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3 Takeaways from Matthew Mitchell at UK Hoops Media Day

3 Takeaways from Matthew Mitchell at UK Hoops Media Day

UK Hoops Media Day

Guess who’s back? Back again? If you guessed Hayley and I then…YEAH you’re right! There aren’t many things in life that would motivate me to get up at 6:30 in the morning on a brisk fall day in late October, but luckily for you, UK Hoops Media Day is one of them. It was great to walk back into the hallowed halls of the Memorial Coliseum media room and listen to good ole Coach Matthew Mitchell preview the upcoming season for his Kentucky women’s basketball team. Now the casual reader may not know, but Mitchell has built UK into one of the top women’s basketball programs in the nation. Here’s a few stats for you: in the last five seasons Kentucky has made a school record five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, made three straight Sweet 16 appearances, finished in the Elite 8 three times, won 77.8% of their games, compiled a 91.5% record at Memorial Coliseum, been ranked in the AP Poll for 84 straight weeks, defeated 26 ranked teams and boasted four SEC Player of the Year award winners…not too shabby if you ask me.

Now that I’ve caught you up to speed, let’s move on to this season. The Wildcats are ranked in the top 15/10 of various preseason polls floating around the web, but many people aren’t sure how this version of the UK Hoops team is going to pan out after the loss of four seniors (Samarie Walker, DeNesha Stallworth, Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett). In terms of experience, this is probably one of Coach Mitchell’s most balanced teams of all time, with five upperclassmen and six underclassmen. The Cats were picked to finish fourth in the SEC by the media, after South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M. It should be another ultra-competitive journey through conference play, as the SEC time and time again sends the most schools of any conference to the Big Dance. Mitchell seemed cautiously optimistic about his team this morning, but didn’t want to show too many of his cards just yet. Let’s get onto the main points from his press conference..

1. Return to 40 Minutes of Dread: Last season featured various health issues and for the first time in his tenure at Kentucky, Mitchell was forced to stray away from his patented “40 Minutes of Dread” style of defense. He didn’t have the depth of players nor did he have the speed to execute it at a high level, and UK even featured zone in a few games, something rarely seen done by the Wildcats. This year, expect a return of the old. Coach Mitchell and his players preached the entire morning about their ultimate goal of “being the fastest team in America.” “We’re working on it really hard right now.  We’re trying to be an up tempo and pressure defense, and it just takes a lot of work.  It takes a lot of work, takes a lot of reps, but I think that one thing that we have going for us is we have some mobility in the frontcourt, which is very important.  You need to have bigs that will hustle and will work and can actually move, and we have that.  We don’t know exactly where to go right now, but we’ll get there. But I think that this will be a very good pressure defensive team, and we’re working hard at that right now,” said Coach Mitchell. Up tempo, in your face defense is what made Kentucky into the program it is today, and if most teams can’t beat it, why stop?

With the influx of freshman post players Alyssa Rice and Alexis Jennings, Mitchell seemed optimistic that they’d have an immediate impact and the Cats will rely on them heavily to score points down low. With that being said, the transition from high school to college is one of leaps and bounds, especially in a program so physically demanding like UK and the style of play Kentucky demands. “You’ve got to push them along so they will do what they need to do and also have the patience to allow them to grow into their roles. They stand out and look good, and we’ll be depending on them this year, and I think by the time we really become a team, I think they’ll be a big part of what we’re doing,” Mitchell said.

2. No Concrete Post-Season Goals:  Flashback to UK Hoops Media Day this time one year ago. Coach Mitchell drilled home one point and one point only to the media: this team wants a Final Four berth and to get that we need a number one seed. These ultimate goals were lauded by the players and coaches all season as motivation for success, but not all went to plan. The Cats struggled with injuries and consistency issues, all but written off after just a few weeks into conference play. “We had some adversity hit there in the middle of the season, and I think that that particular team didn’t handle that real well.  We lost a couple games during the conference, and it really did something to our psyche, and I think it hurt them, trying to think about being a No. 1 seed and all of that that I had really pushed and put in front of them.”

