LEXINGTON, Ky. – Looking to get back in the win column following a setback on the road last Thursday at Ole Miss, the No. 9 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team welcomes No. 18 Tennessee to Memorial Coliseum on Monday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
“Well, Tennessee is bringing in a really talented team and it will be a huge challenge for us and we will have to prepare well today and work really hard to go against their size,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They are a lot bigger than us and an incredibly tough rebounding team. We will have to keep them off the boards and find a way to get that done. We will just have to go out and compete and play really, really hard and work hard for victory … It would be great to have a big crowd in Memorial and help give us an advantage and lift tomorrow night.” Monday’s game is part of ESPN’s Big Monday and will be televised nationally on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins and Doris Burke on the call. The game can also be seen through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones or tablets. For the 11th consecutive season Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at UKathletics.com. The game will serve as Kentucky’s “We Back Pat” game this season. The Southeastern Conference, in cooperation with its 14 member institutions, is once again observing “We Back Pat” Week. The week-long initiative is focused on bringing awareness and recognition to The Pat Summitt Foundation, a fund of East Tennessee Foundation, and its fight against Alzheimer’s disease. In the middle of a stretch with four of five games at home, Kentucky is looking to end the stretch on a high note with two home games this week against highly ranked Tennessee before welcoming Vanderbilt on Thursday. The stretch started with a loss vs. No. 2/2 South Carolina before responding with a victory over Auburn in Memorial last Sunday. UK had a setback during its lone road game during the stretch, falling at Ole Miss on Thursday, 73-65. Kentucky (14-3, 3-3 SEC) struggled to find its rhythm at Ole Miss, recording 21 turnovers and allowing the Rebels to score 73 points, which tied the highest point total allowed this season by the UK defense. Three Wildcats scored in double figures with Makayla Epps leading the way with 22 points and six assists, while Akhator had 13 points and Maci Morris added 10. UK won the rebounding battle, 36-33, but Ole Miss hit 10 3-pointers in the game and had 22 points off UK turnovers and 18 second-chance points to claim the win.
Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season, averaging 16.3 points per game. The junior guard has scored 20 or more points six times this season and is averaging 5.3 assists per game. Senior guard Janee Thompson, who is listed as questionable for Monday’s game after sustaining an ankle injury against Ole Miss, is second on the team with 12.2 points per game. Akhator is the only other Wildcat averaging double figures with 12.1 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. The Lady Vols are currently ranked No. 18 in the latest AP Poll and No. 22 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll. Tennessee enters the contest with a 12-6 record, including 3-2 in SEC play. UT had a nonconference matchup against No. 3/3 Notre Dame on Jan. 18, dropping a 79-66 decision to the Fighting Irish. In its last game, UT defeated Vanderbilt at home, 58-49. Diamond DeShields, the 2014 National Freshman of the Year before transferring from North Carolina to Tennessee, leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and also leads the team in assists with 45 and steals with 38. Also scoring in double figures for the Lady Vols are Bashaara Graves, who is averaging 10.6 points per game along with a team-best 8.5 rebounds per game, and Mercedes Russell, who is posting 10.7 points per game and pulling down 8.3 rebounds per game. As a team, Tennessee is shooting at a .412 clip and holding opponents to 38.3% from the field. The Lady Vols rank in the top-30 in steals per game, with an average of 10.3 per game. Tennessee is scoring 66.2 points per game this season and limiting opponents to 58.3 points per game. Monday’s meeting against Tennessee marks the 64th meeting in school history between the two programs in women’s basketball. The Lady Vols lead the all-time series, 10-53, including a 22-7 mark in games played in Lexington. Tennessee has won each of the last four meetings between the two teams, including two of those four games in Lexington. Mitchell is 4-12 all-time against Tennessee with three of those four wins coming in Lexington. Kentucky’s last win in the series came in 2014 in Knoxville when the Wildcats outlasted UT, 75-71. The Wildcats last win at home in the series came March 3, 2013 when UK secured a 78-65 victory over UT. Kentucky and Tennessee met twice last season, once in Knoxville, when UT won 72-58, before playing UK in the SEC Tournament semifinals last year and earning a 75-64 victory. The first meeting between the two teams in Knoxville was tied at halftime, 31-31, before the Lady Vols outscored Kentucky 41-27 in the second half to earn the win. UT won the battle in the paint, outscoring Kentucky, 36-22, including 20 second-chance points and 10 fast-break points. Epps led Kentucky with 13 points. In the second meeting in the SEC Tournament semifinals, UT shot 42.9% from the field, including 47.4% from 3-point land, while Kentucky shot 34.2% from the field and hit 5-of-17 3s. The Wildcats turned the table in the paint, leading 28-20, including 25 points off turnovers.
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Single-game reserved tickets are $9 for all ages, while adult general admission single-game tickets are $8. For those aged 6-18 or 65-and-over, general admission costs are $5 per ticket. Children age five-and-under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.
For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit ukathleticsgameday.com/hoops.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught