Cats Overcome 16-point Deficit To Top USC

Cats Overcome 16-point Deficit To Top USC

The No. 9 Kentucky women's basketball team rallied from down 16 to beat No. 16 South Carolina Thursday night.
The No. 9 Kentucky women's basketball team rallied from down 16 to beat No. 16 South Carolina Thursday night.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell didn't lose his cool and that helped the No. 9 Wildcats keep theirs and come back from a big first half deficit.

Trailing No. 14 South Carolina 44-30 at the break, the Wildcats sat in the locker room expecting Mitchell to storm in and lay into them for poor first half.

Instead, he stayed calm and encouraged his players to slowly work their way back in the game, embracing the process instead of searching for a 14-point play.

It took almost 17 minutes, but the Wildcats came back to take a lead and hit their free throws in the final minute to win 78-74.

"That's such a difficult half to watch, and you feel bad and everybody's down," Mitchell said. "You have to show some leadership at that time. You must get in there - it's your job as a coach to figure out how to change it."

South Carolina shot 18 of 32 in the first half, and its efficiency improved early in the second. The Gamecocks made their first five attempts after halftime and did not miss a shot until 11:05 was left.

But the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) answered methodically, limiting their turnovers and maximizing opportunities despite a rebounding disadvantage.

A'dia Mathies hit a 3-pointer with 3:50 to play that gave Kentucky its first lead of the second half at 69-68. South Carolina never regained the lead, but did tie the game twice. Kastine Evans broke the last tie with a two-pump-fake lay-up with 24.4 seconds left. Jennifer O'Neill and Evans each hit a pair of free throws in the final 15 seconds to cement Kentucky's 10th league win of the season.

"We just knew we had to grind it out, go out and put a focus on winning every four-minute set," Mathies said. "I don't know how many we won, but we obviously won enough. We got the victory. We know we couldn't make a 14-point play. So we just knew we had to grind it out and get stop after stop. We got a win doing it."

South Carolina looked ready to pull away early in the game. It went on a 13-2 run over a four-minute stretch in the first half, silencing the 5,828 fans at Memorial Coliseum. Each time the Wildcats worked their way back into close range in the first half, South Carolina had an answer.

Asia Dozier hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give the Gamecocks a 44-30 lead at the break, and South Carolina's lead reached its widest margin at 46-30 with 19:41 to play.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was brief in her postgame news conference, taking only five questions and answering all five questions with one sentence each. She said both teams gave maximum effort, and she was not disappointed with her Gamecocks in that aspect.

When asked what Kentucky did differently to turn a 14-point deficit into a four-point win, Staley said, "Their ability to score more points than we did in the second half."

Four Kentucky players were available for interviews after the game - Mathies, Evans, O'Neill and Bria Goss - and all four said Mitchell's positive attitude in the halftime locker room was the reason they felt the confidence to get back in the game Thursday.

"It was very important to try to figure out a way to just get the (second) half started off on a positive note," Mitchell said. "Enough negative stuff had happened. Everybody was there, everybody saw what happened. There wasn't a whole lot for me to talk about there. We had to try to find a way out."

Kentucky Women’s Basketball
No. 9/7 Kentucky vs. No. 16/14 South Carolina
Postgame Quotes
Memorial Coliseum – Lexington, Ky.
Feb. 14, 2013

Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement …
“Well, it was a great win for us tonight. I just don’t think there is a tougher matchup for us in the league than South Carolina. We have tremendous respect for them. They are a very, very difficult team to beat and as you saw in the first half, they are a very good team. We had a hard time in the first half but you have to give our kids a lot of credit for hanging in and overcoming a significant deficit to earn what will be a great victory. We’ll be real happy down the road that we got this win. Real proud of our players for not giving up, hanging in there and we beat a real good team tonight.”

On addressing the team at half in a calm manner at halftime ...
“The game is just too important and my job is to try to help them win. Everybody I think is aware that we are in the thick of this thing and we can’t afford to go in and let personal emotions or agendas, I was real, real disappointed obviously, very disappointed in the way we just performed. We had very little fire and very little desire it looked like to win the game in the first half. I just felt like if we could ever stop them from driving to the basket and shooting uncontested layups then we could figure out whether we might have a chance to win. They’ve struggled to score this year and we just felt like if we could change it up a little bit and get some energy out there so we went four-guard lineup, sort of went back old school Kentucky, went four guards and one post. We were able to get it back going. I just thought that if we could ever get some energy on the floor, that first four minutes of that second half and whittle-in and we did, we won it by four I think and we were back to where we needed to be. The game was too important to get in there and fuss. I told them after the season that we would try to figure out why you wouldn’t be ready to go so I have to examine that as a coach. The game was too important to do anything but try to figure out a way to win.”

