Women's Basketball
No. 16 Kentucky Honors Seniors Sunday vs. LSU in Memorial

No. 16 Kentucky Honors Seniors Sunday vs. LSU in Memorial

by Evan Crane

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A special senior class of Paige Poffenberger, LaShae Halsel, Taylor Murray and Maci Morris will be honored pregame (ceremony will start approx. 1:40 p.m. ET) prior to No. 16 Kentucky’s annual Senior Day game vs. LSU at 2 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.  
UK HealthCare is the game sponsor for Sunday’s game and pediatric patients from the Kentucky Children’s Hospital will be on hand to go through the starting lineup with UK’s players. Cat face fans will be handed out at the gates while UK HealthCare will be giving away items as well. Young fans are encouraged to take advantage of the Kid Zone pregame with games, poster making stations, coloring stations and more. Kentucky is 32-11 all-time in regular-season home finales (1974-75 season not included). The Cats have won 12 of their last 15 games on “Senior Day.”
Single-game tickets are $10 (all ages) in reserved seating areas, while general admission tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children (ages 6-18) and seniors (age 65+).
The game will be televised on the SEC Network+ with Jeff Piecoro and Christi Thomas 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.
Spectator parking is located in all E-lots surrounding Memorial Coliseum and are off control 3 hours prior to tip. Additionally, the South Limestone Garage (PS#5) and the Rose Street Garage (PS#2) are available 2 hours prior to tip. With the Gatton Student Center lot and expansion of North Craft lot there are 238 additional parking spots for spectators this season around Memorial Coliseum. The Bill Gatton Student Center is available as a pay-to-park option. Availability is based on the Gatton Student Center Event Schedule.
The Lexington Parking Authority Transit Center Parking Garage, located between High Street and Vine Street is available for parking after 5 p.m. during the week and all day on the weekends. Additionally, a free shuttle service will pick up in the High Street lot beginning 2 hours prior to tip. UK Athletics Event Staff will be at the Transit Center Garage Entrance to assist with directing patrons to the correct shuttle pick-up location.
Parking is prohibited in any R (Residential) lots. Vehicles parking in R lots without a proper permit, along yellow curbs, grass spaces, or other non-specified and unapproved areas may be subject to ticket and/or tow. Disabled spectator parking is available with a valid, state issues disabled hangtag in the E lot North of the Craft Center. These spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis until full.
Shuttles are available beginning 2 hours prior to tip off and pick up and drop off near the South Limestone Garage (PS#5) and near the Transit Center Parking Garage and High Street Lot. Shuttles will start back up after halftime to return guests to their parking areas, the shuttle will discontinue service 1-hour post-game.
Doors to Memorial Coliseum open 1.5 hours before tip and UK Athletics encourages women’s basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum. For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit UKathletics.com.
For the first time since 2012, Kentucky (22-5, 9-4 SEC) earned a key road win at South Carolina, defeating the Gamecocks 65-57 on Thursday for its fifth win in a row. The winning streak is currently the longest active in the league. UK trailed 43-40 heading into the fourth quarter and outscored USC 25-14 to get the win. Rhyne Howard and Taylor Murray each had 17 points with Howard hitting two 3s and getting three steals while Murray had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. In the second quarter, with UK leading by one, Howard went on an 8-0 run by herself to push the Cats’ lead to nine with 4:21 to go. UK held on to a six-point lead at the half, 30-24, as Howard led all scorers with 10. The 24 points by South Carolina were the fewest points scored in either half this season. UK held the Gamecocks to a season low 57 points total. The Cats hit 13-of-14 free throws in the game (92.9 percent), their highest percentage of the season.
Three Wildcats are averaging 12 points or more per game this season including Howard who is averaging 16.8 points per game with a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game. Senior guard Maci Morris is averaging 15.8 points per game with a team-best 65 3-pointers, while Murray is averaging 12.7 points per game and leads UK in assists and steals.
LSU leads the all-time series in games played against Kentucky, 33-16, including a 12-7 mark in games played in Lexington. UK has won four of the last five games in the series. Last year, LSU took down UK 72-70 inside Rupp Arena but earlier this season UK won at LSU, 64-60. The Wildcats played without Murray and Howard in the game.
The home team had won seven straight in the series but the road team has won each of the last three meetings.
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, it is a very special day for us each and every year we are able to honor our seniors. There is a lot going on during the day. We have a game we need to do well in and play well in and that is always at the forefront of our mind, but it is also a day where we want to honor our seniors and this year is a very special group. It’s a group that has done so much for us and I am very excited that we are going to be able to celebrate them and I appreciate everyone’s hard work because it is going to be a fantastic day on Sunday.
