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Mitchell happy to get “important” victory

Makenzie Cann (Britney Howard/UK Athletics)

Here is what Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell had to say Thursday night after his team beat Missouri 64-62 in Memorial Coliseum.

Opening statement …

“So proud of our team. What an important victory for us and every one of those in this league is a good win and a great win for us tonight. Huge second quarter for us obviously really turned the game around and helped us make enough plays to win. You have to credit Missouri. They’re well-coached, play really hard, never stopped fighting and made it really, really tough at the end, so a lot of credit goes to them. Real proud of our team under difficult circumstances and just happy to get the victory.”

On the importance of Epps’ 3 at the end of the first quarter …

“I think it probably gave her a lift, which was important. We needed her to play better than she had been playing and she sure did tonight. She got back to doing some things that make her a special player. Really pleased that she played better defense tonight than she has in a long time with some energy and effort. It was good. I thought (Paige) Poffenberger’s 3 kind of settled everyone down. We just allowed them to play us like we were incapable players. We literally had 10 wide-open shots that no one wanted to take and I thought we let our confidence plummet too quickly. I thought once one went in and it really seemed like that got the lid off the (basket). Then it was a blitz there in the second quarter. Credit the players for coming back. Down seven after that debacle in the first quarter probably felt better than a double-digit (margin) so it was a big lift in a lot of ways.”

On what’s going through his mind after the first quarter …

“Well, you’re just trying to coach them through that. We are just a really good group of kids who work really hard, but we let our confidence get shaken much, much too easily. We’ve got to improve that, so I tried to stick with them and show them how you can’t allow someone to guard you that way. I mean it was incredible. They had all five people within 10 feet of the basket and they weren’t going to let us score from 10 feet and in. They were going to let us make some 3s and then when one went in, we started making some. Every time we’ve had some success this year, it seems like we’ve made more than five or six 3s. We certainly had too tonight because they just were not letting us get to the rim.”

On what he was telling the team in the late-game situations …

“I just kept trying to tell them that the clock is on your side if we can just make some plays. And then if you don’t – like if for some reason, they make a great play and steal the ball or something – then time is still on your side as long as you don’t let them make 3s. We had varying degrees of success with that. They did a beautiful job of making it too big of a margin for Missouri to come back – it was just too big of a margin. Evelyn (Akhator) made a huge and-one play and got it out there to 12 (points) and the end of the game – people have been banged up, it’s been difficult to practice, coming back off of the holiday we haven’t had a large volume of practices. We’re trying to get our defense sharpened up – which I thought we did a pretty good job of at times on that and we just have a lot of people in late-game situations who are not used to being there and we just made some mistakes. On me, we haven’t practiced enough. Like Taylor (Murray) went to the dead corner and she never normally does that. She’s a great player and that’s something she wouldn’t normally do. So we have to do some reps there in late-game situations and do a better job. Give our kids credit, they built a lead that was too hard to come back.”

On the status of Jessica Hardin’s concussion …

“She’s struggling right now, so it’s day-to-day. She was not feeling well today – not well enough to attend the game – so we’ll do everything we can to get her back. I was just so pleased with the freshman. We got 25 minutes out of them. That’s tremendous and a reason we were able to win the ball game. They did some great things out there, so good for the freshman.”

On what Makayla Epps did well tonight

“She got into the lane, she got into the paint, she made some of those very short jumpers that are sometimes very difficult to make. Sometimes, a six- or seven-foot jumper is harder to make than a 15-footer or a 3 because you’re so close to the goal and you’ve got to have some touches. We’ve worked really hard the last three days coming back from Tennessee on trying to get her mentally to understand they might not let you lay it up, but you still have to probe deep enough to where it’s a close shot. And then she got a steal tonight on defense, boxed out and just played with more energy. You saw her smile tonight and have some fun out there and that’s what we’ve got to get back to doing with her. She’s got to be our emotional leader and so she can’t be down in the dumps and frustrated. So as coaches, we’ve really tried to help her with that because defenses aren’t letting her get to the rim. She’s so strong and she was able to make some plays around the bucket and that was really good for us.”

On the confidence issue facing his team …

“It’s not like they are weaklings and they don’t believe in themselves. They just want to do so well that when something goes wrong, I feel like it effects them too much. I feel like they need to steady themselves a little bit and bounce back and have a little resilience. That’s one thing we’re trying to teach in the program. If you’re first shot doesn’t go down, just understand the next time don’t pass up a shot because your last shot doesn’t go in. Concentrate on your footwork, step in there and make a shot and just play really, really tough and strong. It’s a product of wanting to do well, it’s not a product of not believing, they just get too focused on what they do wrong and we’re going to need to bounce back a little quicker than what we do right now.”

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