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No. 25 Kentucky Looks to Continue Momentum vs. Morehead State

Posted at 5:04 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 17:04:32-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to continue its momentum after an impressive run to the 2018 Paradise Jam title last week, the No. 25 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team hosts in-state foe Morehead State on Wednesday at Noon ET inside Memorial Coliseum.

The game will be streamed on SEC Network+ with Christi Thomas and Jeff Piecoro on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick will have the call on the UK Sports Network on 630 AM in Lexington. Live stats and free live audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.

All spectators attending the game Wednesday are encouraged to park in Parking Structure 5 or any E lot surrounding the Joe Craft Center and Memorial Coliseum beginning at 9 a.m. ET. Spectators wishing to park in Parking Structure 5 are encouraged to collect a parking vouchers from event staff at their desired entrance, allowing patrons to exit the structure free of charge. Shuttles are available beginning two hours prior to tip and will pick up and drop off near Parking Structure 5 and the Transit Center Parking Garage and High Street Lot. Shuttles will start back up after halftime to return guests to their parking areas, the shuttle will discontinue service 1-hour postgame.

Doors to Memorial Coliseum open 1.5 hours before tip and UK Athletics encourages women’s basketball fans to arrive early to ease traffic and parking congestion around the Coliseum. For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit UKathletics.com.

Kentucky, which entered the AP Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25 at No. 25 this week, earned the 2018 Paradise Jam Island Division Championship last week with a 85-63 win over No. 17 South Florida, 75-74 overtime win vs. (rv) UCLA and 85-75 comeback win vs. North Carolina. The Wildcats were paced at the event by freshman guard Rhyne Howard, who led UK in scoring all three games including two 20-point performances, earning MVP and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors. Howard averaged 21 points and hit the game-tying layup off an offensive rebound to send the UCLA game to overtime before eventually winning the game with a free throw. Senior guard Taylor Murray was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 18.7 points during the three-day event. Murray, who was named College Sports Madness National Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week by the league office, had an incredible stat line against North Carolina with 23 points, 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds.

Howard has led Kentucky this season by averaging 18.3 points per game with a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. The native of Cleveland, Tenn., has 13 assists and 13 steals this season and has scored 20 or more three times while leading UK in scoring four times. Murray has been impressive this season averaging 15.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while leading UK with 31 assists and 24 steals. Senior guard Maci Morris is also averaging double digits this season at 13.9 points per game. The native of Bell County, Ky., has hit 18 3-pointers and is averaging 3.0 rebounds per game. Junior guard Jaida Roper is averaging 8.3 points per game and is 11-for-19 from long range with 16 assists. As a team, UK is averaging 79.6 points per game while limiting opponents to just 55.4 points per game. The Wildcats are hitting 40.9 percent from the field, 41.9 percent from long range and have +14.1 turnover margin.

Morehead State enters Wednesday’s game with a 6-1 record and ranked as one of the best offensive teams in the nation, averaging 94.7 points per game which ranks third nationally. The Eagles have a +30.1 scoring margin and are hitting 51.8 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from 3 this season. MSU has a +10.4 turnover margin and are forcing opponents into 26.7 turnovers per game.

Senior guard Miranda Crockett is the team’s leading scorer at 21.1 points per game adding 6.6 rebounds per game, while junior guard Aliyah Jeune is averaging 20.2 points per game with a team-best 16 3-pointers made. Senior Darianne Seward is averaging 12.9 points per game with a team-best 36 assists while graduate student Mckenzie Calvert is averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. The Eagles have wins this season over North Carolina A&T, Gardner-Webb, Valparaiso, Chicago State, Alice Lloyd and Kentucky Christian. The lone loss came against St. Francis Brooklyn, 101-94.

Kentucky holds a 30-4 all-time record against Morehead State, including a 20-1 mark in games played in Lexington. UK has won each of the last 13 meetings in the series with the last loss coming Jan. 3 1989 in Morehead. The two schools have played each other nine of the last 10 seasons since Matthew Mitchell left the Eagles to take the UK head coaching position. Mitchell is 8-0 all-time against Morehead State as a head coach.

For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @KentuckyWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.