After some would say a possible let-down finish to the UK Hoops squad last season as the Cats fell in the Sweet 16, Mitchell is changing things up this season. Gone are the concrete, vocalized goals of championships, Final Fours and number one seeds (not to say those aren’t still lingering on the minds of everyone). This season Mitchell has one primary goal and that is: to play your best. “I think right now for this particular team, what’s very, very important is that they just try to become their best every day.  I have an idea of what that could be.  I think that could be really, really good and one of the top teams in the country, but I’m not talking to them a lot about results right now.  I’m trying to get them to be excellent in their character.  That’s really, really a fantastic opportunity to be your best…If we have success in our schedule, we’ll be a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

Speaking of the schedule…

3. Be at Rupp Arena on November 17th: Coach Mitchell all but guaranteed another sellout at Rupp Arena for UK Hoops’ annual “Pack the House” game this season against Baylor. Last year, the Cats set the single-game attendance record for a women’s basketball game with 23,706 in Rupp Arena, and we can do it all over again on November 17th. Read it yourself…

The answer to selling out Rupp (Arena) again is yes.  We will sell out Rupp.  There’s no question about it.  The Big Blue Nation will rally and we will sell out Rupp.  Did everybody hear me?  We will sell out Rupp.  Put this on the news tonight:  We will sell out Rupp.  And in order to sell out Rupp, you have to go out and buy your tickets, so everybody go out and buy your tickets, so I won’t look bad. They may put this in the newspaper, that I promised that we would sell out Rupp, and if we don’t, I’ll look bad, so no one wants me to look bad I don’t think if you’re a Kentucky fan.  So let’s sell out Rupp for the Baylor game.

To make sure Coach Mitchell doesn’t look bad, buy your tickets now at www.ukhooopstix.com or call 859-257-1818. Great game, great environment and #BeatBaylor. Plus I know all of you want to see the Bear’s crazy Coach Mulkey in person.

Kentucky opens their season next Thursday night in their one and only exhibition game against the Pikeville Bears. It’s free for everyone so stop by Memorial Coliseum at 7 and check out what is sure to be the beginning of another action packed season for UK Hoops.

@WilderTreadKSR

 


Photo by Britney Howard|UK Athletics

UK Hoops Media Day: The Players

Photo by Britney Howard|UK Athletics

Photo by Britney Howard|UK Athletics

 

FINALLY!  It’s basketball in the Bluegrass ladies and gentlemen, and I honestly can’t remember a time that I was this happy at 6:57 A.M.  The UK Hoops team presented their annual Media Day and invited all the fine, intuitive reporters of Kentucky (plus Wilder and I), for a morning of fake eggs and great quotes.  The 2014-2015 media guides were distributed upon arrival, and as you will soon read, there was no shortage of hilariousness.  After a few words from Coach Matthew Mitchell, it was time for us to head to the gym for some player interviews and practice observation.

We were lucky enough to get to talk to all our favorites, as well as a couple of the newcomers.  Below are my favorite quotes from each of the Hoopers, as well as my favorite fun fact about them from the media guide.

 

Jennifer O’Neil-Guard- Senior

Jenn O’Neil is returning for her final season as a Wildcat, and had some kind words to offer about junior Ivana Jakubcova and the possibility of her taking a redshirt for this season.

“If she redshirts, it’d be great in my opinion.  She’ll get a year to see how things are, the way [Coach Mitchell] wants them, it’s about seeing what he wants in order to be able to play really…When I got hurt, at first, I was like, ‘Why me?’ and then, as time went on, I was like, ‘You know what? This is a blessing.’ I had time off, I had time to think, my body got time to heal fully, I didn’t play or anything like that.  So yeah, I’m gonna be there for her, because she’s my teammate and I’ve been through it, so I think it’d be easier for her to talk to me about it or share stories about it.  I honestly think it’s gonna be a blessing.  It’s hard at first, but when you realize you have no control over what happened, you can’t make it heal, you have to take the time and learn and just accept it for what it is.”

Best Media Guide Fact:  Something most people don’t know about her is she has to put on deodorant before she goes to sleep.

 

Janee Thompson-Guard-Junior

Janee Thompson has made tremendous strides, on and off the court, in her maturation and determination since her first year at Kentucky.  Thompson started all but three games last season, and plans to continue to show her leadership throughout this coming season.

