SEC released league schedule

Kentucky got more than its share of made-for-TV matchups when the Southeastern Conference released its women’s basketball schedule conference schedule on Friday morning.

The Cats, projected to be a top 10 team by ESPN’s Charlie Creme at the end of last season, will meet Creme’s No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 Tennessee twice this season.

The Gamecocks are UK’s permanent home and away opponent and the Cats got the Lady Volunteers and Ole Miss as the other home-and-away opponents this season.

UK will face Creme’s No. 4 Texas A&M at Memorial Coliseum (Feb. 19) and go on the road against No. 17 LSU (Jan. 18) and No. 23 Arkansas (Feb. 26).

Kentucky will have four games appear on one of the ESPN networks and eight more on the “SEC on ESPN” platform.

The Cats’ eight conference games at home are against Florida (Jan. 15), Tennessee (Jan. 29), Georgia (Feb. 1), Mississippi State (Feb. 12), Texas A&M (Feb. 19) and a Senior Day game against South Carolina on March 1.

The end of UK’s league play includes three of the final five games on the road — including the one in Knoxville, where UK won 75-71 last season, its first win at Thompson-Boling Arena in school history — and the two home games against potential top 10 opponents for Kentucky.

The conference tournament will be played at the Verizon Center in North Little Rock, Ark., from March 4-8.

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UK’s SEC schedule released

  • Jan. 2                  at Alabama                                             TBA
  • Jan. 4                  OLE MISS (SEC Network)                  2 p.m.
  • Jan. 8                  AUBURN                                             TBA
  • Jan. 11         at South Carolina (ESPN2)                  1 p.m.
  • Jan. 15         FLORIDA (SEC Network)                  7 p.m.
  • Jan. 18         at LSU (ESPNU)                                    2 p.m.
  • Jan. 25         at Missouri         (SEC Network)                  4 p.m.
  • Jan. 29         TENNESSEE (SEC Network)                  7 p.m.
  • Feb. 1         GEORGIA (SEC Network)                  1 p.m.
  • Feb. 8         at Vanderbilt (SEC Network)                  1 p.m.
  • Feb. 12         MISS STATE (SEC Network)                  7 p.m.
  • Feb. 15         at Tennessee (ESPN2)                           3 p.m.
  • Feb. 19         TEXAS A&M                                    TBA
  • Feb. 23         at Ole Miss (SEC Network)                  7 p.m.
  • Feb. 26         at Arkansas                                             TBA
  • March 1         SOUTH CAROLINA (ESPNU/2)         2/5 p.m.
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Drake has opted not to play senior season

Kentucky senior Samantha Drake will not play in her final season, the school announced on Thursday.

The senior forward, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus four games into last season, could’ve taken a medical red-shirt, but has opted to not play and instead focus on school.

“Although I won’t be playing anymore, I’ll still be the biggest cheerleader for the team,” Drake said in the news release, thanking coaches, teammates and administrators. “I am going to turn my focus on academics and walking across that stage in May to receive my degree.”

The former Nelson County star has played in 88 games for seventh-rated Kentucky with 23 starts. She has three career double-doubles and was expected to provide depth in the post.

“Samantha contributed to so many victories during her career and we are grateful for her efforts,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said in the release. “We will continue supporting her any way we can as she works toward graduation.”

Drake had her high school jersey retired at Nelson County after setting scoring records for boys or girls with 3,068 points and 1,381 rebounds.

She would’ve been a veteran at the post position, where UK will be relatively young this season after the graduations of forwards Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth.

The Cats return Azia Bishop, who played in 35 games last season averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. Jelleah Sidney also is back with her 3.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a game last season.

New assistant coach Adeniyi Amadou will be breaking in a collection of newcomers in the frontcourt.

Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, a 6-foot-1 forward from Marion County, sat out last season while dealing with a blood clot in her lung. She has been cleared to play.

Three other newcomers include freshmen Alexis Jennings (6-2 freshman from Madison, Ala.) and Alyssa Rice (6-3 freshman from Reynoldsburg, Ohio) as well as 6-foot-6 junior college transfer Ivana Jakubcova.

Drake was suspended from the team during its NCAA Tournament run in 2013, but worked her way back into Mitchell’s good graces in the off-season. Before last season, the Cats coach said he thought highly of Drake.

“I love her a lot,” Mitchell said then. “I want her to be successful. … She had to search her soul to see if she wanted to play and once she made that decision, she had to do some things to get back on the team.”

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Kentucky women unveil non-conference schedule

After having Baylor end its season in a disappointing fashion, Kentucky will get another shot at the Bears just two games into the new season when they come to Lexington for a rematch at Rupp Arena.

It’s one of a few highlights of the Cats’ non-conference schedule, which was released by UK on Thursday afternoon.

The two teams, who have played three times in the past three times in the last two seasons will be a part of ESPN’s seventh annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, tipping off at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17.

Kentucky will open its season on Nov. 14 against Appalachian State at Memorial Coliseum, then Morehead State will face the Cats there on Nov. 19.

Three of the Cats’ trickier non-conference foes will be on the road this season, including games at Central Michigan (Nov. 22), then at Louisville (Dec. 7), and at Duke (Dec. 21). The Duke game will be shown on ESPN2.

An early preseason poll on ESPN.com has UK ranked as high as No. 6 nationally with non-conference foes Duke coming in at No. 7, Baylor at No. 13 and Louisville at No. 16.

There were five fellow Southeastern Conference teams rated in that poll, too, including No. 2 South Carolina, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 17 Louisiana State and No. 23 Arkansas.

The league has not released its schedule yet. The conference tournament will be March 4-8 in North Little Rock, Ark.

