Jan. 23, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 5/4 Kentucky women's basketball team takes its nation-long 17-game winning streak on the road when it faces No. 18/14 South Carolina on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. EST in the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. The game will be televised live on SportSouth, FS Southwest, Sun Sports and Fox Sports South. It also will be available on ESPN3 and the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.
|Kentucky at South Carolina
Thurs., Jan. 24 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | SC
| TV: SPSO
Radio: UK IMG
Live Video via ESPN3
Fans can follow the UK Hoops team on Twitter at @UKHoopCats and use #UKHoops to comment on the game.
The Wildcats improved to 18-1 overall, 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference with a commanding 97-53 win over Auburn on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. After Duke fell to Connecticut on Monday night, the Cats now own the nation's longest overall winning streak at 17.
Thursday marks the 49th meeting in the all-time series vs. South Carolina and the 18th straight year the teams have played twice in a season as USC is UK's permanent SEC home-and-home opponent. UK leads the all-time series 30-18, but trails 13-9 when playing in Columbia. The Wildcats won both meetings against the Gamecocks last season, 66-58 in Columbia and 53-50 in Lexington.
Four of the last six matchups have been decided by eight points or less, including the last three. The Wildcats went 2-2 in those close games.
"I think that this is really becoming one of the most hotly-contested rivalries in our conference," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We play South Carolina twice every year and as you go back and review the history of the games in the past five years, it is two teams that really, really, play hard and get after each other. It appears the players have great respect for each other and play really hard and compete really hard. We know that we will be in a real battle tomorrow night. Coach Staley is one of the toughest coaches to prepare for. Her teams are hard to prepare for because you know that they will play so incredibly tough so this will be a real test for us. It is one of the toughest defenses we have gone up against in quite some time. We will have to put everything we can into this one and play extremely well to earn a victory at South Carolina tomorrow night."
South Carolina (16-3-4-2 SEC) enters Thursday night's game having won two tight victories. The Gamecocks defeated LSU last week at home 66-59 and took a 52-44 win at Florida on Sunday.
Like Kentucky, USC is a balanced scoring team. Seven players average between 12.4 and 4.0 points per game. Sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch leads the Gamecocks in scoring and on the glass with 12.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Freshman Tiffany Mitchell is the only other player averaging double-digit scoring with 10.4 points per game.
South Carolina has one of the top defenses in the conference again this season as it allows an SEC-best 47.6 points per game to go with a field goal percentage defense of 34.3 percent. The Gamecocks also lead the league in rebounding margin at +11.6.
"There is a tremendous amount of toughness with their program," Mitchell said. "I have always been impressed with how tough they are. They're a team that never has a bad game. They go to the boards and right now they're rebounding great from all five positions, so that's a mindset. So for this game that is going to be one of our focuses. We're trying to get mentally prepared for that."
USC is coached by three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, who is in the midst of her fifth season at the helm of the Gamecocks program. Staley has a career record at South Carolina of 82-61.
For Kentucky, senior guard and All-America candidate A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) continues to prove why she was selected preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. The reigning SEC Player of the Week leads the league (conference games only) in scoring, averaging 19.8 points per game and is shooting an SEC-high .533 percent (21-of-38) from the 3-point line. She currently ranks in the top 10 of 12 career lists at UK, including third in steals (282) and fourth in scoring (1,727).
In the front court, 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 23.5 points and 14.4 rebounds per game and both are shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
The Cats' "40 minutes of dread" defense has them leading the nation in turnover margin (+10.47), limiting the opponent to 37.2 percent shooting (8th in the SEC), including 27.6 percent from beyond the arc (6th in the SEC), averaging 12.5 steals (3rd in the SEC) and 5.0 blocks per game (4th in the SEC).
UK is 2-1 against ranked teams this season with wins over No. 7/6 Louisville on Dec. 2 and No. 20/21 Texas A&M on Jan. 10. The only loss came at top-ranked Baylor on Nov. 13.
Media Opportunity - Jan. 23, 2013
Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
"I think that this is really becoming one of the most hotly-contested rivalries in our conference. We play South Carolina twice every year and as you go back and review the history of the games in the past five years, it is two teams that really, really, play hard and get after each other. It appears the players have great respect for each other and play really hard and compete really hard. We know that we will be in a real battle tomorrow night. Coach Staley is one of the toughest coaches to prepare for. Her teams are hard to prepare for because you know that they will play so incredibly tough so this will be a real test for us. It is one of the toughest defenses we have gone up against in quite some time. We will have to put everything we can into this one and play extremely well to earn a victory at South Carolina tomorrow night."
On if the game tomorrow night will be a good test as to how good this team's offense is…
"It will be a great test. I don't know what it will do as far as us figuring out where our offense is. I think we will have to play well offensively and place a high value on toughness plays in this game. They are so aggressive and tenacious defensively that it really forces you to play really tough to have success. They have some of the quickest and strongest hands in the conference. They are just able to strip more basketballs and get their hands on more basketballs than anybody I see in our league. They are really active. I was watching our game from last year with them this morning. They are really tough and it will be a great test for our offense. I think we will have to perform well to have success against this defense."
On what is making the offense better than last year…
"More times than not we have five players on the court who can score. I was looking at last year's game and we were getting some open shots, but the people who were getting them weren't making them and we are making more shots this year. I don't know if we are a whole lot different than that on the perimeter. We are just shooting the ball a lot better. Of course the good play of Samarie (Walker) and DeNesha (Stallworth) gives you an element of if you are struggling you now can pound it inside and maybe get it to the basket and get a bucket. I think that has been a big change for us. I just think it is our talent level is better this year and we are more gifted offensively this year. When you have our starting five on the floor, all five of them can put the ball in the basket."