UK ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
KENTUCKY WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

KENTUCKY PRE-MOREHEAD STATE NEWS CONFERENCE

NOV. 27, 2018

JOE CRAFT CENTER – LEXINGTON, KY.

UK Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…

“Well, we have a difficult game tomorrow. We got back late Sunday night. The players were off yesterday, so one day of preparation before a good Morehead State team that’s third in the country in scored points. They’re really good at scoring the ball, very dynamic and energetic team, plays with a lot of energy. It’s an early tip, so we’ve got to focus in this afternoon, have a great day of preparation, then come in in the morning  and have a really good game day practice and do what we can to see if we can earn this victory in Memorial Coliseum tomorrow against Morehead State.”

On the potential of a letdown vs. Morehead State…

“We weren’t on the beach very much. We were in the gym for three really, really difficult games, very physical games. So, I’m not concerned about a letdown as much as I am just where we are after the grueling tournament. It’s a really, really tough tournament. There’s a price to be paid for that. Very happy to win those games, but they were tough, psychical, so we need to bounce back here and really get our minds focused in on a challenging game tomorrow. They play a dynamic style, a lot of different players who bring the ball up the floor and initiate their offense. They’re really good in transition offense and have five kids in double-figure scoring. So, dynamic scoring team, and so you need energy against that team. So, if you’re concerned about anything, it’s the toll of traveling and three games in three days, and coming back and trying to get back into classes. It’s part of what we’re doing, but that’s what I’m concerned about. We’ve got to muster up the energy to get that down, because what the team has proven, and they really proved it last week, we have high-character young women on our team. They played their guts out, played really, really hard. We’re not the most talented team around, but they are an outstanding group of people and they want to win and want to play hard. So, I’m not concerned about them getting their heads in the clouds and thinking we won the national championship because we won the Paradise Jam Championship. It’s a little trophy of a steal drum that they played on the Islands. I mean, we’re very appreciative to have it, but I don’t know that we need to start patting ourselves on the back a whole lot, we’ve got to get ready for a good Morehead State team so we don’t get beaten like a steal drum tomorrow.”

On the team’s healthy after the Paradise Jam…

Yeah, we’re banged up. We’re trying to get a clear report as we head into practice, but Ogechi (Anyagaligbo) is out with a high-ankle sprain, so that will take some time. Everyone else right now looks like they’re a go. Tatyana (Wyatt) bruised her tailbone and it’s very painful, but she worked her tail off to get back on the court. It was an incredible hit she took in the first game, tried to go the second game, stayed in the pool all night Friday, they shut the pool down Saturday morning, she got out in the Caribbean Sea and got loosened up, and really showed tremendous toughness. So, she’s not feeling her best, but as of right now before we go to practice she’s a go, and everybody is a go. You know, we’ve been healthier, but this is just a part of it. That’s the toll that that tournament… that’s a tough, tough tournament, three tough teams, very physical teams. So, we’ve got to figure it out and muster up the energy to play at noon.”

On the importance of the early season ahead of December and January games…

“It’s a great time if you can continue to stay focused on the reasons why we were successful. We were not flawless down there. We gave up too many offensive rebounds, we didn’t rotate well enough in our defense when we were trapping. There were a lot of issues, but for all the issues, they showed tremendous guts, resilience and poise, so you need to build on those things that you’re doing well, and you need to get in here every single day. So we don’t have a very long practice today, but its precious time that we need to seek and hunt for improvement today. So, that’s the message to the team right now. We’re grateful for the results of that tournament and how hard the players played, but 7-0 won’t get you a whole lot as far as where we’re trying to go. So, tomorrow is a very important game and we have to prepare well today for it. But, you know, the more that you can win and have positive results and continue to see improvement in practice, then you can build momentum. Confidence is a very powerful thing. We were on the flip side of that when we got on a negative role and lost eight in a row, some of those games we were good enough to win, but your confidence is so low, so definitely we try to make sure that you are sticking to things that are substantive and real, and I told you what’s real about the team. They’re resilient and they’re tough, but there’s also plenty of room for improvement. So, the momentum part only continues if you do the work that is necessary to win. So, that’s where we are right now. Really proud of the team, but that one is over with and we have to get going here.”

