Rupp Arena to host NCAA Tourney regionals

For three straight seasons, Kentucky’s road to the Final Four might be less than a mile.

The NCAA announced on Thursday that Rupp Arena will be a women’s basketball regional tournament host in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Based on the tournament rules as they work now, if Kentucky is one of the top 16 seeds, the Cats could host the first two rounds of the tournament on their home floor (Memorial Coliseum) and then their regional would be at the downtown venue.

As long as UK doesn’t play three or more games at Rupp Arena in 2016, 2017 or 2018, it would still be considered a neutral site, NCAA spokesman Rick Nixon confirmed.

It will be the first women’s basketball championship games since the Final Four was hosted at Rupp Arena since 1986.

The Rupp Arena regionals are scheduled for March 25-28 in 2016, March 24-27 in 2017 and March 23-26 in 2018, according to the release.

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Parking, game day updates

Kentucky will offer a special shuttle for fans attending Kentucky’s morning game against Morehead State on Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum.

A release from the school, said fans are encouraged to park at the UK Soccer and Softball Complex or use the limited space available at the parking structure on South Limestone.

A free shuttle will be available from both locations starting at 9:30 a.m. and running until 30 minutes into the game, which is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. The shuttle will resume again 1.5 after tipoff of the Cats and the Eagles.

Fans who come from the parking structure on Limestone should bring their white parking stub and exchange it for a pink slip at any Memorial Coliseum entrance to park free of charge.

For a map and complete information regarding these special parking arrangements, please visit www.ukathletics.com/wbbgameday.

The game against Morehead is part of UK’s annual “Class of 2021 Day,” which brings sixth graders from various schools in Fayette County to visit UK campus. The visiting students will be seated on the East side of the coliseum, while others are asked to sit on the West side, behind the team benches. All seating for this game is general admission.

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UK nearing sellout for Rupp Arena game

A limited number of tickets remain for Kentucky’s game on Monday night against No. 8 at Baylor at Rupp Arena, UK officials report.

As of Thursday morning, there are 20,500 tickets out for the event, which will be a part of the ESPN Tipoff Classic marathon and will be shown live on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

“What a great opportunity for our program to be showcased nationally with a sold-out Rupp Arena,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “There’s going to be a lot of eyeballs on Rupp Arena that night, and if we can sell out Rupp and create a great atmosphere, that’ll help our players, and a big win and a great night would help us a bunch.”

There are still $2 tickets available on Ticketmaster.com until Sunday night at 11:45 p.m. using the code “2BUCKS.”

The Cats, ranked No. 11 in the preseason polls, sold out Rupp Arena a season ago as a school-record with a school-record 23,706 there to see the game against No. 2 Duke.

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Q&A with Mitchell before season opener

MATTHEW MITCHELL
“After a long summer of strength and conditioning and running and individual skills and long fall workouts and now our preseason workouts, a lot of time’s been spent preparing for the 2014-15 season. So it’s finally here and it’s time to play. Looking forward to this season. Appalachian State we know will be a big challenge for us tomorrow night. It’s the first time this team will really get on the floor in a game-like situation against a Division-I team and we expect for it to be tough. Opening games always are. I’m so happy we’re playing at Memorial Coliseum. It’s a great place to play and we’d love for a big crowd to come out and watch us get the season started. But really looking forward to the challenge tomorrow night and the team’s worked hard to get ready for it.”

On what he wants from his team: “Well, I think if we can stick to our three goals of being fast, being disruptive and being really tough, I think that needs to be on the forefront of our mind. Within those segments or within those goals, I think as far as being an up-tempo team and being fast and being able to use our athleticism, our team speed—the reason we chose fast is because we have a lot of team speed and we can be that. I think we can be, from top to bottom, the fastest team in the country. There may be some players on individual teams that are faster. We may not have the fastest single person, but I just think, top to bottom, that’s a realistic goal. So to use that and to make that important, you have to tax the other team and they have to feel that. So you have to run and you have to be a team where they respect and your speed and they understand what that means for a 40-minute period. So we saw some of that with Pikeville and that’s where the score was what it was because we never stop running. The kids really worked hard and it took a toll on Pikeville. So certainly as the competition starts to level out, it won’t take as much of a toll on some teams as others, but you’re still trying to get that cumulative effect of 40 minutes of just running up and down the court is just not real comfortable for other teams. And so we need to be committed to that in practice and we need to be committed to that tomorrow night.