“I just think we are kinda missing some leadership from some people that graduated, and that was kinda a role that I wanted to fill.  I tried to step up and fill that void and leadership.  I do feel like more of a leader…I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot tougher mentally.  We go through a lot, the way we play is hard.  You have to be mentally tough to go through that 40 minutes everyday.”

Best Media Guide Fact: Janee Thompson is the “Team’s Sneakerhead,” and owns over 100 pairs of shoes.  In a very exclusive interview, she told KSR that her “go to” is the “Retro Jordan 6’s.. in any color.”

 

Linnae Harper-Guard-Sophomore

Linnae Harper got playing time in all 35 of Kentucky’s games, showing off her true freshman skills.  Last season, there seemed to be times where Harper would get down on herself during the games after a bad shot or turnover.  She told us those times of low confidence are over.

“This year, with Coach Mitchell and my teammates, they’ve been encouraging me everyday in practice and helping to find ways to help me become a better player.  I think defensively and offensively I’ve become a different player and I’m more aggressive and I think that’s going to be a big contribution to the team this year.”

Best Media Guide Fact: While it is important to note that her favorite dessert is sweet potato pie, “Nae Nae” also had something to say about Janee’s claim to the “Sneakerhead” title.  “I think that’s a tough one.  She has a lot of shoes, different styles, but I also have a lot of shoes.  So, I don’t know about her being the Sneakerhead.”  There’s only one way to settle this….

 

Makayla Epps-Guard-Sophomore

For those of you that don’t follow the Hoops closely, yes, this is Anthony Epps’ daughter.  But she is far from living in her father’s shadow.  Epps, who Wilder and I dubbed “Buckets” during her amazing SEC Tournament play, is one of the most clutch players on the team.  She always comes off the bench and makes the key shots the team needs to send them over their competition.  At Big Blue Madness, Epps walked out to “Stuntin Like My Daddy,” and said the decision didn’t take much thought.

“Whenever I came either my junior year or my senior year to watch Big Blue Madness, they had their own introduction songs and I was like, ‘You know, that’s extremely nice! What would I ever come out to?’ and then I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s not even a question! I would come out to ‘Stuntin Like My Daddy.’  The day before Big Blue Madness, we ran through it.  Just to hear it… I was like, so excited.”

Best Media Guide Fact: People would be shocked to know she has a small teddy bear collection.  EXTRA: Epps helped us uncover the hard hitting facts about who the Sneakerhead really is.  She said, “Janee is definitely the team Sneakerhead.  At first, I thought it was Linnae.  I went in her room when we first got here as freshmen, and I was like, ‘Wow you got a lot of shoes’ and she was like, ‘No I don’t, go in Janee’s room…’ [Janee] had shoe boxes along the wall, underneath the bed, in the closet… I was like, ‘That’s crazy!’  There you have it folks.  Mystery solved.

 

Bria Goss-Guard-Senior

Bria Goss, from her first year at Kentucky, has been the perfect Wildcat.  She is a strong, yet supportive leader, fantastic student, and responsible young woman.  She will surely be successful in her post college endeavors, and said that being able to represent UK for the SEC Media Day  jumpstarted her post college goals.  Goss is a communications major who hopes to get into broadcasting.

“I made some new connections, made some new friends, just got the feel and the atmosphere, I had a really good time… I talked to Kara Lawson a few times, and that’s someone I grew up watching and she’s one of the best sports analysts now.  Also, Maria Taylor.  She’s helped me, I asked her a few questions, she was real nice and real open.  She really made me feel comfortable.”

Best Media Guide Fact: Dream Job is to have her own TV Show.  I mean, I’d watch!

 

Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice-Forward/Center and Center-Freshmen

We had the pleasure of meeting these two talented ladies this afternoon, and I believe they are going to do great things for this team.  Both are high energy, high motivation, and will likely be looked at to contribute heavily.  Rice said the adjustment from high school to college has been intense.

“It has been a big adjustment because you are going so fast and college is a big speed change because everything moves much faster. Just being able to put what we’re learning on top of speeding it up to such a fast pace has it’s challenges, but I think we’re doing well with acclimating.”  Both ladies also agreed that Big Blue Madness has been their favorite part of being a freshman so far.

Best Media Guide Fact: Alexis- Guilty pleasure is country music.  Alyssa- Favorite word is salty.

 

 

It’s already been a sports heavy day, but now I’m off to work with ESPNU Campus Connection!  ESPNU is here to cover the Volleyball game tonight at 8, and has graciously opened their doors behind and in front of the cameras to students in the journalism program for some shadowing.  Make sure to watch tonight at 8!!!! #BBN

 


Big Weekend ahead for Kentucky Volleyball after winning streak ended

Volle yball

A big weekend of redemption is ahead for the Wildcat Volleyball team. The No. 16 team will return to the road for two SEC contests against Arkansas and No. 24 Texas A&M.

Kentucky is coming off a weekend with a sweep to Georgia last Friday and a 3-2 loss against LSU Sunday. The five-set loss snapped UK’s 11 match winning streak, the second-longest in Skinner’s tenure. Now the Cats sit second in the SEC standings.

Arkansas is coming off a 3-0 loss at No. 8 Florida after winning three in a row, including a 3-1 victory at then No. 20 Texas A&M. Coach Skinner and Arkansas’ head coach were teammates at Ball State in 1993. Pulliza also served as an assistant coach under Skinner at Kentucky from 2005-07 and helped UK reach three NCAA Tournaments. The Razorbacks are led by Meredith Hays’ 359 kills on .203 hitting. Chanell Clark-Bibbls is second on the team with 160 kills and a team-high .322 hitting percentage, 80 blocks and 17 service aces.

Texas A&M (12-6, 4-3 SEC) is ranked No. 24 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll after a 3-2 win at South Carolina on Oct. 19. The Wildcats already beat the Aggies once, ranked No. 21 at the time, 3-0 in Lexington on Oct. 5. The Aggies are led by Shelby Sullivan’s 200 kills on .380 hitting and 71 blocks. Jazzmin Babers, who has 148 kills on .356 hitting also has posted 71 blocks, while Angela Lowak owns a team-high 17 service aces.

You can catch the Arkansas game tonight at 8 online at WatchEspn.com and the Texas A&M game will be televised on the SEC Network on Noon Sunday.

@Sealey_KSR


UK Hoops and a cheerleader recreated their viral picture last night

@sydneybshelton

Last month, UK Hoopsters Ivana Jakubcova and Alyssa Rice posed with some UK cheerleaders, and the picture went viral. Last night, Ivana, Alyssa, and one of the cheerleaders recreated the picture, and it’s still pretty ridiculous.


Bergren and Napper earn more SEC Weekly Awards

(H/t @BigBad_Wolf21)

(H/t @BigBad_Wolf21)

Kentucky Volleyball didn’t move in the polls from No. 13, but the awards keep rolling in. This weekend, the girls’ added two more wins to their resume, one being against Top 25 ranked Texas A&M. Because of the their efforts, two players have been given SEC Weekly Awards. Junior setter Morgan Bergren has been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and senior libero Jackie Napper the league’s Defensive Player of the Week, for the third time this season.

Bergren and Napper helped guide the Wildcats to a pair of crucial SEC victories. Bergren led the Wildcats to a .306 attacking percentage and tallied 43 or more assists in in both victories, while contributing 11 kills of her own on a blistering .579 attacking percentage. She did not commit a single error in 19 attacking attempts.

Napper earned the SEC Defensive Player of the Week title after averaging 4.43 digs per set. In both matches, Napper logged 15 or more digs and now has 15 or more in 13 matches this season, including five of the last six played. Napper contributed offensively with 10 assists combined, including a season-high of six against the Aggies.

The girls resume SEC play Friday as they travel to Tennessee for a 7 p.m. ET first serve. Kentucky will then return home on Sunday for a Noon ET match against Auburn. The matchup vs. the Tigers is set to air live on the SEC Network.