I would really like to invite all of the Big Blue Nation to make every effort to be in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. This is such a special group for us and they have done so much for us. We would love for a sellout crowd to attend and be there to honor them. Be in your seat early at 1:40 p.m. and hope you can come out and celebrate what has been some remarkable accomplishments from this group.
The first thing I think about our seniors that we are honoring is they are four young women who are extremely high character and outstanding students in the classroom. They have all four grown into a better version of themselves than when they first arrived in the program and have worked hard. All four have been certainly so coachable and it has just been a joy to watch them develop and I think all four have an incredible future. When you think about how this group came together, they did not all come together in the usual way where you are a signing class and show up the first day and then progress through your career. It has been a unordinary fashion and has been well documented the difficulties that we had at the end of 2016. That was Taylor and Maci’s freshman year – going into their sophomore year – they were coming off a successful season with a Sweet 16 and so many good things and then ended up with what has been well documented in a lot of upheaval. Those two kids – Taylor and Maci – certainly had some options to do other things besides stick here at Kentucky. I am really grateful for those two, very, very grateful because that was certainly the most difficult time in my professional career and dark time for me personally and a confusing time and a down and low time for me professional and for our program. They were two real steadying and sur influences. Both of them stuck in here with us and I will never forget the phone calls I received from Taylor’s mom and Maci’s dad or tremendous support at a time when I needed it. I have not forgotten that and never will forget it. They really stuck by us at a difficult time and have worked their way through some difficult times to have such successful careers and to be incredible young women.
So heading into the 2016-17 season we weren’t really sure how many people we would have on the team and when you think back about it, there was a bunch of uncertainty. So we had walk-on tryouts and out of difficult times if you pay attention you will see some real miracles and incredible blessings that come your way that would not have come your way without the difficulties and hard times. Two of those miracles have been our relationships with LaShae Halsel and Paige Poffenberger. This program is better because those two people joined our program and they have contributed in significant ways and have had tremendous careers for us. The stat sheets and the minutes played will never be able to accurately reflect the impact they have made on the program.
These four are extremely special to me and extremely special to all of us. I think they are a group that certainly deserves to be celebrated. I know we expect a huge crowd and I certainly ask if you do not have your times now that you go get them this weekend and come in on Sunday afternoon because it is going to be an outstanding day and we are looking forward to Senior Day.
The game is very big for us and very important. LSU we played earlier in Baton Rouge and it was an extremely difficult game. They are such a good team and powerful team and have great interior play and incredible quickness in the back court. They can really push the pace and are just absolutely one of the toughest teams to score on in the country and certainly in our league. They are always well coached and well prepared and it will be a very tough game. Another added bonus of the fans and the energy that they can bring in the building because we will need everything that we can muster up on Sunday because it is a very important game and a lot of significance around what a victory could be but nothing more important than celebrating these seniors on Senior Day so we are going to be locked in and focused and work hard to get ready to play a great game.”
On the success of this season being rewarding for the seniors …
“It is extremely rewarding because last year was a difficult year from the standpoint of the results and what had been the norm here for almost a decade. They along with Alyssa Rice and Makenzie Cann last year were our veterans and there was a lot of leadership that they had to learn and Maci and Taylor had to join the seniors and try to become better leaders. Through all the difficulty and the struggles the eight-game losing streak and the record that wasn’t what we wanted but when you look back at it everybody really grew last year. As hard as it was, it ended up being a very beneficial year for us because I think it strengthened Maci and Taylor to a point where they understand what they need to do and how far they have to come out of their comfort zone to be effect leaders. Leadership is not easy. You can talk about it, but it is hard to do. They have both come outside of their comfort zone to lead in the very best way they possibly can. That is very exciting to see as a coach that is interested in that type of growth. Our coaching staff definitely wants to see winning basketball but we want to do that while we are helping people grow. Those two have really grown in their leadership. Now, you go into this season and have no idea how this would unfold but we knew we had a group of high-character people that would work hard to form a team and see it unfold the way it has up to this point and to have the opportunity to put ourselves in a position to have a special season is really gratifying as a coach because as I just said I know how much they have been through and what they have sacrificed. The options for them were pretty endless. People who were leaving here were not going to low-profile places. The market was open on our players and they had a lot of attractive places they could have gone and if they would have landed there last year they would have had a different experience from a win-loss standpoint so I am extremely happy that they are having the success they have had this year and they need to just keep going because there is so much more to do and so much more we can accomplish. I am very happy for our seniors this year.”
On the fingerprints from the seniors on the identity the team has formed …
“For me, I will always talk about their resilience and their loyalty and their ability to hang through difficult times. Over a long basketball season, there are a lot of plays and practices and plays in practice that don’t go the way you want them to go and players get frustrated and coaches get frustrated and you can cloud your vision sometimes with what is going on on the court. One thing I have always tried to remind myself of is what those two kids – Maci and Taylor – did by staying and what Paige and LaShae did by joining when a lot of people probably thought it wasn’t the best place to walk through the door into. It will be those kind of things. Another thing with all four of those, they have all really developed their game and become better players. You don’t do that just by talking about it. A coaching staff can put out a plan for your development and your improvement but at some point the player has to engage that and the player always has more power than the plan through her attitude, energy she devotes to it and effort she gives. It is really remarkable to me to watch those kids and see how much better they have become as players. That is another example they have set and we can tell a player, you can come here and have some imperfections in your game and have flaws in your fundamentals but if you listen and if you will devote the right type of attitude and right type of energy and right type of effort you will get better and I think all four of these players are great examples of that.”
On Maci Morris being from Kentucky and how special that is …
“Our fans love all of our players but there is no question there is a special connection between our fans the players from Kentucky. Basketball is just woven into the DNA of this Commonwealth and the people of it and also just a huge, huge part of this state that the university is woven into the DNA of the people here and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It certainly makes for a great relationship between the player and the Big Blue Nation. It is important for us to have those kids here and Maci has done as far as like bringing attention to our university and doing it the right way and being a great role model and great student and great high-character individual that serves the community and All-SEC player, she has been a tremendous credit to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and this university and this basketball program.”
On Taylor Murray’s leadership …
“It has been unbelievable and incredible the amount of growth she has had. She is a very quiet person and not very gregarious. She has a great personality and a lot of fun to be around but just not a very loud person but she has found her way like we were talking about earlier from a leadership standpoint she has found her way. She was incredible last night. She was just totally connected to the game mentally and totally connected to the situations. She was feeding information to me where as a coach you just know she is locked in and giving valuable information. Our huddles were outstanding last night. It had been a long time since we had beaten South Carolina and a long time since we won in that building. There were probably only a couple of us over there on the bench that had experience a victory over there. And the poise and the presence everyone had from a positive attitude and staying positive it was really, really awesome and Taylor certainly lead that charge.”
On Maci and Blair’s relationship …
“They are great friends and great teammates. They love each other and this entire team has just been awesome example of how important a group coming together and caring about each other and playing for each other and what you can accomplish under those circumstances. Those two families are close and have known each other a long time and I know it will be special memory for both of them that they were able to play a season together and I know Blair is learning a lot from Maci because Maci got better. I know Blair sees that and she works really hard at it and I think benefits and is motivated and encouraged by Maci’s example. We are around them a lot off the court and they always seem to have good laughs together. It is funny you said that, because we were joking around together the three of us before our final film sessions yesterday. So they have a great relationship and a lot of laughs and care and love for each other. I think that has been a real positive for Blair in her freshman year and I think Maci has done a great job of helping her and I think Blair does a great job of encouraging and boosting Maci up to.”

#4 Senior Maci Morris
On Coach Mitchell saying he has a great deal of gratitude for them …
“Like Paige was saying, it was a testament to all of us for sticking through it and for coach for staying positive through it and having faith in us to pull this program through a difficult time. He has really grown from that and has helped us grow from it and become stronger as leaders and as a coach. I am thankful for this program and what he has helped it become from that and I think we have turned it around really well.”
On how rewarding it is to have the season they are having this year …
“I think going through the hard times makes you appreciate the good times a lot more. We went through a lot of things with people transferring and having a losing season, it makes this year a lot more enjoyable and memorable for us.”  
On why they did stay at Kentucky …
“Me and Tay talked about it and we said we were not going to leave each other. She said if she stayed that I was going to stay and vice versa so we stuck it out and performed the best we could for each other. Going off what Tay said, when I came to Kentucky I wanted to be a Wildcat and nothing was going to change my mind about that.”
On the team’s goals …
“We are just trying to enjoy it as much as possible. We don’t have that much time left but there are a lot of games left and we are going to work hard and compete as much as we can because we want a championship whether that be SEC or making it to the Final Four. Our goal has been the same since our freshman year and we are not taking our eyes off of that.”
On being from Kentucky and what that means …
“I think being from Kentucky, we love Kentucky. When you are born, you are either a Wildcat or something else, but usually it’s a Wildcat. We like pulling for each other and it is awesome to see. Kentucky, area wise it is large, but it is a very small state and everyone knows each other it feels like, so you just want to see your family do well.”
