

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