Here is what Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell had to say Friday night after his team lost 85-72 to Washington in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals in Rupp Arena.
COACH MITCHELL: Well, what a great game tonight for the University of Washington. Just congratulate them. They were outstanding. They were prepared and they played hard, and they made tough shots and big shots and really, really impressed with their performance tonight. So we congratulate them and wish them well as they move forward.
Disappointing night for us. We would have loved to have done better. We had some opportunities in the game, and so you just don’t ever want it to end. You want to win the last game, and that was our goal with this team.
But I just have to tell you, this was one of the greatest experiences of my coaching career, working with this group of young women who really became a team. High-character people, came to practice every day and improved, and where we started on October 1st to what we’ve finished up tonight, the disappointment of this one game just cannot diminish how proud I am of our team. February 3rd we could have gone a lot of different directions and we chose a path to be standing in the Sweet 16. We would love to have advanced further. But it doesn’t take away of how proud I am of our players. Really proud of Janee Thompson and the person she’s developed into and the leader she’s developed into for our team. Really proud of the progress Makayla Epps made as a person, so I’m proud to be up on the podium with both of them tonight. And we are disappointed, but we are proud of our season.
Q. Talk about the toughness of those two girls that just left here, Janee Thompson and Makayla Epps, how tough they were to step out there and play through the adversity of injury.
COACH MITCHELL: Yeah, they really both have had a fantastic year in so many ways. The first place where they showed toughness was having toughness to develop their character and develop as people. It’s what’s made the year so enjoyable is that they had a high-character group this year that really showed up every day and did their best.
If they didn’t, they would take direction and try to do better the next day. So they’ve both had a great year, and we wouldn’t have been playing tonight if it hadn’t been for their progress as people and leaders, so proud of both of them.
Q. I think Dayton shot like 60% in the second half last year and Washington was right there tonight. How much of that is better in execution? Is that when you decided to change the personality of your program kind of what you’d liked to work for?
COACH MITCHELL: Sure, I’d love to shoot 60% a half in every half, that would be great. We’d work toward that. But I think we got in the game tonight where those kids just locked in and made some plays. Then we just kept getting the ball at the rim time after time after time. I don’t have a stat sheet here, but I think it was something like 13 more shots. I mean, we got a ton more shots.
We just kept working and battling, and the ball just would not go through the hoop for us so many times. So I thought Walton, that baseline back-down and fall-away jumper, those were tough shots. The ones I was disappointed in were just we were uncharacteristically out of position defensively tonight and they took advantage of it and put their head down and drove the ball. Then Osahor was 4 for 8 from the three, and that’s a great job by her. She just had a monster night too. She was so tough defensively.
But it was an impressive performance by the end. You have to really credit them for shooting the ball well and putting the ball in the basket, and that’s what you have to do this time of the year.
Q. I think Washington in a lot of people’s eyes kind of walked into this game somewhat of a cinderella team. They had a big game against Maryland. But after watching them against Maryland and watching them today against you, what do you think this team’s capable of?
COACH MITCHELL: They’re definitely capable of going to the Final Four if they played the way they did tonight. They were just hitting on all cylinders. We ended up being a team that was defensively we needed to work real hard on one defense, and we couldn’t really mix it up a whole lot on them. Our defense just wasn’t there tonight, and it’s sad for it to end that way.
I wish we’d have played better on defense. Giving Washington a lot of credit, we just did not get into position to stop them. They got so many lay-ups tonight where we’ve just been working and working on our defensive rotations, and they just weren’t there tonight. So I think that if they shoot the ball the way they do and they’ve got three really big-time scorers, at least they did tonight, they can go a long way.
Q. Tonight’s game was incredibly physical. Did you foresee that?
COACH MITCHELL: Sure, one thing we knew about Washington was how tough they were. They were really rough against Maryland. You know, it was physical tonight. We got the ball at the rim just countless times, and we needed to turn around there and make a two- or three-footer with somebody standing between us and the basket. But we were able to elevate up and they only blocked four shots. It wasn’t like they were blocking shots. They were playing behind us. We were throwing the ball three feet from the basket, and we just could not turn around and put the ball in the basket tonight.
So it was — there were some physical moments in the game that we just could not get the ball in. Then we just did not play good enough defense to stop them. They were really, really tough tonight.
I just want to say we had a great crowd tonight. I really appreciate all the people in Lexington showing up. Washington is a team that certainly deserves people coming out Sunday and watching them play. Whoever wins that one out there now is going to be a great team. It’s going to be a great game Sunday, and I would really be appreciative if we could show up as a community and support the game on Sunday and watch a really fine team, whoever advances to the Final Four will be deserving.
Appreciate all the hard work everybody in the community did to come out tonight and support us. We’re deeply appreciative for that and hope we have a great day on Sunday.