The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will continue its difficult stretch of games Thursday at 7 p.m. ET inside Reed Arena as it travels to face No. 19 Texas A&M, marking the Wildcats’ fourth meeting against a top-25 team in its last five games. The Aggies are the seventh straight team UK has faced that has been or currently is ranked or receiving votes in the national listings.
The game will be broadcast live on the SEC Network with Pam Ward and Gail Goestenkors on the call. The action can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. Darren Headrick, in his first year with the program, will be calling the game on the UK Sports Radio Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Headrick’s call on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.
This difficult stretch in Kentucky’s schedule has got the better of the Wildcats, who enter Thursday’s Southeastern Conference road opener having lost six in a row. Three of those losses have come to ranked teams in No. 3 Louisville, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 24 Cal, while the other three have come in true road games. UK is the only team in the league to play six non-conference true road games.
TAMU is the seventh straight opponent UK has faced that has been ranked or receiving votes at some point this season, including the fourth top-25 team in the last five games. UK is 0-4 against ranked foes this season and is scheduled to play six more games against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, starting with Texas A&M.
Kentucky (8-7, 0-1 SEC) enters the game looking to regain confidence on both ends of the court. The Wildcats are shooting 41.6 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from long range this season, both numbers that have dipped during the tough stretch. UK is averaging 70.4 points per game and allowing opponents to score 62.2 points per game.
Junior guard Maci Morris is averaging a team-best 16.1 points per game, hitting 46.8 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from long range. Morris has scored in double figures in every game but one this season, while she has four games of 20 or more points. The native of Pineville, Ky., ranks 12th nationally and second in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage this season.
Fellow junior guard Taylor Murray is averaging 10.4 points per game. The native of Odenton, Md., ranks second on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game and leads the team with 55 assists and 31 steals. Murray’s 2.39 assist-turnover ratio ranks fifth best in the league and 53rd best nationally.
Texas A&M enters Thursday’s game ranked No. 19 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25. The Aggies are 11-4 overall this season, including 8-2 at home, 2-1 in true road games and 1-1 in neutral-site games. All four of the Aggies losses have come to highly ranked teams with two losses vs. Oregon, and single losses to West Virginia and South Carolina.
Freshman guard Chennedy Carter is leading the Aggies in scoring this season with 21.2 points per game, adding 3.1 rebounds per game. Carter is hitting 46.4 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3. Junior guard Danni Williams is averaging 14.8 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game, while senior Khaalia Hillsman is averaging 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Junior forward Anriel Howard is averaging a team-best 13.1 rebounds per game, adding 11.5 points per game.
As a team, Texas A&M is scoring 76.4 points per game, allowing opponents 65.6 points per game. The Aggies are shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from 3 this season.
Kentucky leads the all-time series in games played against Texas A&M, 4-3. The Wildcats have never lost in College Station to the Aggies, holding a 3-0 record since TAMU entered the SEC. The road team has won the last five meetings in the series.
Texas A&M used a second-half surge to power past Kentucky, 77-68, last season in Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator each had 20 points in the game to lead all Kentucky scorers. Kentucky took a six-point lead at 47-41 midway through the third quarter before Texas A&M used a 9-2 run including seven in a row to push past the Wildcats and take a one-point lead at 50-49 at the end of the third quarter.
In a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the lead changed four times before a 7-0 run by the Aggies including a key 3 put the Aggies ahead 69-62. Texas A&M would then go on to make all eight of the free throws they attempted inside the final three minutes of the game to ice it.
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.
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Kentucky WBB News Conference
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2018
Joe Craft Center – Lexington, Ky.
Matthew Mitchell Pre-TAMU
Opening Statement …
“The team faces a big challenge on the road tomorrow night in College Station. Texas A&M has a really good team, they are talented and well-coached. So a huge, huge challenge ahead of us. Our team worked hard yesterday and will work hard today to try to improve and get better. We need to go down and work hard to earn a victory. It will be a big challenge tomorrow night, they are a really good team.”
On the team’s confidence …
“Confidence, I have tried to express to the team, comes through achievement. When I do something well, I have confidence in it. So just trying to really emphasize the importance of practicing well. Our performances in the games are really going to be dictated by our performance in practice. We have really seen some people step up and work extremely hard in practice and improve. It is so easy when you are in the midst of struggle to wait for something good to happen and I am just stressing to the team and all of us as coaches that we have to make some good things happen. It is going to come through quality practice and a commitment to doing things the right way. We really have to work to make sure we are not waiting to be the recipient of something, you have to go down there and be extremely aggressive and get after them. I think Texas A&M is really dynamic with their guards and then one of the best offensive rebounding teams out there. It is a battle, a real battle. You have to play really tough and compete tomorrow night. I am looking forward to seeing our team do that.”
On the team already having played several true road games this season …
“Yeah, I don’t think that we have any great advantage because we have been on the road. What is really more important is us just focusing on our play. I think that is the big key right now. You definitely have to prepare for the opponent and know what they are doing to do, but we are spending a ton of time on us and trying to establish a much stronger identity defensively and obviously execute better offensively and I think that is where sometimes you can point at a shooting percentage as being unlucky, but we have not executed cleanly enough for what this team has to do to be successful. That is really where the focus is right now. If you have a team that is clicking a little bit more maybe you are looking at some different things like being on the road or different things, but we are really trying to focus in our performance and how we can help this team get better. We need to play better basketball, there is no doubt.”
On the team’s difficult schedule and knowing what you need to work on …
“As you look back over the last few games, with really some better play in some key areas you have a shot in all of those. The tendency for all of us is to look at all the bad stuff, but you have to understand, if we can just make a few adjustments here and there in practice and play just a little bit better we are not as far off as we may feel right now. But if you don’t make those changes then you will continue to get those results. We have really tried to work on our transition defense and our rebounding, those effort areas that it does not take any talent to sprint back and get matched up and talk. It does not take any talent to not pick up the ball when it is shot and find someone to box out. Those things that we can control we have not done a good enough job of consistently. We are just not the kind of team that is going to be able to deal with one dynamic out-of-area rebounder. We really have to box out and rebound as a team. Those are the things that if we could do a little bit better we could turn some of these really close defeats into victories. We know what we need to work on and maybe that is one of the benefits of a tough schedule, but it sure hasn’t benefited the record. The record is tough right now and we have to turn it around quick and get going.”
On what the team learned from the first quarter against Tennessee…
“Well, those things that I just spoke to. It was really some unfocused, undisciplined play, which I really take personally as a coach. I just think with transition defense, the coach has got to have the team ready and we are not executing at a high level there and that really put us behind the eight ball. We almost looked like we were deer in headlights there, which I felt like meant we weren’t ready to go. So, as a coach, you’re working hard and making sure that’s not the atmosphere or that’s not in their minds. So, we’ve had very tough practices here and just trying to get us to show just a little bit more grit, and I think if we can do that we’ll get the results we want.”
On what he expects from Makenzie Cann through the rest of the season…
“Yeah, I think Makenzie is at a spot right now where we need her to get back to doing some things she was doing earlier in the season. Rebounding, really being a tough rebounder and tough defender, and she was just moving the ball and passing the ball great earlier in the season. So, I think those are some of the things when you’re not shooting the ball well, get yourself going in other areas. She and I talked about it this morning. She wants to do better, she wants to play better and she came out with a really good practice in our morning session and was much more aggressive. I just think there’s times as a player that if you focus on your shooting percentage it can start to weigh you down. So, you’ve got to get your mind off that. Go get an offensive rebound, go get a good box out, get to the free throw line, get in the paint and score in a power jumper – all things that she can do. You know, it’s difficult on the team when you’re close and all of these things are turning the wrong way and it can get in your mind and get in your head. It’s one of the real opportunities for all these young people and for me as a coach and all of our young players and everybody associated with it. It’s just having the fight in us to stay positive and understand that it’s not happening to us, we’re participating in it and we’re the people who can turn it around. So, that’s my message to Makenzie and all of them is that, just build some confidence through achievement and that’s not always the ball going in the basket. There’s a lot of other things that you can do.”
Associate Media Relations Director (WBB, FB)
University of Kentucky Athletics