“Within the disruption standpoint of being the most disruptive defensive team, we’d like to, by the end of the season, be able to be a full-court disruptive team and a half-court disruptive team and we’d like to be able to do that in a couple of different ways. So what I’d like for them to be able to become is to disrupt you probably 85 percent of the time in a real high-pressured man-to-man and then about 15 percent a zone, but still be disruptive in that. We’re not there yet, but that’s what I’d like for them to become.

“And then in toughness, just getting on the floor after basketballs, taking charges. We need to be a great charge-taking team. And then it’s tough to transition from a hundred miles an hour up and down the court and in your face, in your face to when you get into the half-court setting you’ve gotta have the mental toughness to be able to drive the speed limit out on the freeway and now when you’re in the neighborhood and you gotta slow it down a little bit. It’d be much easier to drive one speed all the time. We just have to commit to it. They’re capable of it. They’re already showing some great signs in all three areas, but that’s what I’d like for them to become.”

On if John Calipari came to him asking for advice on the platoon system: “Well, we talk a lot and visit a lot. We didn’t set a meeting up and sit down and talk about that. If anyone needs to be getting instructions on things, I need to be getting instructions from him. Over the course of the summer, we have had some conversations about it. I think the two programs can both tap into the depth that we both have and be successful. For us right now, we are not in a platoon system. To have that, your top 10 need to be able to fill the five positions and we have 11 healthy players right now. I wouldn’t say that our top 10 are ready for one-in, one-out. Hopefully we can get there. There is a lot of advantages to that with the way we play the game, especially to start a game. When we have been successful, we have gone first four minutes, second four minutes and then we would start plugging gaps or who was playing well. We very rarely played a 40-minute game where in was five in, five out like a hockey line change. We haven’t really done that. It can be effective with the way that we play if you have some depth. With the way that we play, we are hoping that our best nine or 10 can wear down your best five.”

On the speed of the guards moving the ball in the exhibition: “I thought last week before the exhibition game, we took a step forward as far as stop dribbling the ball because the pass is faster than the dribble. We really looked to kick the ball ahead and throw the ball ahead and you can’t always do that. If you can’t, that means now you have the floor spread out and they’re trying to take away the forward pass, so now you’re trying to get it to the middle of the floor and you can start to make some things happen. We don’t need to be a big dribbling team. To be fast, we need to be a good passing team. The ball needs to move and I think one lesson we’ve tried to learn as we really broke down taking some steps forward this year, is sometimes when one player dominates the ball with the dribble, it actually slows us down. You either need to be moving the ball ahead or you need to be taking penetrating dribbles to take the ball to the rim, or you need to be getting the ball moving. I think our three players who are capable at point guard did a nice job in the exhibition. The competition level goes way, way up. That’s no disrespect to Pikeville, it just does. It’s a really tough opening stretch for us and I think we’ll be able to learn a lot, but our point guards have been having some good days in practice recently.”

On how it came about that men’s and women’s openers are on same night: “I think it’s above my pay grade. The thing is you’re just trying to fit games in. Twenty-nine games, you have to play them at some point; and the thing you’re always working with is you’re not just working with one team. That one team is working with everybody on their schedule; you’re working with everyone on your schedule. So sometimes these things are unavoidable. So fortunate that the network put it on at 8 p.m., so we’ve got a little room there.”

On the stretch of three games in six days: “We would like to be able to see where we are. The biggest thing for me right now is I’m not quite sure what we’re going to see tomorrow and as a coach, that’s a little scary, and I’m talking about from our team, I’m not talking about our opponent. You just don’t know exactly how effective your preparation has been. We had a good practice this morning. I was encouraged with some things I saw this morning, but it will be good to get some games under our belt to figure out really where we are and start honing in on some objectives in practice that are maybe a little more detailed instead of as broad as the three objectives that we’ve had. We’ve constructed all the practices to be fast, tough and disruptive, so what are you doing well? Sometimes you do things a little bit better than you give your team credit for as a coach. You’re a little too critical sometimes, maybe you haven’t worked on something that maybe you haven’t felt like was going to be really good and it’s not. The information we can gain will really, really help us as a team. This team has so much room for growth it’s incredible. I do know that about us right now: we’re going to get much, much better than we are right now. You just have too many young players who are thinking too much right now. And there’s no way around it. You have to teach it. You have to give them the information and so if we look like a million bucks this week, we’re going to look like $5 million at some time. If we look less than that, we’ll increase in value with this team. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to be. And we’ll have a better idea after this opening stretch.”