On sending a message by sitting Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth …
“I was just trying to win the game. It’s OK to make mistakes but when you make a mistake and then you make another and you make another and  it seems likes you have no ability to correct that and it doesn’t seem like it’s sinking in, at that point in time you have to make some decisions. The first thing we did at half time, I talked with the assistants. I thought about going with five guards but they were saying, and they were right, Azia Bishop had given great energy. You see her missing those shots and it maybe gets in your head that she’s not playing well but they may a great point that she’s playing terrific and then her first four minutes were terrific. Then I could say to the bench, this is what we’re looking for. I wasn’t trying to send a message; I was just trying to win the game.”

On Kastine Evans’ importance …
“I believe Kastine may have gone 20 in the second half, or maybe she took a short break but she was instrumental, there is no doubt. She was huge in the victory. She is a kid that wants to win and will do whatever so we moved her to the power forward, she hasn’t practiced there a lot, shows you what a smart kid she is. She just wants to win so she’ll do whatever it takes and I’ve told her many times, we’re really fortunate she decided to come to Kentucky because she is one of these kids that helped us change the culture here and I’m just really proud that she is rewarded with a fantastic performance and certainly we needed her to win.”

On A’dia Mathies’ 3-pointer making him confident in the comeback …
“Really, to tell you the truth, after the first two four-minute segments there in the second half and we had it somewhat stabilized, it was around eight or six, something like that, I thought, now we have a ball game. I just felt like we were hustling and making plays and making it difficult on South Carolina so it was really probably before that but you did get sort of a sense that we needed to get over the hump at some point and that was a huge three and it really electrified the crowd and I’m sure was somewhat deflating to South Carolina. The crowd was unbelievable tonight. I don’t care how strong you are, how tough you are emotionally, how tough you are mentally, when Memorial Coliseum explodes like that it is a huge advantage for us. Big lift for us and it’s got to be tough on the opponent, so it was a big moment in the game.”

On the key in the late 9-0 run …
“I thought we were getting stops, and then I thought that was one stretch in the game where maybe South Carolina had a hard time getting back and getting set. We finally started getting some benefit from our transition offense. We weren’t setting up we were just running our middle pick and roll. I thought Jennifer O’Neill was very aggressive and made some good passes and some good finds in there. I just kept telling them this, ‘It all starts with defense. If you will just defend them then you will have a chance.’ It was pretty clear to me early on in the second half that they were struggling in that middle pick and roll and we were spreading the floor with the four guards it just seemed to change their dynamic a little bit defensively. It wasn’t so clogged up. They had to guard Kastine (Evans) they had to guard A’dia (Mathies). Every time they’d come over I just said ‘it’s clear now you can score so guard and if you can get enough stops we will score enough to win.”

On his halftime speech …
“That’s such a difficult half to watch, and you feel bad and everybody’s down. You have to show some leadership at that time. You must get in there. It’s your job as a coach to figure out how to change it. One thing you knew was if we could ever start playing defense the way we did we would have a chance. It’s very important to try to figure out a way to just get the half started off on a positive note. Enough negative stuff had happened. Like I said everybody was there, everybody saw what happened. There wasn’t a whole lot for me to talk about there. We needed to try to find a way out.”

On coming back against such a quality defensive team …
“When they went up (by) 16 it was a little too early in the game to think that. Our first few possessions helped me not go there in the second half. Had I come back out and gone with the same lineup and started the starters and we were slow and not playing hard then maybe you’d start feeling that way. The very first few possessions I was encouraged. The kids showed me and everybody else that we had a chance in the game. That didn’t creep in in the second half. It’s too important of a game to start thinking like that.”

On being comfortable with the four guard lineup …
“A lot of this is on me in the first half. I probably should have recognized that earlier. It was not a good matchup tonight. Our bigs at times were not always at fault. It was our guards too. I probably should have figured that out a little bit earlier, although the last minute was devastating. It was right there at eight, and then we fool around there and it’s 14 going in. I do have a comfort level with it because you have some smart kids like Kastine (Evans) and A’dia (Mathies) who don’t have to take a thousand reps there and you can plug them in. As a coach you have to figure out what’s the best way for us to win. We have some talented players, but on a certain night that may not be the best combination. We do have experience and that gives you some comfort level on how to play it.”

On South Carolina playing so well …
“Ieasia Walker is a very good point guard, and she can keep her dribble alive. That is one of the biggest things that gives us problems. When you have a very good point guard who can keep her dribble alive, and she’s not bothered by the pressure then you have to guard a lot longer. Dawn (Staley) does such an unbelievable job of finding your weakness. They have incredible patience. They’ll just pass, pass until they find it, and then bam it will happen. I think it was more matchups than anything else. Now I think our team can play a little bit better defensively, but I think it’s a credit to South Carolina. They were finding the matchups and exploiting them.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes
#13, Bria Goss, Sophomore, G

On if the team practiced with four guards on the court a lot and why the team had more energy with that smaller lineup …
“No, we did it a lot last year and we kind of fed off of that energy. Kastine (Evans) brings a whole lot of energy and I bring a whole lot of energy. When we have four guards out there, you just open up the lane and pull the bigs out. We opened up a lot of opportunities to drive and kick or drive and get an and-one. That’s what we did last year and we just fed off that.”