On Taylor Murray’s improvement over her three years at Kentucky…

“Well, she is playing her best basketball. She has tried to soak up every bit of knowledge that she has gained over her first three years, and she is really trying to be a senior leader. And, it’s just the little things that happen each and every day that points to how she is trying her best to be the very best version of Taylor Murray, and it was some impressive basketball she played. It was really, really impressive, she had full command of her game. She made two or three hustle plays down there that will never show up on the stat sheet, that your jaw just dropped because you’re like… she really made that play. Sheer hustle, sheer determination. Her offensive game – she’s working really hard on her left hand. Teams really try to wall her up and force her left and she’s playing with both hands now. She’s starting to see plays in the pick-and-roll that she didn’t see in her first three years. She made a pass to Tatyana (Wyatt) in the pick-and-roll vs. North Carolina that, when they were trying to climb back in it, and it was a tremendous look and she had great poise.  Scoring the ball, pushing the ball, defending. So, she put it all together last week and we need her to keep it all together because again, we’re not just going to win because we walk in the arena and we have Kentucky on our jersey. We really have to play hard to win and we have to play together to win, and we have to have everybody contributing, max effort to what her role is so we can win.”

On Taylor Murray’s increased confidence…

“Well, you can’t manufacture confidence. Confidence has got to come from something that’s real and the only way you can gain confidence is to achieve something. I can’t go in and tell them to be confident. So, she’s earned it. She went through a lot of tough times — last year in the Miami game. They were very physical, it was a very physical game and she thought she was being fouled, and that was all she focused on the whole time — stuff that she couldn’t control. If an official doesn’t say you’re being fouled, you’re not being fouled, no matter whether the coach or the player thinks you are. You have to get some mental toughness. So, those kinds of experiences, she’s not doing that this year. These were three very, very physical games and very psychical teams, and I think the same thing about tomorrow. I think Morehead has got some very physical and dynamic players. If it gets to be what we think is too physical or you’re getting fouled, you’ve got to play through that stuff and that is what she’s doing. She is so poised, kept it so together that she has earned the confidence that she has. It’s substantive, it’s real. So, I think we were starting to maybe come on a little bit at the end of last year, our schedule was so difficult you couldn’t tell through our results, but we gained a lot from last year. KeKe McKinney gained a lot. It didn’t look like much, her stat lines don’t look like much, but she has confidence now because she’s doing exactly what we need her to do to win. So, you get more confident the more you produce and the more you achieve. So, that was great for our confidence because we had to beat three really good teams. You couldn’t duck anybody, it was three straight days… you could be 0-3 just as easy as you could be 3-0. So, that’s been my message since we got back yesterday and today. I’ll try to talk to the players and you’ve just got to stay at it. You’ve got to keep caring about each other and playing for each other and taking care of each other, but you’ve got to come to practice ready to get better every day. The coaches are doing a great job at that, the assistant coaches just keep working hard with players, so we just got to keep trying to get better every day.”

On the potential of too high expectations for Rhyne Howard after recent awards…

“Well, the expectations should be high because she is a talented player, so I want her to expect a lot of herself. But, there’s no danger of us losing focus on what needs to happen.  What should be dangerous for everyone else is she’s doing all this stuff and she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing right now. She’s a great talent and a terrific persona, and smart, and intelligent, and naturally strong, but when she really starts to understand the game and she really dedicates her strength through a strength and conditioning program and a high intensity practice regimen every day, there is where the danger lies. If she can stay focused on that, nobody here is going to allow her to get focused on anything other than getting better every day. She’s shown no indication other than she wants to get better every day. She’s really improved over the past two weeks, she’s really, really improved, and as long as that happens, there is no danger of her checking out. Now, that’s my job as her coach and her leader to help her with that. She can’t compare herself to any kind of stats… that’s one thing I’m proud of about this group of players right here, we don’t have anybody that’s doing a lot of whining and bellyaching about who is getting credit and who is player of the week, anything like that, they’re just working hard and we’re trying to get better as a team and we sure need to. We have a lot of flaws that we need to address and we need to get better.”