UK women's basketball: Loss to Florida spurs players-only meeting as another top 10 opponent looms.

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 8, 2014 

  • THURSDAY

    No. 9 Kentucky at No. 10 South Carolina

    When: 7 p.m.

    Records: UK: 13-2, 1-1; South Carolina: 14-2, 2-0.

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • LINEUPS

    NO. 9 KENTUCKY (13-2, 1-1 SEC)

    Starters — Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (11.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (9.8 ppg, 3.2 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (10.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.7 spg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (6.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

    Key reserves — DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (13.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.1 ppg, 3.7 apg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (5.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (5.5 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

    NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA (14-1, 2-0 SEC)

    Starters — Tiffany Davis, 5-7, Fr., G (2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg); Tiffany Mitchell, 5-9, So., G (15.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg); Asia Dozier, 6-0, So., G/F (7.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Aleighsa Welch, 6-0, Jr., F (13.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Elem Ibiam, 6-4, Jr., C (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 bpg).

    Key reserves — Alaina Coates, 6-4, Fr., C (12.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg); Olivia Gaines, 5-7, Jr., G (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Tina Roy, 5-11, So., G (3.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg).

A loss to unranked Florida was not acceptable to Kentucky's leaders.

So they didn't wait long to do something about it.

On Sunday, just hours after the Gators upset UK at Memorial Coliseum, the players were back in the gym working out.

"It was a meeting/workout, just to get us back in the groove (remind us) that this is how hard we have to work every day," senior forward DeNesha Stallworth said Wednesday before the ninth-rated Cats head to No. 10 South Carolina.

The coaches didn't demand it, nor were they a part of it, she said.

"It was just something that needed to be done," she added. "It was a players' choice, just our leaders stepping up."

Since then Coach Matthew Mitchell and Stallworth have seen a more focused group.

"Everybody has stepped up so much in practice," Stallworth said. "We're on the right track right now."

Kentucky had better be, Mitchell reminded.

South Carolina (14-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) has won three of the last four over UK at Colonial Life Arena.

But more than anything, the Gamecocks are a physical challenge for a team that wilted under that kind of challenge versus Florida on Sunday.

"It'll have our players' attention — certainly needs to have our players' attention — and the key to this game is being able to hustle and stay really tough mentally, emotionally, physically," Mitchell said.

As UK's permanent home-away SEC opponent, there are no secrets between the teams, Mitchell said.

It's usually the team that plays the hardest wins the game.

"The key: Can we keep that strength about us, and can we really hustle and try to outhustle South Carolina?" he said. "That's going to be such a key."

For Kentucky (13-2, 1-1) the question is: Did the loss to Florida serve as a wake-up call? Did the players-only workout do what it was intended to do in time to face one of the nation's best teams?

Stallworth continues to improve from layoff

DeNesha Stallworth had never sat out before with an injury, not once in her career, so missing five games after an arthroscropic surgery on her left knee was difficult.

"I've always been a healthy player, so it was tough for me. ... Very, very tough, just knowing I couldn't contribute to my team."

She played seven minutes against Florida and has been building up strength and stamina since then.

"She left the game with a lot of confidence," Mitchell said. "She practiced really hard yesterday, made all the plays, did all the defensive fundamentals, all of our defensive footwork. So I think we will see her round into shape."

Against a physical, punishing South Carolina team, Mitchell wasn't clear on how much his forward would play.

"We'll practice hard every day with her and we'll let her play as hard as she can play," he said. "She's very anxious to play, so I see nothing but blue skies ahead."

Epps needs 'a little boost of confidence'

After playing double-digit minutes five straight games, freshman Makayla Epps hadn't played more than nine minutes since conference play started a week ago.

That included just six minutes off the bench for Kentucky in its loss to Florida on Sunday.

She didn't take a shot and had one personal foul in that short time on the floor.

Mitchell said he is responsible for the Miss Basketball from Marion County's crisis of confidence after he moved her to the power forward spot to help with post depth after Stallworth went out with the knee injury.

"I have to look in the mirror on that and take the blame for not being able to get her to have the confidence to play there," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in her. Obviously I haven't communicated that well enough to her."

The coach also took the blame for not playing Epps more on Sunday.

"I probably should have gotten Makayla some more minutes because it couldn't have hurt us any," Mitchell said, noting that he was trying to stay positive with some other players missing shots. "All those things are sometimes lost in the heat of the battle and you don't see it as well."

The 5-foot-10 combo Epps, who is averaging 5.1 points and 2.2 rebounds a game, has practiced well this week and could be a factor at South Carolina, her coach predicted.

"She probably just needs some success in a game to get her going," he said of Epps. It's my job to make sure she's in position ... to be successful because right now I think what she needs is a little boost of confidence. She's still real talented and real valuable to us."


THURSDAY

No. 9 Kentucky at No. 10 South Carolina

When: 7 p.m.

Records: UK: 13-2, 1-1; South Carolina: 14-2, 2-0.

Radio: WLAP-AM 630


LINEUPS

NO. 9 KENTUCKY (13-2, 1-1 SEC)

Starters — Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (11.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (9.8 ppg, 3.2 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (10.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.7 spg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (6.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

Key reserves — DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (13.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.1 ppg, 3.7 apg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (5.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (5.5 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA (14-1, 2-0 SEC)

Starters — Tiffany Davis, 5-7, Fr., G (2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg); Tiffany Mitchell, 5-9, So., G (15.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg); Asia Dozier, 6-0, So., G/F (7.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Aleighsa Welch, 6-0, Jr., F (13.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Elem Ibiam, 6-4, Jr., C (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 bpg).

Key reserves — Alaina Coates, 6-4, Fr., C (12.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg); Olivia Gaines, 5-7, Jr., G (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Tina Roy, 5-11, So., G (3.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg).

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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