@Sealey_KSR


(H/T UK Athletics)

2015 Schedule Released for UK Gymnastics

(H/T UK Athletics)

(H/T UK Athletics)

The UK Gymnastics team is looking forward to building off their recording breaking season last year. Yesterday afternoon, UK Athletics released the full 2015 gymnastics schedule to the public, and once again, it appears that the Cats have another tough season ahead of them. The schedule includes nine teams that made the NCAA Regionals last season including the top five teams in the NCAA Finals and the defending NCAA co-champs, Florida and Oklahoma.

The Cats are focusing on topping their excellent season last year. Not only did the Wildcats have a record tying 6-1 home record, they also had a program record NCAA Regional score, with senior Audrey Harrison appearing in the NCAA Championships to compete on beam. She was the first Kentucky gymnast to make the Championships since 2010.

Coach Tim Garrison told UK Athletics that,

“We have a tough schedule once again, but we’re excited for the challenge. Competing in the Southeastern Conference, we’re going to have to bring our best each and every week. We have a great home schedule, and I know the Big Blue Nation will once again show their support and help make Memorial Coliseum one of the best venues in the country.”

2015 Schedule:
Nov. 22, 6 pm / Blue-White meet
Jan. 12, 9 pm  / at Washinton
Jan. 16, 7 pm  / LSU, Arizona State [Excite Night]
Jan. 24, 4 pm / at Georgia
Jan. 30, 7pm  / Alabama [DanceBlue Night (#FTK)]
Feb. 6, 7:30 pm / at Mizzou
Feb. 14, 8 pm / Oklahoma [in OKC]
Feb. 20, 7 pm / Arkansas [Youth Night]
Feb. 27, 7 pm / at Florida
Mar. 6, 7 pm  / Auburn
Mar. 13, 7 pm / Pitt, Ball State [Senior Night]
Mar. 21 / SEC Championships [Duluth, Ga.]
April 4 / NCAA Regionals
April 17- 19 / NCAA Championships [Fort Worth, Texas]

Once again, I think we are looking at another great season for the Cats. I am looking forward to seeing them top their record shattering season last year and making a good run in the SEC & NCAA Championships. As always, follow UK Gymnastics & myself on Twitter for updates.

Go Cats!

@JC_KSR

[UK ATHLETICS: 2015 SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED, HIGHLIGHTED BY FIVE HOME MEETS]

 


No. 14 UK Volleyball rides four game win streak to SEC play

(H/t @BigBad_Wolf21)

(H/t @BigBad_Wolf21)

The No. 14 University of Kentucky Volleyball team finished its nonconference slate 10-2 after winning its four final matches against VCU, Georgia Southern, Lipscomb and Xavier. Tomorrow the team opens Southeastern Conference play against LSU at 9 p.m. on ESPNU. Kentucky Volleyball is having a record setting season, starting with their highest ranking since Sept. 2012, when the Cats were ranked 10th in the nation. Here are a few players working to break the record books this season:

 

—Earlier this month head coach Craig Skinner became UK’s all-time winningest coach with his 210th victory.

—Senior Jackie Napper has 1,207 career digs, third in the UK record books in the rally scoring era and fifth in the all-time top 10, 35 digs away from moving up in both lists. The Libero also just repeated as SEC Defensive player of the Week after charting 10 or more digs in all 12 matches this season.

— Senior Lauren O’Conner leads all current SEC players with 943 kills. She is just 57 kills shy of becoming the 15th Wildcat to notch 1,000 career kills. O’Conner is also tied for fourth in the rally scoring era with 37 solo blocks, eighth with 209 total blocks and eighth with 172 block assists and third with 73 aces.

—Junior Morgan Bergren is third all-time in the rally scoring era in UK history with 1,838 career assists.

— Schwarzwalder is sixth in the rally scoring era with a .278 attacking percentage.

 

With 19 matches left before the end of the regular season, there is plenty of time for the girls to become the greatest players in UK Volleyball history, setting new standards for the Skinner era. And it all starts with LSU. The Cats lead all-time vs. LSU, 33-23. However, the series is tied in Baton Rouge at 10-10. LSU enters SEC play with a 5-4 record and is on a three-match winning streak. The Tigers have two wins over Baylor on back-to-back days last weekend. Against top-25 teams, LSU is 0-3, with losses to No. 14 San Diego, at No. 8 Purdue and at No. 7 Florida State.