On what he thinks has changed in A'dia's demeanor and what does he think is making her more confident this year…
"I think she has a tremendous amount of confidence in her teammates. I think that is important to A'dia. I don't think A'dia has ever wanted to do anything but win and I think she senses that this is the team that can do some things and I think that has given her some confidence. She has been a tremendous leader for us. She is talking this year more than ever. She is also getting some open looks because of the good play of DeNesha and Samarie. I think people were worried about the paint and it has led to some open looks and she is wearing it out right now from the 3-point line. She is really shooting the ball well. She does that in practice also and its not like these are surprises. She is just making a lot of shots. I think it is her confidence in her teammates and I think she senses that this thing is winding down and she really wants to finish strong. I just see a really steady A'dia Mathies who seems pretty focused and trying to make sure that we are in the hunt for a championship."
On if he thinks that something in her mechanics or more practice has changed for A'dia that has increased her 3-point shooting…
"I think she has always had good mechanics. I just think that she is a more experienced player and is starting to have more confidence in herself. Maybe at some point in her career she was labeled as a slasher in getting the ball to the basket. Early in her career in high school she really operated in the paint a lot. I think she evolved and her confidence grew. She has put time in to work on her shot. I see her now in the gym before gym or after practice and I think extra work has helped her. It is probably more mental than physical. I think she has great confidence in herself right now."
On South Carolina's rebounding and abilities as a team…
"There is a tremendous amount of toughness with their program. I have always been impressed with how tough they are. They're a team that never has a bad game. They go to the boards and right now they're rebounding great from all five positions, so that's a mindset. So for this game that is going to be one of our focuses. We're trying to get mentally prepared for that."
On Jennifer O'Neill's performances as of late…
I think that her role in this game and in every game is important because she is doing something that I don't see any guard doing in the league right now. She is really in attack mode whether our opponent makes or misses a shot. She is in attack mode and is a very important weapon for us."
On Jennifer becoming a leader for the team…
"Ithink the process needs to be lead by example first. You have to show your team that you want to win before you can start talking about it. Having said that, I am really pleased with her actions in practice and games. She's become an active defender and I know that as her confidence grows so will her abilities to become a great leader."
On if he can compare another opponent they've played this season to South Carolina…
"They are a very tough team. I have a great amount of respect for their program. There isn't anyone in the league I can compare them to."
#1 A'dia Mathies, Sr., G
On what she believes sets South Carolina apart as a positive "mean" team…
"Every year we play them, I know they have great guard play. They remind us a lot of ourselves a lot of times. They're very quick. They've got good post players who can rebound and they've got an overall good team and a great coach."
On whether South Carolina really exhibits a toughness that most other teams don't have…
"I think they're just very quick. They have very quick, good guards. They're all strong and everybody is aggressive. Not one person is going to come out on the court and let down. They play hard every possession. They give it their all. I just remember it being a dogfight every time we play them."
On whether there is anything new going on to explain her high SEC percentages…
"I don't really think there is anything new. I'm just going out there and making plays more. I've been talking a lot to my brother. He's just giving me pointers on the game and how I can assert myself more in certain ways. I think that might be helping out a little, and even getting in the gym more. I think it's just little things like that that helps me when I come on the court."
On whether anything has changed in her shooting…
"It's the same thing. If I'm open, I'm shooting shots but now they're just going in at a higher rate."
On why her shots have been going in at a higher rate…
"I don't know. I've been getting up a lot of shots. They say it's more of like, once you put up more shots there's more muscle memory and stuff like that so maybe that's the reason. I put up more shots but I feel like I'm the same."
On whether she feels she is stepping out of her role as a "slasher" in high school into being a shooter now…
"I don't really know. In high school, I was like the tallest player on my team so we were a running team. We ran a lot and I played the post and I was looking forward to something new so that I could be a guard. Finally, when I came to Kentucky, I became a guard and I think the game just developed from there from actually being able to do my natural position so I guess that's what's maybe going on."
On what kinds of tips her brother gives her…
"He is just saying different things like how to get my post players involved with different screens that I need to create plays and being more aggressive and things like, when I pass in the post, don't just stand right there. Cut through and do something and call for the ball because a lot of pressure is going to be on me so if I keep moving I can get other people open with better shots and just be able to make plays."
On whether she feels more confident in her team's offense this year than in years past…
"Yes, I do. I think it's very different because we don't have four guards out there so we don't have a guard running a post position. I think that having two posts down there really helps us out a lot so those guards can focus on guard things and the posts can focus on posts things. Everybody that is put out there is contributing so I think it just makes us more well-rounded and we're doing very well right now."
On whether she is consciously trying to be more of a leader this year…
"Yes, it's needed because I know when I'm on the court, this is my last year, last semester actually, and I think I know a lot about the game of basketball, just me mentally. So, I think I can help out a lot of players when they don't know the plays, I know what to do in reading stuff differently. I definitely make a conscious effort to try to talk to them and guide them through it."
On whether stepping into this leadership role has been hard for her…
"It's easier. I don't really mind. If it's something that can help the team then I'm definitely going to do it."
On when it hit her that she was in her last semester…
"When I found out I was taking five hours."
On what she likes most about her team offensively…
"I think it's just the diversity of weapons. It isn't like you can sag in the paint and play us and then we can't make outside shots. We can play different styles of basketball and still score a lot of points so I think that's what excites me the most about our offense. You can't shut down one player and then the whole team goes down."
On whether a team like South Carolina can test the diversity of Kentucky's offense…
"I think they do. They've got a great overall team. Everything they do can probably test us but I think we can come out on top because we have so many weapons."