Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Transcript: UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell Pre-Tennessee/Alabama SEC Tournament Quarterfinals Conference Comments

UK Hoops Head Coach Matthew Mitchell Pre-Tennessee/Alabama SEC Tournament News Conference Comments

Opening statement …

“Well, we are excited to go and compete in the SEC Tournament. I think it’s an incredible event and just one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been around as a fan or as a participant. So we have a lot of respect for this league and a lot of respect for this tournament and we are looking forward to going and competing for a championship and that’s what we intend on doing.”

On the improvements he would like to see his team make …“At this point in time, you’re just hoping and trying as a coach and a coaching staff to emphasize the little hustle areas that make us have a chance to be a good team. You’re just trying to build into a stretch of basketball where you can play well every night, shoot the ball well, cut down on any type of mental errors defensively, carry out your assignments, do your job on defense. It’s not real complicated at this point. We’re just trying to play as sharp as possible. I just think for the season as a whole for what our strengths are and what our flaws are, we’ve done a pretty good job of going in and being competitive in just about every single game. So we need to go to Greenville with our minds on great defensive fundamentals, boxing out and trying to be competitive on the boards and we’ve done a good job on that the last half of the season—the last half of the conference season. Defensively, just trying to help each other and play as one unit. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of mixing defenses. I think we need to try keep people off balance here in this tournament. And then offensively, just we need to be the most aggressive, attacking team over there. We really need to drive the ball from all positions. We can do that. We’re a team that can spread the floor and drive the ball, whether that be in transition offense or in the half-court. I just think we need to be relentless in that area as we travel over there. I think we’ve become a pretty solid team kind of all the way around. I don’t know that we’re a bright, shining star anywhere, but I don’t think there are any real deficiencies there either. So a solid team that’s going to going over there hungry to win.”

On a potentially tough draw in the tournament …
“Well, you know, we go one game at a time. If the seeds hold, what a great opportunity to compete against some teams that have beaten us and the very top of the conference. It’s an opportunity is what it is. This team’s been very embracing of opportunity all year long. We’ve won some big games. We’ve come through at some critical times. We’ve played with poise in some real pressure situations, so just turn it loose. Can’t win on Sunday if you don’t win on Friday. So really, it’s—whoever comes out of that tomorrow, I know it’ll be a tough game with Alabama and Tennessee. Whoever comes out, we’ll have to play extremely hard. We had to play extremely hard at Tennessee to have a chance. Fell short. We had to play extremely hard at Alabama to earn that victory. The only thing I tell them is, if they don’t want to win the tournament, don’t get on the plane. We’ll just go over there and give it everything you have. It’s a hard tournament to win. It’s a difficult tournament to win. We’ve been very close on several occasions. We want to win it and this year’s as good as any to go cut down those nets. Just gotta go over there focused on your business, on being mentally ready to outhustle whoever we play Friday afternoon, play real sharp on defense, attack on offense, be tough on the boards and give yourself a chance to win.”

On the first matchup with Tennessee …
“Yeah, Jess (Hardin) got knocked out at Duke and Makenzie (Cann) got her nose broken and Evelyn (Akhator)—Taylor (Murray) was coming out with a broken finger—two broken fingers, or one broken finger. Evelyn got beat up over there. It was a tremendously physical battle at Duke and I thought we bounced back and competed real hard. We were not as far along as we are now. That’s one thing that I would be really excited to see, is what’s our progress done. How much have we progressed? We could not keep them off the boards in the second half at crucial moments when we had a chance to win the game and we just were not very advanced at boxing out in our 2-3 zone and boxing out period and controlling the boards. And so a lot of progress has been made since January 1, so if it were Tennessee it’d be a great chance to see how much you’ve improved.”

On the team’s health …
“I think we are about as healthy as we have been. I think that we will have a very spirited and tough practice today and hopefully we can make it out of there with everybody feeling good. We are sort of rounding back into shape and it is very exciting right now. I think Jessica Hardin is finally ready to play and hopefully she will give us a boost here at the end. We could certainly use her speed, quickness, athleticism and her shooting. Makenzie looks like she has finally bounced back with her difficulties with the flu and just everybody looks good. We went this morning and had a good skill session. Everybody came in early in the day and had a pep in their step. I thought we had a great session this morning and we will go back at it this afternoon and see if we can get ready to play.” 

On giving the team two days off Monday and Tuesday …
“Not often (that happens). We had the good four-day break with the bye, they had off Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and went back at it Tuesday. So that was good for them. We learned a little bit from that, even going down the stretch here I don’t think we will give them four days off again, that just kind of bothered our rhythm a little bit, but I think the two days was good. They certainly earned it. On our off day they are going to class on Mondays. It is just a difficult and competitive situation for all the Southeastern Conference teams. So I think giving them two days off was good because they don’t get that often. There are days that we scale back but go a little big lighter. That has been the interesting thing with this team. It felt like early in the season I tried to figure out how to protect them and hold back and look after their minutes and those sort of things and after that Texas A&M game we just decided that we needed some work and we started to go twice on Tuesdays. This team has been a working group. They really group. I think the two days helped them, but work does not bother this bunch.” 

On Maci Morris’ play …
“I think in so many instances, Maci is our most aggressive and best driver. Taylor has really come on in that area, she has done a good job of driving the ball. Maci is very aggressive, she uses her change of pace and her ball-handling skillset, which she worked hard on this summer, to get her loose and a little bit more open. And then Maci has some length where she can go a little bit sideways and some skill where she has a nice little running bank shot she can make that is a difficult shot to make. But she is very critical. You think of some of the times where she has driven the ball and the play she made to win the Auburn game was a big-time drive. She has done that consistently well all season. That is a big part of her game and a big part of the offense. That is the kind of mindset that we need to take with us to Greenville. We need to stay on the attack and try to be the most aggressive, attacking offensive team in the tournament.” 

On the mind set being to win the tournament …
“Yeah. We think that is going to be difficult to do but we certainly believe over the course of the season that we have been in games with everybody in the tournament and there is no reason for us to not believe that we can win it. That is no disrespect to anyone. We are not trying to inflate where we are. We have tried to rise to the occasion every time and when we have been knocked down we have tried to come back and be a team that has been resilient. So there is definitely a sense of that on our team. I know that they want it bad. They want to do something and it would be real special to win the tournament. I think we are motivated to get that done. We will see. It is very hard to do.”

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