UK is the real deal this year. Even Cal knows:

@Sealey_KSR

 


Men’s Soccer holding an “Abe Out” against Louisville tonight, 1-cent admission

The men’s soccer team plays Louisville tonight, and as if you needed any more motivation to cheer against the Cards, the team is holding an “Abe-Out,” charging fans only a penny for admission (get it??). The first 500 fans get a free Abe shirt that looks like this:

Someone snag me one, please. Size smedium.


Women’s soccer falls in 2OT; Men tie No. 19 Furman

Men's Soccer

Friday was a full day for UK Soccer. Although the teams were unable to put out any wins, they did make sure to make the games plenty exciting.  Here is a breakdown of each match:

 

Women vs. Arkansas, 2-1

In its SEC Opener, the women’s soccer team dropped their match against Arkansas in double overtime. Despite out-shooting the Razorbacks 18-15, including a 9-7 advantage in shots on goal, the Wildcats couldn’t overcome a 35-yard goal off a free kick from Tyler Allen in the 104th minute. The shot just missed the arms of UK goalie Taylor Braun.

The Razorbacks scored in the 49th minute off a throw-in from Ashleigh Ellenwood. The Wildcats responded in the 68th minute with a goal from Jade Klump. Klump nearly ended it in the second minute of overtime, however she sent the ball just over the crossbar.

 

Men vs. No. 19 Furman, 0-0

Playing in Lexington, the men were unable to make a repeat of their defeat of a ranked team (#1 ranked Notre Dame). The saving grace of the game, literally, was Junior Goalkeeper Callum Irving who saved a career-high seven shots in his fifth shutout. The seventh save was  in the 110th minute when faced with a Furman breakaway in the closing seconds of the second overtime, Irving made a game-saving stop at a chest-high strike from Furman, keeping the clean sheet.

 

Next on the slate for the women is Mississippi State in Lexington Friday. The men face off against No. 9 Louisville Tuesday in Lexington, as well.

@Sealey_KSR


UK Hoops served breakfast and asked trivia questions this morning

Members of Matthew Mitchell’s UK Hoops squad surprised campers with breakfast this morning and challenged some of them to UK trivia. Watch as the ladies try to stump some of the Big Blue faith around the campout.

And if you missed it, you have to hear Coach Mitchell’s appearance on KSR this morning. When we say he is the best, we really mean he is the best.


The Volleyball team handed out BBQ at Tent City today

And even if you weren’t there to enjoy it in person, KyWildcatsTV has you covered with this footage. Admission to the team’s game against Lipscomb on Friday at 7 p.m. is free, so come on out to support the ladies. It all goes down at Memorial Coliseum, and I bet Marcus Lee will be there.


A random, but great, story about Matthew Mitchell

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Who doesn’t love Matthew Mitchell? UK Hoops’ main man isn’t just an excellent head coach, he’s a hilarious radio host, amazing dad and husband, and surprisingly good singer. USA Today has an article out today that focuses on Louisiana Lafayette’s head football coach Mark Hudspeth and how he, Matthew Mitchell, and Andy Kennedy all grew up together in tiny Louisville, Mississippi. All three played quarterback–Kennedy the starter, Hudspeth the backup, and Mitchell third string–at Winston Academy, and all three have gone on to be coaches of Divisions I teams.

In fact, Hudspeth was the one who helped Mitchell out when he wound up back in Mississippi and needed to make some money. Mitchell was coaching high school basketball, but was suddenly told he needed to become the defensive coordinator of the football team despite the fact that he didn’t know a thing about being a defensive coordinator. Thankfully, Hudspeth, then the head coach at Winston Academy, gave his friend a six-week crash course in coaching defense, which Mitchell says “saved my butt”:

“I ended up with a pretty salty little defense,” Mitchell said, laughing. “We won five straight, and I learned a lot that year about coaching. He saved my butt in that situation. At the time, I just didn’t even realize how absurd it was.”

To learn more about their friendship, read the whole article, in which Mitchell calls Hudspeth “one of the best coaches in any sport in America.” Also, cheer for him and the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns when they take on Ole Miss this weekend.

[Louisville, Miss.: A 7,000-person cradle of coaches]