Matthew Mitchell on Epps’ injury, Maci Morris and more

2016 NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship
Second Round · Oklahoma vs. Kentucky
Memorial Coliseum · Lexington, Ky.
Monday, March 21


Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky Head Coach:

On the change in the game when Makayla Epps went out with a shoulder injury…
“Initially, I didn’t know. The team did an incredible job. We had Alyssa (Rice), Alexis (Jennings) and Evelyn (Akhator) out there. We had three bigs out there, and Alyssa Rice was out there. And they were switching out and I was really trying to stay in the game because it didn’t look good. But I was so impressed. It really made up for it; I think everybody started to feel better and that was a big moment for the game where they just sort of stated the ship there for a bit. And then, when Epps came back the first time, you’re right, it looked like she was playing with one arm. And I was trying to get her out. I didn’t think it looked safe. It didn’t look good to me. Doctors know more than I do, but I just asked her, ‘If you can’t go and we can’t make it out there, I don’t want you to get hurt.’ What you saw, when she was hurt, she made a 3. So it was functional; it was just very painful. And I just didn’t want her to hurt herself further. But man, she really gutted it out. But I thought her teammates did a really good job. You think about just from the technical standpoint and how difficult that would be to replace her, but the emotional hit you take with something like that. And let me tell you something, this team loves one another. It is a beautiful thing to be coaching this team right now, because these are great kids that really, really have come together and they are a true team. And we talk about that all the time from the standpoint of ‘go make a play for your team,’ because not only is it good for you, your team cares so much about you. We really get excited when someone else does something great. I mean we really get excited and I love that, but on the flip side, when one of them is hurt it’s difficult too. So I thought we really kept our poise, and that was something I was proud of. And I’m really proud of Makayla. I think she’ll be pretty sore tomorrow, but we’ll shut her down tomorrow and let her take as much time as she needs and get her ready for Friday.”

On if there was any diagnosis on Epps’ injury…
“In the heat of the game, it was just more, ‘Can she go? Is she okay?’ So I’m sorry I don’t have that information; we’ll get it to you. It had to be something like, it was not a dislocation or anything, which would have kept her out of the game, which is extremely painful and there’s no way she could sit. It must have been some type of blunt force trauma, a stinger or something. I don’t know, a strain or something like that. But Dr. Hosey (?) was on the bench with us, and they went back in the tunnel a couple times. So we’ll have a full report for you tomorrow.”

On who he has been targeting to step up and score so it isn’t always Epps…
“Well, I think what makes us successful at this point in time is we have a few weapons, and we’re playing well together. I thought that we really shared the ball. I thought that we had a lot of possessions where Oklahoma put a tremendous amount of pressure on us with some traps and some disruption, and we were tough enough to just get a layup at the end. And so really, we have worked hard on our offense. We’ve worked hard on our individual skills. We’re not a real overly deep team like some teams in the past where we could play 10 or 12 people. But the folks that we have, we don’t really have anyone on the team that can’t go in and give you something. So it’s a balanced team. Like I said a little bit earlier, we are a true team. We play for each other. They’re not overly concerned about who gets the credit. They just want each other to be successful. And it’s a really fun, beautiful thing to be a part of right now.

On the Epps trying to find an offensive flow and how the team picked up for her …
“I thought Maci gave us a lift early when she made her first four 3s. She was lighting it up in warmups. I told her I didn’t know that she missed a shot in warmups. You never know how it’s going to go in a game but man, she really did a good job there. I thought our bigs did an okay job getting to the line we just couldn’t finish around the basket. I thought No. 0 and No. 42, their size bothered us and we got a little big passive so when we called that timeout on the side, I was very upset. The only thing I’m going to get upset about with this team is when they don’t hustle or play tough. We were falling away and we looked scared and the momentum had shifted. It’s the first time I’ve really got on them in a long time and they came right out and Evelyn was strong, missed the shot but Alexis got the rebound and put back in. That really changed the momentum. Taylor Murray came down and made a tough play, Janee Thompson got tough so I think it’s more that this team has to keep a great attitude and they have to play their guts out and when we do that we have a chance. When we don’t, you see what Oklahoma did. They came right back on us. They were on our heels, we were not the aggressor. They really gave us some problems. I tell our team this all the team, it’s feast or famine. There’s no in-between for us. We can’t hope it goes well, we have to make it happen and that’s with toughness and a great attitude.”

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