On who the fastest player on team is: “It’s a great race. You’ve got a lot of really fast people. Jennifer (O’Neill) is very fast. Janee (Thompson) is fast, Bria (Goss) is fast. Azia Biship is really, really fast. Azia Bishop is sort of freaky fast for as tall as she is. That kid can really, really run and is very fast. I may be leaving somebody out, but I’d probably say if we went end line to end line, probably feel like Jennifer would win, she’s probably the person. She’s really fast.”

On if he can beat any of them personally: “Well, I would be near the bottom as far as speed would go. I need to find one, like Linnae Harper, I need to tell her that I’ll race her. She’s fast, but sometimes she forgets to run fast. No I’m not faster than any of them, but I am in fantastic shape right now. I am involved in very strenuous regimen that has me in tip top shape at the beginning of the season. I don’t know if you guys have noticed but I’ve lost some weight and I’m feeling good. I’m not sitting up there eating Krispy Kremes up in the office, I’m out working.”

On final thoughts: “Just want to ask all the fans to come out Friday night. Be a great chance to see the team play. A lot of fun in Memorial Coliseum always, so we’d love to see a big crowd. Looking forward to getting the season started.”

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Calipari chatted with Mitchell for platoon prep

As John Calipari was plotting platoons this summer, he didn’t have to go too far to get some first-hand information. The men’s basketball coach just walked across the hall to Matthew Mitchell, who has used a similar substitution strategy with the UK women in recent years.

“Over the course of the summer, we have had some conversations about it,” Mitchell confirmed as he previewed the UK women’s season opener on Friday night against Appalachian State. “I think the two programs can both tap into the depth that we both have and be successful.”

While the UK women won’t be utilizing a true platoon system this season, Mitchell’s teams have gotten a big boost from the five in, five out strategy, he said.

“There is a lot of advantages to that with the way we play the game, especially to start a game,” Mitchell noted. “When we have been successful, we have gone first four minutes, second four minutes and then we would start plugging gaps or who was playing well.”

Mitchell said it’s difficult to go a full 40 minutes using a platoon system, though. For his teams, it’s usually been first half thing that evolves as the game goes on.

“We very rarely played a 40-minute game where in was five in, five out like a hockey line change,” Mitchell said. “We haven’t really done that.”

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Cats ranked No. 11 in preseason poll

For the fifth straight season, Kentucky is ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, which was released on Thursday.

The Cats, who came in at No. 11 overall, were one of four Southeastern Conference teams to be ranked in the initial poll, including No. 2 South Carolina, No. 4 Tennessee and No. 5 Texas A&M.

UK, which finished last season ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll, will face both the Gamecocks and the Lady Vols twice in the regular season and the Aggies come to Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.

Several other UK nonconference also were ranked in the first poll of the season, including No. 8 Baylor, which will take on Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. as a part of the annual ESPN Tipoff Classic.

UK also will play at No. 12 Louisville (Dec. 7) and at No. 7 Duke (Dec. 21) this season.

A couple of other Cats opponents received votes in the preseason poll, including LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, South Florida and Middle Tennessee.

UK’s previous preseason rankings were No. 9, No. 17, No. 6 and No. 7 last season.

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Mitchell: We will sell out Rupp

Matthew Mitchell issued a “don’t make me look stupid” challenge to Kentucky fans on Wednesday morning.

At his annual morning media day, the Kentucky coach was asked if he thought his team could sell out Rupp Arena for a second straight season after breaking the school’s single-game attendance record of 23,706 against Duke.

This time the Cats will face Baylor on Nov. 17 at Rupp Arena. The biggest difference this time is the game is on a Monday night in the middle of November. The game against the Blue Devils was on a Sunday afternoon in late December when schools were out.

Mitchell seemed undeterred.

“We will sell out Rupp,” Mitchell said. “There’s no question about it. The Big Blue Nation will rally and we will sell out Rupp. Did everybody hear me? We will sell out Rupp.”

He nodded toward the cameras in a row facing him.

“Put this on the news tonight: We will sell out Rupp,” Mitchell continued. “And in order to sell out Rupp, you have to go out and buy your tickets, so everybody go out and buy your tickets, so I won’t look (bad). … If we don’t, I’ll look bad, so no one wants me to look bad I don’t think if you’re a Kentucky fan. So let’s sell out Rupp for the Baylor game.”

