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By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Bria Goss scored 14 points and No. 12 Kentucky upset No. 5 South Carolina 68-58 Saturday to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.
DeNesha Stallworth and Linnae Harper each had 12 points for Kentucky (24-7), which will play Sunday in its fourth SEC tournament final in the last five years. The Wildcats won their only title in 1982.
South Carolina (27-4), the SEC regular-season champion, had 16 turnovers, most coming in the first 10 minutes. The Gamecocks were playing in only their second semifinal, following an appearance in 2012.
The Gamecocks scored the game’s first points on a basket by Elem Ibiam, who had 16 points. Kentucky scored the next 12 points and never lost the lead.
South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell, selected by coaches as the SEC player of the year, had 11 points while making only 4 of 12 shots.
Kentucky took its second straight SEC tournament win over a team that swept the Wildcats in the regular season. Kentucky beat Florida in the quarterfinals.
The Gamecocks battled turnovers and cold shooting during Kentucky’s early 12-0 run.
Ibiam, the 6-foot-4 center, ended South Carolina’s 7-minute scoring drought with an inside basket, but the Gamecocks’ struggles kept coming. When Epps scored to give Kentucky a 19-11 lead, South Carolina’s 11 turnovers matched its points.
Bria Goss sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give Kentucky its big lead of the half at 33-20. Ibiam had 12 points in the half, including South Carolina’s last three baskets before the break, to trail 37-29.
Kentucky again stretched its lead to 13 points in the second half. South Carolina never made a serious surge, pulling no closer than eight points in the final 20 minutes.
Trailing by 12 points, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley pulled her starters with 1:16 remaining.
Aleighsa Welch had 12 points for South Carolina, and Makayla Epps added 10 points for Kentucky.
No. 12 KENTUCKY 68, No. 5 SOUTH CAROLINA 58
KENTUCKY (24-7): Stallworth 5-14 2-5 12, Walker 3-6 0-0 6, Thompson 0-2 0-0 0, Goss 3-7 6-7 14, Evans 1-2 3-4 5, O’Neill 3-6 0-0 7, Pinkett 0-0 0-0 0, Sidney 0-0 0-0 0, Harper 5-9 2-6 12, Epps 4-9 1-3 10, Bishop 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 25-59 14-25 68.
SOUTH CAROLINA (27-4): Welch 4-8 4-10 12, Dozier 0-7 0-0 0, Ibiam 7-10 2-2 16, Sessions 1-3 0-0 2, Mitchell 4-12 2-2 11, Farmer 0-0 0-0 0, Gaines 0-0 0-0 0, Montout 1-1 0-0 2, Davis 1-1 0-0 2, Morrison 1-1 0-0 2, Roy 2-4 0-0 5, Coates 2-5 2-4 6. Totals 23-52 10-18 58.
Halftime_Kentucky 37-29. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 4-9 (Goss 2-3, O’Neill 1-1, Epps 1-3, Thompson 0-1, Evans 0-1), South Carolina 2-10 (Roy 1-2, Mitchell 1-2, Sessions 0-2, Dozier 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 34 (Walker 6), South Carolina 39 (Coates 9). Assists_Kentucky 11 (Epps, Harper, O’Neill, Thompson 2), South Carolina 12 (Mitchell, Welch 3). Total Fouls_Kentucky 18, South Carolina 19. A_NA.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.
By LARRY VAUGHT
When she verbally committed to Kentucky before the start of her junior season, Bell County standout Maci Morris knew she would be in for extra scrutiny wherever she played.
“It has been exciting personally for me. Playing the games has not been much different. Being a commit, I know people are going to be out to stop me because they think she is a commit and I will show her she is not that good. It motivates me to play that much harder and make my team better and push them so we can win games,” said Morris. “My teammates are really excited for me and proud of me, so that helps. I love them to death and they are so enthusiastic about my play and success.”
Morris, who has started for Bell County since she was a seventh-grader, says she always feels a “little pressure as the go-to person” on her team.
“Being a commit is not any more pressure on me because I am used to having pressure all my life. It is not really any different to deal with pressure every game,” she said.
Morris — a 6-foot prospect — visited UK several times and coach Matthew Mitchell had recruited her for over two years. He was at all of Morris’ AAU games with the Kentucky Premier squad over the summer. Premier is the same program that current UK freshmen Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers played for.
Last season, she averaged 21 points and 8.5 rebounds and led Bell to the 13th Region title game where she had 27 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Corbin. She averaged 16 points per game in the eighth grade and averaged 19.9 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Lady Cats her sophomore season.
”She still has room for improvement but her work ethic is really good,” Bell coach David Teague said. “She works hard and she knows she has to keep working to continue to get better.”
She’s ranked as a top 50 player in the 2015 recruiting class and is averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds per game this season and shooting over 50 percent from the field.
“I think Maci is one of the best players in the state. She is very poised and is not easily rattled,” Boyle County coach Greg Edwards said after his team beat Bell even though Morris had 28 points. “She plays within the structure of what her team is trying to accomplish, but also is not afraid to take over the game when she needs to.
“I think she will be a very good player for coach Mitchell. Kentucky plays an uptempo game that features a lot of open court offense. Maci can create off the dribble and she is an accurate shooter. When she gets to Kentucky where they can work on her conditioning and strength she will definitely be an asset.”
Mercer County coach Chris Souder, who coached the Kentucky all-star team last year that included Epps, watched Morris score 31 points in a win over his team.
“Obviously Maci is a very talented young lady,” Souder said. “She definitely looks like a student of the game. She is one of those girls that looks like she is not playing hard but she really is, she is just really smooth. She has great composure. She realizes that everyone is watching and evaluating her and she really seems to take that in stride. She really understands the game and realizes what she means to her team.”
Bell plays a fast-pace style much like what Kentucky uses. Morris does a little bit of everything for Bell, a team lacking size, on both ends.
“We have always been more guard oriented because we don’t have that much size and we have to play fast,” Morris said. “Coach Mitchell loves the run and jump, so it will help me when I get there.”
Souder thinks she will fit well into Kentucky’s program.
“She is a student of the game, so she has the ability to adapt to different styles.She also plays AAU (Kentucky Premier) and they play at a very high level of competition and, from what I hear, she really excels. I don’t think she will have any problems fitting in at Kentucky,” Souder said. “I think her biggest area of growth will be physical strength.
“To play at that high level she will have to have her body transformed. It will help her with her quickness and explosiveness as well. Once she gets stronger and her body catches up with her mind, she will be special in my opinion.”
She’s always been around basketball because her father, Lewis, a former multi-sport high school star in eastern Kentucky, coached. He’s the head coach of the Bell boys team now and played at East Tennessee State and Cumberland College. Her mother, Patti, is from Harlan County and played basketball at Transylvania. She’s also been a coach.
“Since I was born, I was just kind of raised in the gym (she was playing on the middle school team when she was in the second grade) and I have always been around basketball. My family is a basketball family,” she said. “My main hand is my right hand, but my dad pushes me to work on my left hand more so I will be harder to guard.
“Just being raised in a basketball family, my IQ has got a lot better. My dad has helped me with that. I just know the game real well. I can play any position in high school and that helps. I like driving. Pulling up for a jump shot is probably my favorite, but i Like shooting 3’s, too.”
And what does she need to improve?
“Ballhandling and defense especially,” Morris said.
The Bell junior watches Kentucky play a lot.
“They are doing great. I am really proud of them,” Morris said. “Coach Mitchell is doing such a great job with them and they play so hard. That inspires me. I have been around him for a while now and he’s always been a great guy with a lot of energy and that stands out to me and I knew I would love to play for a coach who is so enthusiastic about his players and the program. The players are really close and always joking around. They are really close on the court, too, and have really good chemistry together and you can really tell that when they play together like they and how hard they play for coach Mitchell.”