On her relationship with Blair …
“Me and Blair basically grew up together and have always been in the gym together. I used to go to her mom’s basketball camps and when I think about that I remember Blair who was this kinda chubby girl with head band and sweat bands on her wrists and little bows in her hair. That is how I see Blair. It has been amazing. She is like my little sister and I have tried to put her under my wing and teach her as much as I can and help her get through some tough times because that freshman year transition can be really hard. I know our parents are enjoying it, especially our moms because getting to watch your daughters play together at the University of Kentucky is amazing. It has been fun and I have tried to enjoy this one year I have had with her the best that I possibly can.”
On how this ride has helped her if she decides to become a coach …
“It has definitely taught me different perspectives because there are going to be highs and going to be lows but even during the bad times you are going to come out of it. Coach Mitchell has shown me that even when you are going through bad times you are going to get through it and recover from it and be better than what you were at the beginning. I have learned from so many coaches that have come through this program from my freshman year to now. Like Coach Dunn, who is a hall of fame coach and just meeting so many coaches that have told me and informed me with so much information. I am so thankful and blessed to have this opportunity.”
#24 Senior Taylor Murray
On Coach Mitchell saying he has a great deal of gratitude for them …
“Leading off of what Paige and Maci said, I just think when something happens like this you just have to stay together and stay positive and I think with the help of Shae coming on and Paige coming on and just helping Maci and I. We did not know what we were faced with but we just stuck together and prayed and stayed positive.”
On how rewarding it is to have the season they are having this year …
“I think the lows are what brings a team together. Just having Maci and I and everyone that did stay, we just stayed together and talked to one another and talked to Coach Mitchell and see what we could do on our side and his side and just put it together.”
On why they did stay at Kentucky …
“When I signed that paper (NLI) my choice was always if I was going to go somewhere I was not going to leave. Each school has their trials and tribulations and no school is perfect and you are going to go through what you are going to go through but I think what we went through was fine but we were able to overcome that and stay positive and look at us now, we are doing what we need to do and everyone is together and we are like a family and it shows out on the basketball court.”
On winning at South Carolina …
“It is always good to get a win on the road, those are important leading into the SEC and NCAA Tournament. Our focus was just to go in there and have a lot of positive energy and positive attitude and that was the start of the game and worked hard to get a win.”
On the team taking on their identity …
“Yeah, we have worked really hard at our leadership and that is something that I team works hard at every day is what can we do to make a bigger impact because when we leave here they are going to have to take that spot from us, so just teaching them. Then Maci and I being a positive aspect for them and giving them the words and insight on what to say moving forward.”  
#0 Senior LaShae Halsel
On Coach Mitchell saying he has a great deal of gratitude for them …
“For coach to say that he is grateful to have us on the team still says a lot. It makes you happy that you mean so much to somebody and it is a good feeling.”
On what led them to walk on …
“Same for me, but it took me a lot longer, about a year my freshman year, after all that stuff happened. I just to go to the women’s games my freshman year and I really missed basketball a lot and thought it would be a great opportunity. I knew Asia Bishop because she was friends with my cousin and she slowly got my name into everybody’s ear. It was a great experience and like Paige said, it was God, I was supposed to be here and I built this family and I can’t live without them now.”
On her journey …
“This journey has been a long one. It has been one for the books. I have had my ups and downs, but these people have helped me get through those lows and keep working no matter what. No matter how many times you get knocked down, stand back up because I got your back. It was hard, but getting a scholarship this summer changed me because it was like I finally made it and all the hard work I put in has really worked. This has been a long road but I love every moment I have been through.”
#2 Senior Paige Poffenberger
On Coach Mitchell saying he has a great deal of gratitude for them …
“I think that it’s very humbling for me being one of the people that walked on because I feel like it is more the opposite. I have a lot of gratitude towards Coach Mitchell and this program in general for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime that would have never had happened. It is a testament to his attitude towards that bad situation and how he turned it into something great that he is grateful for Shae and I and all the girls that stuck around. I don’t think there are many coaches that would look at a situation like he went through and say they were grateful for what happened.”
On what led them to walk on …
“I had already decided to come to school here for the academic scholarship that I got and I got two months into summer and a lot of the girls that I went to high school with played in college at division I or division II and I really thought I was going to be OK without playing and focus on school and med school and all that, but like I said two months into it I hit that sad point that I wasn’t ready to let go. About four days later, my mom found an article about all the girls leaving Kentucky and she kiddingly said that I should go walk on if I was interested and I just brushed it off. But then I had a couple coaches encourage me to do and I emailed the coaching staff down here and they said you got a tryout. I think that was just a God situation for me to be in the right place at the right time to get to do that, it doesn’t just happen on its own. So I think I was definitely meant to be here. It was a lot of little things leading me here to get to do what I have done.”

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