SEC play has not been kind to Matthew Mitchell and the UK Hoops squad. Inconsistent play in arguably the toughest conference in women’s college basketball finds the Wildcats in a log jam right in the middle of the conference pack.
Last night’s huge win over 14th ranked Mississippi is a boon for the team in terms of conference standings, tournament seeding and momentum heading into a home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks this Sunday at 3 P.M.
Below is a full transcript, courtesy of the UK Athletics Department, of Matthew Mitchell’s press conference from earlier this afternoon. Mitchell previewed the Razorbacks and spoke on the development of his freshmen and the win in Starkville.
"First of all, Sunday is a special day. Coach Kay Yow did so much for women’s basketball and did so much for breast cancer awareness and the Kay Yow Fund is raising millions of dollars to fight breast cancer and to make us all aware of that. I knew Coach Yow and she had a profound impact on my career and my life, as she has so many people. We would love for people to come out Sunday. We already have a huge crowd with a lot of tickets sold. There are a few left and we would love to have a sellout and if you would feel moved to donate to the Kay Yow Fund, I would be extremely grateful and appreciative to that.
"Also, we are going to be giving out the Sue Feamster Trailblazer Award. Coach Feamster was our first coach here at UK and paved the way for all of us who followed her and got this program off the ground. We give an award every year for someone who has helped advance women in athletics and this year the very first female commissioner of the KHSAA, Brigid DeVries, will be honored and we are very happy about that. Brigid has meant so much to so many people here in the Commonwealth. So we are excited to celebrate those two things on Sunday and wanted to mention that before we shift our focus to Arkansas.
"Arkansas is a very tough team and have had some great victories in the conference this year. They are tough defensively and cause a lot of problems with how hard they play and they have one of the best players in the league. So it will be a real challenge for us. We will go back to work today and see if we can continue our improvement on the defensive end and see if we can stay in a posture of hustle. That is really what this team needs to be all about on the offensive and defensive end, is to really outhustle their opponent every chance we get. So tall task for us on Sunday, but we are excited to start our preparations for Arkansas."
On how he makes sure the team doesn’t have a letdown performance Sunday
"Well, I think some of those experiences have gotten through to the team. We have had some real disappointments in the conference and I think that all of those – I really believe – that they have sharpened us and shaped us and developed us. I choose to really trust these players right now and that they understand what our formula is now. It really is a great thing to see because we got to a certain point in this program playing with a lot of heart and a lot of determination and a lot of grit.
"I just felt like over time sometimes people walk into that situation and they don’t have to earn that, that that is just the way it is. I feel like this team, were we have been humbled has been good to us, because now they understand that we are not just showing up because you are at Kentucky and winning.
"This particular team has to do it for themselves and go out and earn it. It has been hard. I don’t know that anybody was feeling really good about where we were at 4-6, but to their credit they just kept working and have been working. They are hardworkers and we are not perfect, but they are a really good group of young women and have demonstrated some high character.
I can’t tell you what is going to happen on Sunday, but we are going to try like heck to make them understand why we have been successful and what we are going to need to do on Sunday. It is not a real different set of circumstance than Thursday night. It is a different opponent, but very similar.
"They are tough and will drive you and have a dynamic playmaker. We just need to stick with our formula of being really tough."
On the performance of the freshmen last night
"It was a lot of fun to watch them and there was a reason why they were making plays. They were reading the situations and following the preparation that they put in and that was fun to watch. They all had success and it was not an accident. They really worked hard. All three of them stay on the floor every day.
"I am looking out there now and they are out there now before practice, and nobody is telling them to do that. They are three hardworking players that have all had some difficulties to work through and they still have a lot of room to grow and they will. It was fun to watch them last night, they really did a good job."
On Maci Morris being more than just a shooter
"No, I saw her as being a complete basketball player. She was a lot of fun to watch and I knew we were getting much more than a shooter. Sometimes when you just drive by a situation and get a glimpse of it, you seem to take a snapshot of something and make that the full picture and that is really not what you saw if you watched Maci over and over. And we had the benefit of time watching her in a lot of different situations.
"She is a heck of a basketball player that is only going to get better because her mind is strong and her work ethic is strong and she is going to get more explosive and faster and stronger. That is just what we have had success developing players.
"But we wanted her to drive the ball last night and we wanted six or more paint points for her last night in trying to get her mindset on trying to get into the paint because we thought she could drive those players at Mississippi State and she did a fantastic job of that."
On if he had any concerns on if she would be able to get through a long season
"Well, we were thinking all of those freshmen were going to have veterans in front of them and we were going to be able to bring them along and they weren’t going to have to play the volume of minutes, but it’s been a blessing for them because they have got great experience.
"I think they have learned a lot through the struggle of the season and last night it looked like maybe them coming out on the other side of the storm because they really played some good ball last night, all three of them. But you always have concerns about freshmen and the length they can play.
"A lot of kids are in the state tournament right now and it’s over. And we have hopefully another month of playing. So you do concern yourself on trying to prepare for that and encourage them and keep their spirits high. But I tell you, I think that is why it is so important for us to try to recruit high character players and all three of those are great examples of the kind of people we are trying to get in this program and keep in this program.
"They are doing a good job right now and last night probably gives them a little boost of confidence right here. As far as the long season goes, I think the middle part of it is the toughest because you don’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think now, you can kind of see the end point and the tournament is here and you get excited about those things. I feel good about where everybody right now physically and mentally and we need to try to work hard and get another victory on Sunday."
On last Thursday's win at Mississippi State
"Big, last night was a huge win just for so many reasons. You jump up in the RPI. You get a road win against a top-25 RPI team at the time. You score a bunch of points. You play good defense. You follow the scouting report and it all falls into place. It just does a lot for your confidence and last night was huge win on so many fronts. I am just so proud of them because they worked so hard to earn it. They really worked hard to get that victory."