Mitchell’s in-home visit that prompted Morris to commit to UK before he left has become legendary after Morris’ father said the UK coach ate 18 deviled eggs while he was at their Bell County home.
“He had a lot of eggs and my mom actually made him a to-go box of deviled eggs to take home,” the Bell star said. “She will probably have to bring him some every once in a while at Kentucky, too, because he really liked them.
Morris, who was being recruited by Louisville and several other Division I schools, committed to UK without visiting other colleges.
“I have always just been a huge fan of Kentucky and grew up dreaming of playing there. I just loved coach Mitchell and the coaching staff and the players are all fun to be around and so nice. I just thought it was nice fit for me,” she said. “I grew up a men’s basketball fan, but as I got older I turned into more of a Kentucky women’s fan and now it is about even. My parents are huge UK fans, too.
“Most people in Bell County are Kentucky fans. There are a few Tennessee fans, but they don’t really speak out unless it is football season. So my decision to go to UK was pretty popular.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Former University of Kentucky point guard Anthony Epps has a lot of reasons to watch the Wildcats — both the men and women — play this season. His daughter, Makayla, is a freshman at UK and is playing a variety of spots coming off the bench for Matthew Mitchell’s team after her record-setting career at Marion County. She is averaging 5.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game going into Sunday’s game with Grambling and shooting 47.9 percent from the field.
He also pays close attention to coach John Calipari’s team since he was the starting guard on UK’s 1996 national championship team and watched many of UK’s current freshmen play in events where his daughter also played.
Anthony Epps, who is now the girls coach at Marion, offered insights on his daughter, body language and more.
Question: How proud are you of Makalya and how she’s doing at Kentucky?
Epps: “I am very proud. She really worked hard to get where she is. Once she realized she could play at that level and she got set in her roles, she has settled down and played the type of game she is playing. I didn’t know where they would use her. I know coach (Matthew) Mitchell had mentioned he thought she was smart enough to play three or four positions, but I never expected her to be playing on the block like she has. But she has adjusted to it very well. She’s shorter than most players in the block, but she is just as strong as girls she is trying to post up. I told her she just had to look at the move as a chance to get more playing time.”
Question: Could that make her a better player in the long run when she goes back to being more of a perimeter player?
Epps: “I think it will down the road because when she is a junior and senior she will be more versatile and have played more positions. They may bring in another guard then and move her down to the post again. The good thing about it is if you put a small guard on her, she can take them to the post. If you put a big on her, she can get around them for a mismatch. It plays to Kentucky’s favor on the offensive end and on the defensive end they give her help knowing she is smaller than most people she guards.”
Question: How much did it scare you when she was involved in the automobile accident where the car flipped?
Epps: “My heart dropped. You fear the worst. When I got the chance to see her at the hospital, it eased a whole lot of my pain. Then I finally got myself together and went to look at the car and I just shook my head and felt blessed that both of them survived. The car was a total loss and if you see the car you would think there was nobody walked away from that. I have seen cars where people maybe just got tapped in the back and died and if you see this car you just feel blessed they walked away.”
Question: Is she enjoying this season or has she felt any pressure?
Epps: “I don’t think there is no pressure to her. The only pressure is she has is what she puts on herself to go out there and play good night in and night out to help her team win. She is not worried about rankings because she is doing what she loves and that’s playing basketball right now. She is having a ball.”
Question: Could the men’s team use a player with her toughness?
Epps: “I think the men’s team could probably learn a little bit from the ladies by watching how hard they work. The women play hard from the beginning to the end. I think the men play hard during spurts. If they get to where they can play hard the whole game, they will be really tough.”
Question: Have players changed so much that it takes longer to learn the college game and how to control your emotions?
Epps: “I just think a lot of it goes back to what they get away with in AAU ball. Kids get away with a lot. They make AAU ball almost for the kids to shine and get college coaches to come watch them and recruit them. College is a different game. It takes kids time to adjust. But the key is to have upperclassmen that can settle your young guys down. Look at Duke where (freshman) Jabari Parker is playing great, but he has some older guys that can take pressure off him. UK is a young team. The oldest guys that play are Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. You don’t have a Darius Miller, Terrence Jones or Doron Lamb to tell the young guys to calm down and do it this way and not your way.”
Question: Is too much being made about bad body language on this team?
Epps: “I think it is. Kentucky fans can get worried by seeing something too much and I think right now they are seeing too much body language and not enough hustle. If a kid was working his tail off and diving after loose balls and then showed a little body language after what they felt was a bad call, then I think the fans would adjust to it. But when you are not hustling and showing bad body language and acting the way you are acting, fans kind of get tired of it and want to see you grow up. You are not going to get every call. If they don’t believe it, watch some of the NBA players. If you want to go to the NBA, watch out LeBron James and Kobie Bryant interact during a game and that will help them out.”
Question: Is there still time for this team to really get rolling like many thought it would before the season started?
Epps: “I think it will take a while longer. Now that Cal has been able to practice as much as he wanted, guys are either going to get it or I think he will start using the bench for them to get it. Hopefully they will learn it and Kentucky can turn it on and get ready for March Madness.”
Final Score: No. 5/6 Kentucky – 133, No. 9/9 Baylor – 130 (4 OT)
Team Records and Series Notes
- UK improved to 9-0 on the season, giving the Wildcats their first 9-0 start since 2009-10 and second time in the Matthew Mitchell era.
- The Wildcats’ extended their winning streak to nine games, tying the seventh-longest in school history.
- UK is 24-23 all-time in overtime games and 5-2 in the Mitchell era. It marked the first OT game of the season.
- The four overtime game was the first in school history.
- Kentucky’s all-time record is 695-477 (.593) in 40 seasons of varsity basketball.
- Mitchell is in his seventh season as the head coach of the Wildcats and owns a record of 153-62 at UK. Overall, Mitchell is 183-91 in nine seasons.
- He already ranks first on UK’s all-time wins list with 153 and winning percentage (.712).
- UK and Baylor are tied in the all-time series 1-1 and 5-7 all-time vs. opponents from the Big 12.
- The Wildcats have won seven consecutive vs. non-conference opponents on the road.
- The Wildcats have now won 19 straight regular season non-conference games.
- In close games (games decided by 10 points or less), UK is 58-34 (.630 percent) under Coach Mitchell, including 2-0 this season.
- The win marks the second straight over a top 10 opponent on the season and the first time in school history UK has defeated top 10 opponents in back-to-back games.
- The win marks UK’s first over a ninth-ranked opponent.
- Next up: UK heads to the Windy City to face DePaul on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. ET, with the game being broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
- UK scored 100-plus points for the fourth time this season and improved to 43-0 all time and 11-0 under Coach Mitchell when scoring 100 or more points.
- The 133 points marked a school record for points scored in a game.
- The 263 combined points set a new NCAA record.
- The Wildcats shot 41.9 percent (39-of-93) from the field, while holding the Lady Bears to 42.9 percent (45-of-105).
- Kentucky was 49-of-66 (.742 percent) from the free-throw line, which were both school records.
- UK converted on 31.6 percent (6-of-19) from beyond the arc, while holding BU to 33.3 percent (7-of-21) from 3-point range.
- All 11 Wildcats in uniform saw action in the game.
- Five Wildcats finished in double figures.
- Kentucky forced 28 Baylor turnovers, marking the eighth consecutive game the Wildcats have forced 20-plus turnovers.
- Of the 28 turnovers, nine of them were steals.
- The Wildcats were outrebounded by Baylor, 68-56.
- UK dished out a season-high 31 assists, just three shy of the school record (34 vs. Western Kentucky on Feb. 16, 1981).
- Junior Jennifer O’Neill set a school record with a career-high 43 points. She broke Valerie Still’s record of 42 vs. Charleston on Dec. 19, 1982.
- O’Neill has registered 10-plus points in eight of the nine games this season, all off the bench.
- O’Neill finished 14-of-31 from the field and 13-of-19 from the free throw line, which were all career highs.
- Her 31 field goal attempts were a school record.
- The 13 free throws made tie for fourth all time, while the 19 attempts are a school record.
- Tied a season high with six assists.
- Sophomore Janee Thompson scored a career-high 20 points.
- Thompson was 7-of-16 from the field, which were both career highs.
- Thompson was a career-high tying 6-of-7 from the free throw line
- She picked up her sixth double-digit game of the season.
- Senior DeNesha Stallworth registered 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 8-10 from the free throw line, while also grabbing nine boards.
- Stallworth’s 10 free throw attempts tied a career high.
- Her four steals were a team high, while also tying a season high.
- Senior Kastine Evans recorded her seventh double-digit scoring effort of the season with 14 points.
- Was a season-best 6-of-7 at the charity stripe.
- Junior Bria Goss scored 13 points with 11 of them coming from the free-throw line (11-of-12).
- Set new career highs in free throws made and attempted.
- Grabbed a season-best six rebounds.
- Freshman Makayla Epps tied a career-best with nine points, while pulling down a career-high four rebounds.
- Junior Azia Bishop dished out a career-high three assists.
- Senior Samarie Walker saw her streak of consecutive games with at least one steal come to an end at 27 games.
- Walker claimed a team-high 10 rebounds, marking her fifth double-digit rebounding game of the season.
Mitchell: “Well, I have found this: They don’t teach much defense at the McDonald’s game. They’re not working very hard on the defensive end of the floor, so some of the McDonald’s all‑Americans have a bit of an adjustment period when they get to Kentucky from that respect.
“What I love about our entire team is the talent level, and I don’t know where we would land on the most talented team in the country, but we have a very, very talented team, and they are all mobile and agile and athletic. I think that gives us an advantage if we can find a way as coaches to put them in the right positions.
“The thing in the backcourt, what I think makes us have the potential to be very dangerous is that anybody really can get the basketball and get it up the floor. That helps with the tempo issue of really pressing the issue tempo‑wise. You don’t have to wait for one player to come get the ball. And right now in practice, which this is very early and could change and has changed before in our program, but right now Jennifer O’Neill and Janee Thompson are getting the majority of the reps at the point, and they are both so fast and so explosive and both are shooting the three so well that that’s two point guards that can keep the pace going, but then you can outlet it to virtually anybody, Kastine Evans, Bria Goss, Linnae Harper, Makayla Epps, really just anybody can take that and push the ball down the court.
“It helps you offensively and defensively just to keep the level of intensity up and keep the tempo up, and those are all things that are valuable here at Kentucky.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
When Makayla Epps steps on the basketball court, she’s not worried about making friends with opponents. In fact, she takes it as a compliment when Kentucky senior teammate DeNesha Stallworth says she is “physical and mean” on the court.
“When I step on the court, I don’t want to go out there and be nice to Auburn or Alabama or Duke or Louisville,” said Epps, a freshman from Marion County, during UK’s media day Tuesday. “You don’t want to go out on the court and be nice to anybody. You have got to have a little meanness, a little toughness so they know you are not scare of them.”
Epps often struck fear into high school opponents. She scored over 3,300 points, led Marion to a state title and 39-0 record as a senior, and was a three-time all-state selection and McDonald’s All-American.
Coach Matthew Mitchell says her character has impressed him as much as her talent.
“She comes in with a lot of accolades and with high expectations. I’m very impressed with how she has handled all that,” Mitchell said. “Wherever she’s had a deficiency and freshmen coming in with some gaps, whether it may be effort because they’re not used to the pace of practice or whether it may be conditioning or whatever it is, freshmen have an adjustment period, and every time Makayla has had something presented to her where she needed to get better, her response has been phenomenal.
“She’s proven to be very receptive to coaching, and so when you get a real talented player who is not afraid to address her weaknesses, that’s very, very exciting for a coach.”