On how she kept a positive attitude and helped the team keep a positive attitude when they were down by 16 …
“We go through adversity all the time as a team and this was just another opportunity for us to show our mental toughness. We work on that in practice and we worked on that all throughout the game. If you have your attitude right, then overcoming a 16-point deficit is just a matter of time.”

On if the team thought that since they were playing South Carolina at home, the win would automatically come to them …
“I think a lot of it was just from the loss we had, it was just definitely a mental thing. It was understanding that we had a bad first half and it happens. It showed a lot about our character and who we are as a team, and how we want to play and finish out the season by getting that win. I mean it was a bad first half; we had to let it go. Coach Mitchell came in with a great attitude at halftime, which I think helped us more than hurt us. He told us what we needed to do to get it done and that was just what we needed to do.”

#32, Kastine Evans, Junior, G

On if she hesitated or had time to think before she hit the 3-pointer in the corner …
“No, I didn’t think about it. I just caught and shot it. In a game like this you can’t really sit and think about it or those are the shots you are going to miss. We work every day on catch and shoot. Sometimes we are running that catch and shoot or that shot fake. She wasn’t close enough, so I just shot it and I was really excited about it.”

On the last field goal she had with almost no time left on the shot clock …
“I just think that’s credit to Jen and her ability as a point guard. I didn’t even see that I was open and she saw it before I did. All credit to Jen because she saw me first. It was just a play we made down the stretch and just being able to finish out the game.”

On what it was like to wear the pink uniforms and shoes for Play 4Kay …
“I think it is a fun game; just what Kay Yow has done for women’s basketball and women all across the nation who struggle with breast cancer. It is a fun game to be able to show support for those people. I am sure there are people out in the stands who have family members who have been through cancer, even if it is not breast cancer and just showing that we appreciate the people who are trying to help out the cause.”

#1, A’dia Mathies, Senior, G

On how she feels after returning from a 16-point deficit…
“We were really excited to get the win. We said at halftime, that shouldn’t happen and we’ve just got to forget about the first half and go play how we should have played in the second half like we should have played in the first half. I think we did a good job turning around and making hustle plays. They were just out hustling us on every play in the first half and we turned that around and we got the victory.”

On how she felt after hitting the 3-pointer to put UK up in the second half…
“It was very exciting. It definitely wasn’t a relief because there was a lot of time to be played in the rest of the game. Bria [Goss] was just saying, the play was just too perfect. She just knew it was going in so she already started getting back so we were just in a groove and we had the momentum and we were making a run so I’m just glad the 3 went in.”

On whether she ever felt like they may never catch up to South Carolina…
“We just knew we had to grind it out. We just put a focus on winning every four-minute segment and I don’t know how many we won, but obviously we won enough because we got the victory. We knew we couldn’t make a 14-point play so we had to grind it out and try to get stop after stop and we ended up doing it.”

On whether she was aware of her low shooting percentage before hitting the game-changing 3-pointer…
“No, it definitely didn’t go through my head. I definitely want to take any shot when I’m open. Bria started the play, did a great job on boxing out Aleighsa Welch - she’s a great rebounder - she got the rebound on defense and pushed it up to Jen and Jen found me on the trail, which is the one time they didn’t pick me up on transition defense so I let it go and it went it so I’m just glad it went in.”

On whether she can compare and contrast the moods she’s experienced from Coach Mitchell at halftime…
“I think it definitely did help. We didn’t know what he was going to do when we came in but him just coming in and just saying, ‘Let that half go. You can’t make a 14-point play but if we just do these things, just one, two, three.’ Just told us what we needed to do and went out there and executed and we just had a lot of energy and hustle which we didn’t have in the first half.”

#0, Jennifer O’Neill, Redshirt-Sophomore, PG

On what was said at halftime that changed the playing…
“What was said at halftime was that we all wanted to win. They got us the first game and what changed was really just our attitude, our effort, and we were just making hustle plays .The plays we needed to make in the first half that we didn’t make, we were making in the second half.”

On whether she felt surprised to be down 16 points during the game…
“No, we knew it was going to be a tough game because it was a tough game down at South Carolina, but when it all comes down to it, we wanted this game bad. I think it’s just from us losing to them when they were at home and then we just saw, well personally I saw their reaction when they won. They wanted to beat us and this game, we all wanted to win.”

On why she did not wear the pink shoes…
“The shoes hurt my feet and I already had surgery on my foot. I’m trying to keep my feet healthy.”