In a related note, UK single-game tickets for the 15-game home schedule went on sale this week. Fans can call the Joe Craft Center ticket office, go to UKathletics.com or call the UK ticket office at (800) 928-CATS. Season tickets also still are available.

Mitchell said selling out Rupp for a second straight year would be good for the program.

“It’s the launch of 24 Hours of College Hoops is a very unique basketball event on ESPN, and I know just as a fan, I always tune into it,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of eyeballs on Rupp Arena that night, and if we can sell out Rupp and great a great atmosphere, that’ll help our players, and a big win and a great night would help us a bunch. It would be important to do and to happen.”

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Two players sidelined by car accident

Kentucky will be without two of its new players and a veteran forward on Friday when the Cats take the floor for Big Blue Madness.

Freshman guard Jaycee Coe and junior college transfer Ivana Jakubcova were both involved in a car accident on Saturday night on their way to see a movie.

“Bad wreck,” UK’s Matthew Mitchell said. “Thank goodness nobody was hurt badly.”

Coe sustained what Mitchell called “a very bad concussion” and Jakubcova a mild concussion. The 6-foot-6 junior from Slovakia already was going to miss scrimmaging during Madness due to a stress fracture in her leg, Mitchell said.

“I’m really excited about what she can become, very athletic, very fast, worked real hard this summer, but behind,” he said, noting that a red-shirt season for the junior college transfer “may end up being the best thing for her.”

Kentucky also will be scrimmaging without senior forward Jelleah Sidney, who has been sidelined by recurring knee pain.

“She worked real hard this summer, had a lot of pain, so we’ve kind of backed off on her,” Mitchell said. “She’s not full speed tomorrow night, won’t play.”

In order to have enough players available for a short five-on-five scrimmage at Rupp Arena, Mitchell said one of his male practice players likely will fill in.

As for Coe, the 5-foot-11 freshman guard, Mitchell expects her to make a full recovery after a scary situation.

“We anticipate her bouncing back,” he said of the two-time Class A Miss Basketball in Tennessee. “She’d had some good practices leading up, can really, really shoot the ball. I think once we can get her head back and going, in a couple months she could show some real promise.”

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Cats’ game vs. Louisville won’t be televised

A few more times and television games have trickled out for Kentucky this season, but there’s still a TV blackout on a likely top 10 showdown between Louisville and UK at the Yum Center in early December.

Kentucky’s game against Baylor on ESPN2 on Nov. 17 is the Cats’ first televised game of the season, but they will play seven more (including that Louisville game on Dec. 7) with no TV availability.

Home nonconference games against Pikeville, Appalachian State, Morehead State, Northern Kentucky and Tennessee State will be available on the SEC Network plus subscription service.

The SEC Network did pick up UK’s game against Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 12 with a tipoff at 9 p.m. Two days later, it also will televise the Cats’ game against Belmont at 6 p.m.

As previously scheduled, Kentucky’s game at Duke on Dec. 21 will be shown at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.

Home conference games against Auburn (Jan. 8) and Texas A&M (Feb. 19) also will be available only through SEC Network Plus.

Game times have not been set for the games to be shown on the digital platform alone, a UK spokesman said on Wednesday.

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Stoops to Kemp: ‘It’s not how we talk’

Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp was doing end zone rolls after practice on Tuesday, but not for punishment, as they usually are, but as a joke with some of the coaches’ kids.

It was Tuesday, which is family meal night at the Nutter Training Center, so Kemp was acting like one of the kids and doing rolls horizontally across the field with a group of them.

The sophomore might be doing a few more on Wednesday after an inflammatory comment to the media.

When the running back from DeLand, Fla., was asked if he knew anyone on Florida’s roster, he mentioned that he had former teammates on it, and then added: “I’m familiar with a lot of those guy. It’s going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces.”

Turns out his head coach didn’t love the statement so much.

When Mark Stoops was asked about it on the regular Southeastern Conference teleconference, he said he was “furious” and “outraged.”

“Like I told him yesterday, ‘You think they’re gonna hear all that? They’re gonna hear the last five seconds of what you said,’” Stoops recounted. “And I know the great pride of the players in that locker room at Florida.”

As someone who has recruited many of the players on the Gators’ roster, Stoops said he doesn’t imagine they’ll take too kindly to the commentary.

“It’s not very smart to try to challenge their pride before you play them,” Stoops said. “I don’t think that was very smart. It’s not something that I teach. It’s not how we talk.”

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