UK Women's Basketball

UK Women's notes: Home-court advantage gets a little bigger for UK women

Kentucky's Maegan Conwright (20) stole the ball from Louisville's Sheronne Vails in the first half Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats will play Thursday night in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky's Maegan Conwright (20) stole the ball from Louisville's Sheronne Vails in the first half Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats will play Thursday night in Rupp Arena.

Kentucky moved its game against Duke to Rupp Arena out of necessity, but it's trying to take advantage of all of the possible advantages the bigger venue has to offer.

As of Monday, there already were more than 11,000 tickets sold for the matchup of top 10 teams, which is 3,000 more than Memorial Coliseum's total capacity.

The bonus of moving to Rupp so Memorial Coliseum can hold the NCAA Volleyball Regional this weekend likely will be a single-game attendance record.

The number of tickets pre-sold caught Coach Matthew Mitchell's attention.

"I'd like to personally thank everyone who's bought a ticket," he said on Wednesday.

When Mitchell arrived as an assistant several years ago, UK played a handful of games in Rupp as a recruiting tool. In his first season as head coach, the Cats went 1-4 there and then games there ceased.

Mitchell said he thought Memorial Coliseum offered a better overall environment for games and that the UK women should take pride in their distinct home-court advantage there.

"Memorial's a fantastic venue," he said. "We've had a real good record the last two-plus seasons at Memorial."

The big arena might offer an advantage over Duke, which is averaging 4,454 people this season at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

UK most likely will have more fans in the stands on Thursday than the Devils have had in their three home games combined (13,362).

"You'd rather be us than Duke with all of those people on your side," he said when asked if there were concerns about playing in Rupp. "It's not our normal venue, but it'll still be a home game."

Sophomore center Samantha Drake agreed.

"Memorial's our home here and same as Rupp, we're still here in Wildcat Nation playing," she said. "It might be a little different because we'll have to get used to the gym, but I think we're going to do pretty well there."

Mitchell didn't seem overly concerned about the change of venue hurting Kentucky's shooting.

"We have trouble shooting from time to time at Memorial Coliseum," he joked. "I don't know that Rupp Arena would be any better or any worse."

The Cats have tried to eliminate any potential shooting woes at the arena by practicing there twice this week.

It's helped, Drake said.

"We're actually shooting pretty well there," she said. "The atmosphere is a little bit different, having shootarounds has helped us gain a little more confidence."

Twitterless Cats?

If it seems like Kentucky's players have gone quiet the past few weeks, it's not your imagination.

Mitchell admitted he's limited his players' tweets during the season.

"Twitter is a great information-sharing tool or gathering tool," he said with a smile. "We're just gathering more than sharing now."

The coach noted that most times athletes' tweets only garner attention when they're foolish.

"Thank God I didn't have Twitter when I was that age because there would have been a lot of dumb stuff said," he said.

The UK coach said he wants his team's lone focus to be on basketball right now.

"This team has tremendous opportunity to be a good basketball team," he said. "We have to be really focused to play this way."

Applying the pressure

Kentucky leads the nation in turnover margin, forcing 15.4 more a game than they're committing.

That's a key stat for Kentucky against the Devils, who haven't turned the ball over more than 20 times in any game this season. The Devils are averaging just 15.7 miscues.

UK's ability to put pressure on the ball and set the pace will be key against a taller, longer team like Duke, Mitchell said.

"If we don't get enough pressure on the ball tomorrow night, they can just throw it into their interior players and we'll have a tough time winning the game," he said. "We have to make it difficult to get the ball into the post."

Injury updates

After UK topped Louisville on Sunday, Mitchell noted the amount of quality depth the Cats have had so far.

They may add another player back as early as Sunday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Backup point guard Crystal Riley (foot stress reaction) has been cleared to play for that game, the coach said.

Fellow guard Jennifer O'Neill, a former McDonald's All-American, has been out all season after having surgery on a broken toe.

She has no return date set but will be re-evaluated in about 10 days. O'Neill had been cleared to remove her walking boot and begin shooting again, but she had a minor setback after that.

"We wish she could have just gotten out of the boot shooting and returned to activity, but it didn't work out that way," he said. "She's really chomping at the bit to get going. She could help this team tremendously if we could get her back."

Stat lines

This is the first time since 1983 that two top-10 women's teams will face off. ... Kentucky is one of just 12 teams in the country that remains unbeaten. ... UK is one of four schools in the nation to have both its men's and women's basketball teams ranked in the top 10. The others are Connecticut, Baylor and Duke. ... The Cats have won 28 straight non-conference games at home.

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