UK women need frontcourt to have its way on Senior Day

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2014 

  • Lineups

    VANDERBILT

    Starters: Kady Schrann, 5-9, Jr., G (4.5 ppg); Christina Foggie, 5-9, Sr., G (19.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg); Jasmine Lister, 5-4, Sr., G (14.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.7 apg); Kylee Smith, 5-11, Fr., G (6.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Morgan Batey, 5-10, So., G (6.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg).

    Key reserves: Marqu'es Webb, 6-1, Fr., F (6.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Jasmine Jenkins, 5-8, So., G (5.5 ppg 2.4 rpg); Rayte'a Long, 6-0, So. F (1.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg).

    KENTUCKY

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.9 ppg, 421 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., G; (9.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.2 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (9.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (11.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (5.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (4.1 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (4.0 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

  • SUNDAY

    Vanderbilt at No. 12 Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m.

    Records: Vanderbilt 18-10 (7-8 SEC), Kentucky 21-7 (9-6)

    Series: Vanderbilt leads 27-19

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 76-65 on March 8, 2013, at the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga.

    TV/radio: ESPN2; WLAP-AM 630

Eyes will need to dry quickly on Sunday to focus on the task at hand.

And it will be no small task for No. 12 Kentucky as it tries to finish out the regular season strong with a win over Vanderbilt on Senior Day in Memorial Coliseum.

There's the usual at stake: Winning one for the seniors, trying to gain some momentum heading into this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Also very much in play is the potential to earn one of the four double byes in the tournament.

Coach Matthew Mitchell seemed focused on one thing, though: Getting a victory for seniors Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett, DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker.

"It's an important game but there's nothing more important to me than really preparing well and working hard to try to get ready for Vanderbilt so we can send these seniors off with a great victory," he said.

All four seniors admitted that tears are likely.

Mitchell and Pinkett got weepy at separate news conferences when they talked about her getting to this point.

Before the final notes of My Old Kentucky Home, Stallworth and Walker are going to have to focus on doing their part to secure the win.

"I want them to deal with all the emotions of the day, but in the end just play with energy and aggressiveness," Mitchell said.

Kentucky's senior forwards will be key factors in getting a win against Vanderbilt (18-10, 7-8 SEC), which doesn't start a player taller than 5-foot-11 and whose tallest reserve is a 6-foot-1 freshman forward.

"They need to have a big game," Mitchell said of his seniors. "They need to play really hard. ... They could be big in the game and we'll try to prepare well so they can take advantage of that height advantage we possess in this game."

It's a concept that's been discussed all weekend in UK practices: finding touches for Walker and Stallworth.

"He was stressing getting the ball to us in transition and making sure they get the ball to us down in the block and go up strong," Walker said. "We ran a couple of plays that were designed to get the ball to us in the post. So we definitely talked about it, made it a point of emphasis."

Stallworth didn't seem concerned about the weight of the day or of the game or of the emotions.

She seemed confident that Kentucky (21-7, 9-6) is up to the task.

"Our team's gonna come out even harder and play for each other and play for a purpose, knowing that it's the seniors' last game and how important this game is for us," she said. "We're all going to take it up a notch or two and play extremely hard for one another."

As the latest scheduled SEC game on Sunday (4 p.m. tip on ESPN2), Kentucky's conference tournament seeding might be decided before the Cats' game with Vanderbilt is completed.

UK has its fate in its hands. If the Cats top the Commodores, which they've done six straight times, then they earn the No. 4 seed and the important double bye.

Even if UK loses, a Florida loss to Texas A&M would give the Cats the double bye.

There's a logjam in the middle of the league, but it's quite possible that the Cats' road to an SEC title game could include a game against Florida and another versus fourth-ranked South Carolina, two teams that swept UK in the regular season.

'Very emotional time'

Pinkett will have a special escort for her Senior Day celebration: grandmother Lucille Vest.

The player's fraternal grandmother, who helped raise her, has been to a couple of Big Blue Madness events but never seen Pinkett play live in a game.

"It's a very emotional time for me," Pinkett said. "The one person who has always been here for me since day one, who is my grandmother, is going to be here to see me on my Senior Night."

Vest watches Pinkett play on television when she can.

"She's always been there for me throughout my whole basketball career," Pinkett said. "She doesn't really understand it that much, but she tries to coach me or call me when she watches the game on TV."

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

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