Monday, March 21, 2016

Transcript: UK Hoops Head Coach Matthew Mitchell, Janee Thompson, Maci Morris Post #3 UK Hoops 79 vs #6 Oklahoma 58 Second Round ~ 2016 NCAA Women's Tournament Lexington Region Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky Comments

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.”

On the Janee Thompson because a calming force in the second half and UK’s defense in the fourth quarter …
“Janee took a couple of shots in the first half that were unsettled and she hasn’t been doing that. You must appreciate the enormity of the situation for these kids. We’re all watching 1,000 games and the men’s and women’s tournaments are going on and someone throws in a shot from half court and you’re like ‘oh, that’s neat, that’s cool.’ You’re kind of numb to it all. But, this is this kid’s career on the line. We’ve got a shot to go to Rupp Arena so, I was hoping all day that I could do something to settle her down and make sure she was confident that it was good enough for her to just to hustle. I’m just so proud, there were a few ill-advised shots, but she really was calm at halftime. When Makayla when out she was just terrific. I thought the start of the fourth quarter was amazing because we had just got done talking about being tough and we turned a two-point lead into a 10-point lead and then she comes out and goes to the line just on toughness plays three straight times and made them all. That was a really steadying factor in the game for us. It gave us a lift and a lot of confidence.

“Our defense we’ve really been fighting to get better at that. The team’s put in a lot of work. Six weeks ago we did not approach being a good defensive team, in fact; we were a bad defensive team with no identity. They’ve done defensive drills outside of practice. They just fought for this improvement. I thought we were really tough tonight. I thought we made it tough on Oklahoma at times to score and then I thought our tenacity and our pace had an influence in the fourth quarter. They were not beating us off the dribble and having to shoot jump shots. The defense continues to get better and that’s what I said yesterday. I was hoping we could win tonight because now I’m excited we have three more practices before Friday night. I’m telling you, I think our team’s getting better. We are improving and these kids are still excited to play. It’s a real, real blessing to be involved with a group of young people like this. They are fun to coach and we’re having some fun right now.”

On Oklahoma’s bigs getting frustrated…
“Oklahoma does a good job of scoring in transition and they also do a good job if you let them throw it into the post and you don’t disrupt them, it’s a problem. Those two kids are very good players and we have a lot of respect for them. If they get two feet in the paint, it’s over. Our players really had to battle tonight and try to establish early position and be tough. I’m really proud of them.”

Janee Thompson, Kentucky Point Guard:

On putting the team on her back after having a poor start…
“It really set in for me that I needed to step up when Makayla got hurt because she looked like she was hurting pretty bad and I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to come back. She’s one of the best scorers in the country and we were struggling to score so I tried to just attack and make sure we locked in on defense because if we couldn’t score, I knew that we could stop them and make sure that they couldn’t score.”

On what Makayla coming into the game while injured meant to the team….
“It shows the kind of heart and tenacity she has. We all care about each other a lot and it had to be real serious for her to not come back. She cares about her teammates.”

On the defensive performance in the fourth quarter…
“We started leveling off some drives and we were yelling at our post players because they were making some mistakes. But we’re going to make mistakes. I think overall we locked in and chased their shooters off the line and then we finished the play with a rebound majority of the time. And then we were able to get in transition. If we play defense like that and continue to get better, we’re hard to beat.”

On playing her final game at Memorial Coliseum with this win and getting her 1,000th point…
“It felt good. Coming into the game we were excited to play. I’m always excited to here with these fans because they love us so much and they always come out and support us. And I will continue to say that we have the best fans in the country. They were a big help today and it’s hard for opponents to play against a crowd like that. It was a lot of fun and it means a lot for me to be able to come out here and get a win. 

Maci Morris, Kentucky Guard

On what Makayla coming into the game while injured meant to the team….
“We knew we had to step up when she got hurt but Epps is a county kid; I know she’s tough. So she got back out there and she did what she had to do.”

On making shots early and doing the “arrow” gesture…
“The team realizes that we need to shoot and score and they tell me that if I’m open on the three-point line to be ready to shoot and knock down shots. And I’m just glad I was able to do that for them. Jamal (Murray ) obviously start that (gesture). I think it’s okay for us to carry it over.” 

On needing to make shots when left open due to attention on Epps and the frustration of picking up early fouls…
“I noticed that the defense was going towards Makayla and I just tried to find that open spot and be ready to shoot. And my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball. I still have to work on my fouling. Coach gets on to me all of the time for it. But I’m just going to try to work every day in practice and just keep on trying to improve with that. ”

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