Especially when that 5-10 point guard and the strength and versatility to do more. Stallworth, an all-American candidate, says Epps can play all five positions, something Mitchell supports.
“She can literally play every position on the floor for us, and we’ve had some versatile players before. The thing that sort of makes her different is she can legitimately play the one, the point guard position, which is the most difficult position on our team to play,” Mitchell said. “So she can play them all and play them all well.
“Last night we had our tip‑off celebration with our booster club, and we talked to her and she addressed the crowd, and she said she’s just here to help and she wants to win championships. So just a very humble attitude for a player of that caliber is exciting for a coach to see. I’m very optimistic about her future, and I think she has a chance to have a good freshman season.”
Epps knows her versatility is a strength.
“Where I am such a strong, larger, taller point guard than most, whoever is guarding me is primarily going to be smaller than me, so we are looking for the mismatch. Right now I have been playing the one through the three. If coach Mitchell believes I can play the four and five, then I can,” she said. “Playing the point here is more challenging than high school because the talent and competition here is so much more intense.
“They push me to my limit every day. I feel myself getting better. I am way better now than I was back in March when I played in the state tournament for Marion County. I feel it and can see it my play now. They are pushing me daily to get better.”
Epps knows her defense needs work.
“The defense here is way more intense than anything we did in high school because we primarily played a 2-3 zone. Up here, I am challenged to move my feet and guard my man one on one. I am not the strongest defensive player, but we do fundamentals every day and I feel it is progressing and I am getting better,” she said. “My key weakness is I am not the greatest defensive player. Coach Mitchell just pushes us and doesn’t get angry with us because he knows we are capable of doing it.
“He will stop, break it down and teach it to me where other coaches might yell at me or harp on me for getting it wrong. He knows I am trying to learn and he shows me how to get better. I like that.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Matthew Mitchell would like to think of his three freshmen — Marion County’s Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers along with Chicago’s Linnae Harper — could eventually be special players.
“The best thing I like about them is the way they have approached life at Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “They have great hearts and are high character kids. They are really talented, too.”
Harper, a point guard, spent part of the summer playing for Team USA and missed time at UK with her future teammates.
“It will help her down the road, but it did slow her down as far as having a chance to really kind of get together with the rest of the players in the summer and mesh,” Mitchell said. “She is a little behind from that standpoint knowing exactly what we are trying to do, but in the long run that experience on that big stage and with that kind of pressure on you to perform for your country can only make her better.”
Epps and Goodin-Rogers both initially gave verbal commitments to Louisville before signing with Kentucky.
“I think they ended up doing what they wanted to do,” the Kentucky coach said. “I think Kentucky will always be Kentucky. I think we will always have players that want to play in the state and that will not have anything to do with Matthew Mitchell but it will be because of what the University of Kentucky means to the people of the commonwealth. As long as somebody sitting in my seat works hard and is a person of integrity and upholds the right values, then Kentucky kids will always want to play at Kentucky. Some won’t, but for the majority of people in the state of Kentucky, playing here is really special like it is for them. That is going to happen no matter who signs here or who coaches here. Kentucky kids love Kentucky.”
Mitchell will have a team expected to contend for a SEC championship again and then finally try to make it to the Final Four for the first time in school history. Whatever happens, he knows how lucky he is to have gone from UK assistant to UK head coach after a stint as head coach at Morehead.
“I may be different than a lot of coaches. I feel God had a plan for me and led me to Kentucky. I’ve always felt God had planned something for me,” Mitchell said. “When I got to Kentucky and felt how special it was and how connected I got so quickly, I loved it. I felt God working in my life. This is the most special place and where I am supposed to be. In coaching a lot of times you are searching for where you want to be and where that next great opportunity will be. The most special thing for me here is that I am at home and where I am supposed to be.”
However, he’s become so much at home that while he may not be the celebrity that UK men’s coach John Calipari is, he is well known wherever he goes.
Any regrets about always being recognized by UK fans?
“Heavens no. We go wherever want to go and we are just part of the community,” Mitchell said. “People are so kind it is an honor to be in the position we are in and to have people say positive things about us and our program. (My wife) Jenna and I have not let up one bit. We just live our lives and appreciate the people of Lexington for letting us be part of the community.
“Lexington is a small town and great community. We don’t mind people knowing us when we go to a movie. We probably go out to eat too much and spend too much money doing that. But we love being part of this community and having people excited about our program.”
Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.
The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team is set to face another challenging nonconference schedule in 2013-14, which features eight home games, including a matchup with Duke in Rupp Arena, a road game at DePaul and a battle with Baylor in the newly named AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Wildcats will face six teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season and five first-time opponents.
“Since I’ve been the head coach, we think it’s the most challenging nonconference schedule that we’ve ever had and also the most exciting,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We think it’s going to prepare us for the Southeastern Conference which is the No. 1 goal always. Then, we want to make it as exciting as possible for our fans.”
UK, which is entering its 40th season of varsity women’s basketball and its seventh under Mitchell, will begin with an exhibition match against Eckerd College, a Division II program from St. Petersburg, Fla., on Nov. 3. Kentucky thrives in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum under Mitchell, going 64-3 over the last four seasons, including a 16-1 mark last season. UK has won 40 consecutive nonconference games at home, dating back to Dec. 19, 2008.
The Cats will open the 2013-14 regular season in New York as they travel to Marist on Nov. 8, followed by a trip to face first-time opponent Wagner on Nov. 10. Marist, located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has won eight straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships. Kentucky then plays host to two more first-time opponents in Georgia Southern on Nov. 13 and Central Michigan on Nov. 17. Lipscomb makes the trip from Nashville, Tenn., to Lexington on Nov. 21 to wrap up the three-game homestand.
“We have tough road games against Middle Tennessee State and DePaul,” Mitchell said. “Marist will be a very difficult challenge, which is who we open the season with on the road. They are one of the winningest programs in the last 10 years. It’s going to be a difficult start to the year, but we are excited about it.”
Following a visit to Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 24, Kentucky returns home to face Bradley on Nov. 27 and in-state rival, Louisville on Dec. 1. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings in the rivalry with the Cardinals, including a 48-47 victory last season in the KFC Yum! Center.
“We have an extremely exciting game in Memorial against Louisville, who we’ve always had terrific games with and they are coming off a great year,” Mitchell said. “I would have to think that will be a highly anticipated matchup.”
A date with the Big 12 champion Baylor Lady Bears also looms large for the Cats on Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas, at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The matchup will be part of a doubleheader that also features the UK men’s basketball team and Baylor men’s squad. UK wraps up the road portion of the nonconference schedule at DePaul on Dec. 12. The trip to the Windy City will allow the Wildcats to play in the home city of sophomore guard Janee Thompson and freshman guard Linnae Harper.
“The event in Dallas at AT&T Stadium is going to be something very unique for our fans and I think the event organizers are anticipating that it will be the largest crowd in the history of women’s college basketball, so that is something we are excited about,” Mitchell said. “It’s a difficult schedule, but it will prepare us and be exciting for the Big Blue Nation.”
Rounding out the schedule features home games with East Tennessee State out of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Dec. 15, Duke on Dec. 22 in Rupp Arena and finally Grambling State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference on Dec. 29. Duke will make the journey to Lexington as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champions.
“The Duke game in Rupp Arena, we feel like we have a chance to break the UK Hoops attendance record and sell out Rupp Arena for the first time in the program’s history,” Mitchell said. “We feel like that will be an exciting portion of the home schedule.”
Kentucky, which is fresh off its third Elite Eight appearance in the last four years, returns 10 letter winners, including four starters in Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.), Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.), first-team All-SEC selection DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and second-team All-SEC honoree Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio). New additions to the roster this season include freshmen Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.), Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Lebanon, Ky.) and Harper (Chicago).