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley

On the difference between the first half and the second half…
“They scored more points than we did.”

On what Kentucky did to get back in the game…
“Their ability to score more points than we did in the second half.”

On the effort of the teams…
“I saw two teams giving maximum effort.”

On having a high shot percentage and still losing…
“It’s always frustrating to lose a basketball game that we’re very capable of winning.”

On Kentucky’s run in the second half…
“I just thought they gave maximum effort. I thought they did a good job in the second half.”

UK Hoops Postgame Notes
Memorial Coliseum
Lexington, Ky.
Feb. 14, 2013
Final Score: No. 9/7 Kentucky 78 – No. 16/14 South Carolina 74

Team Records and Series Notes
Kentucky improves to 22-3, 10-2 SEC, while South Carolina drops to 20-5, 8-4 SEC.

UK returns to action on Monday, Feb. 18, when its travels to No. 11/13 Texas A&M in College Station, Texas at 7 p.m. EST for ESPN2’s Big Monday.

Kentucky is in its 39th year of varsity play and owns an overall record of 678-474 (.589).
UK is 155-218 all-time in SEC play.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell is in his sixth year and is second on UK’s all-time wins list (136-59). His winning percentage of.697 is first. He is now only two wins away from tying Terry Hall as UK’s all-time winningest coach.

Mitchell is now 58-30 in SEC games (regular season only).

The Wildcats are now 371-141 (.725) in Memorial Coliseum, including 81-13 (.861) under Mitchell.

The Cats are now 63-3 at home over the last four seasons.

UK is now 35-10 in SEC home games under Mitchell, including an impressive 28-3 mark in the last three seasons.

UK is now 60-198 all-time in ranked games.

Mitchell’s record against ranked foes is now 19-31, including 3-3 this season.

Kentucky is now 31-19 all-time vs. South Carolina, including 19-5 in games played in Lexington.

UK has extending its home winning streak over the Gamecocks in Memorial Coliseum to nine. UK’s last home loss to SC was in Rupp Arena in 2008.

Mitchell is 8-4 all-time vs. SC, including 4-2 in Lexington.

Six out of the last eight games against the Gamecocks have been decided by eight points or less, including five in a row.

Team/Game Notes
UK's starting lineup featured A'dia Mathies, Kastine Evans, Jennifer O'Neill, Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth for the third consecutive game. The lineup is now 3-0.

The 16-point comeback is the largest in the Matthew Mitchell era and ties the fourth-largest comeback in school history.

The 14-point halftime deficit was the largest for the Wildcats in SEC play this year.

South Carolina shot 56.3-percent in the opening stanza compared to the Cats’ 30.8-percent shooting.

USC outrebounded UK 27-14 in the first stanza.

With 3:53 to go in the game, UK gained its first lead of the game since leading 16-15 at 11:53 in the first half with a 3-pointer by Mathies. She capped off a 9-0 run to give UK a 69-68 lead.

With South Carolina leading 68-60 with 7:19 remaining, UK finished the game on an 18-6 run.

UK won the turnover battle 22-9 and outscored South Carolina in points off turnovers 24-6.

Marks the lowest turnover mark for the Cats since committing a school-record low seven miscues vs. Miami on Nov. 28, 2012.

The Cats connected on four 3-pointers which totals 172 on the year. That mark moves UK to fourth on the single season 3-pointers made list.

The Cats had two blocks, giving them 124 on the season. That total ranks eighth on the single season blocks list.

The Cats are now 83-7 when scoring 70 or more points under Mitchell.

UK’s 73 points were the most surrendered by South Carolina this season.

Kentucky forced 22 turnovers and has forced double-digit miscues in 142 consecutive games. The Cats are 107-35 during that span.

The Wildcats extended their streak of consecutive games with a triple to 317.

The Cats had four players reach double figures for the 15th time this season. UK is 13-1 overall, and 5-1 in SEC play when four or more players score in double figures.

Individual Notes
Redshirt sophomore Jennifer O’Neill reached double figures for the 12th time this season and ninth time in SEC play with 19 points. She also posted a season-high six rebounds.

Senior guard A'dia Mathies scored 15 points, 11 in the second half, and tied a season-high four steals. She has reached double-figures in 23-of-25 games, including 16 in a row.
Perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Played in her 129th career game which is the fourth-most in UK history.
Hit 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, moving her into a tie for 10th place in UK single season 3-point list.

Junior forward Samarie Walker recorded two blocks in the game giving her 40 on the year, tying her for 10th on the single season blocks list.

Sophomore guard Bria Goss reached double figures for the 14th time this season and the third consecutive game coming off the bench with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe.

Junior guard Kastine Evans tallied double-figures for the first time in seven games and a third time this season with 11 points, all in the decisive second half.
Tied a season-best with two steals.

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