Kentucky’s home games before conference play will be against Northern Kentucky (Dec. 3), Middle Tennessee (Dec. 12), Belmont (Dec. 14) and Tennessee State (Dec. 28).

The Cats will be spending their Thanksgiving break far from home, but in a much warmer location as a part of the Paradise Jam Island Tournament in the Virgin Islands. The three games will be against Illinois, Oklahoma and South Florida.

Kentucky, which has advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 four times in the past five seasons, returns seven key players from last season, including senior guards Bria Goss and Jennifer O’Neill as well as junior Janee Thompson and sophomores Linae Harper and Makayala Epps.

Season tickets are $65 and can be purchased online at ukathletics.com/tickets or by calling the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818. Lower level reserved tickets for UK’s game vs. Baylor in Rupp Arena are also available for $9 by calling the UK Ticket Office.

All other single-game tickets will go on sale in late October.

 

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Mitchell rounds out staff with former UConn star

Tamika Williams Head ShotKentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell is hopeful that one of the nation’s most accurate shooters will be a can’t-miss hire, too.

Tamika Williams, a former standout at Connecticut and first-round WNBA Draft pick, will finish out Mitchell’s basketball staff, which replaced all three assistant coaches this off-season.

Williams, 34, finished her UConn career as the school’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 70.3 percent, which also is a Division I record. She holds the Huskies’ top four single-season marks for field goal percentage.

“I have been a long-time admirer of Tamika Williams and her contributions to the game of basketball,” Mitchell said in a release on Wednesday. “To have the opportunity to work with her on a daily basis is extremely exciting for everyone associated with our program.”

The former high school player of the year out of Chaminade-Julien and sixth overall WNBA Draft pick in 2002 played professionally before retiring in 2008. While in the pro ranks, Williams became a graduate assistant under Jim Foster at Ohio State and spent five seasons with the Buckeyes before taking a position at Kansas from 2008-11.

In 2011, the Dayton, Ohio, native left basketball and owned and managed a Nationwide Insurance agency while serving as a sports analyst for ESPN.

“I’m elated and humbled that Coach Mitchell has given me an opportunity to be a part of such a tremendous program at University of Kentucky,” Williams said in the release. “I have a chance to work with a phenomenal staff, cultivate the minds of young women for success on and off the court.”

Two Kentucky assistant coaches, Jeff House and Shalon Pillow, did not have their contracts renewed after last season and a third assistant, Danielle Santos, left to take an assistant coaching job at Florida State in June.

Mitchell replaced House and Pillow with Christian Stefanopoulos and Adeniyi Amadou several months ago.

When Santos left, Mitchell said one of his primary goals was to find someone that could keep his players on task in the classroom. Williams looks able to do that. She was on the dean’s list at Connecticut and was president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Williams also has served as an ambassador for Women & Girls Against HIV/AIDS, a U.S. State Department Sports Ambassador and traveled internationally with NBA Global, promoting the game of basketball.

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One of nation’s top forwards chooses Kentucky

A physical power forward with what one analyst called “a ceiling through the roof” committed to Kentucky after a recent visit.

Batouly Camara, rated as one of the top 25 players in the nation by multiple recruiting services, is a big get for UK in more ways than one.

“I really expect her to be a WNBA player when she graduates,” recruiting analyst Bret McCormick said of Camara, a 6-foot-2 power forward out of Blair Academy in New Jersey. “She’s great around the basket. Her ceiling is through the roof.”

Camara, whom McCormick’s All-Star Girls Report says is the second-rated power forward in the country, was one of 28 players in nation invited to the USA Basketball U18 National Team Trials.

Blair Academy’s web site listed Connecticut, Louisville, Princeton, Virginia, Northwestern and Michigan as schools interested in the 2015 prospect rated as the No. 21 player overall by ESPN.

McCormick, who first announced the commitment on Twitter, said Camara’s finalists likely were UK and the Huskies.

“She’s a different type player that Kentucky didn’t have and that’s why Connecticut wanted her, too,” he said of Camara, who averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds last season. “She’s 6-2, but she’s a big, strong, athletic kid.”

The analyst thinks she can make an immediate impact player for Matthew Mitchell’s Cats.

“She’s a sponge; she wants to work,” he said. “Whatever you tell her to do, she wants to do. She wants to get better every day. … She’s got a high motor. She works hard.”

Camara joins guards Maci Morris and Morgan Rich, two top 100 prospects, as the third commitment for 2015.

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New assistants competitive, even with each other

Kentucky’s assistants are as competitive in their offices and on the recruiting trail as Matthew Mitchell expects his players to be on the playing floor.

He thinks that bodes well for the future.

Their fire really attracted Mitchell to Adeniyi Amadou and Christian Stefanopoulos.

“I just needed some incredible competitive, aggressive energy in recruiting and they both had that,” he said, noting that they’re competitive (in a good way) with each other.

Stefanopoulos joked that they’ve started competing to see who will leave his or her office last each day.

“We complement each other really, really well,” Stefanopoulos said “I learn from him every day and that’s talking about things that we might disagree about, but when the conversation is over, we are on the same page. To me, that’s worth more than anything.”

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New assistant may give Cats international flair

Newest Kentucky assistant Adeniyi Amadou speaks five languages, including his native language French. His father was born in the western part of Africa.

He may play a big part in expanding UK’s recruiting base globally.

“At a place like Kentucky, you can feel that effect already on people even across seas, the success of the men’s program that helps a whole lot,” he said. “The resources are in place. Some of the top, top, top European players have the tendency to stay in Europe and sign professional. This is the right kind of school and if you have the right kind of people in place, you can really reach out to them.”

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said his hope always is to have “every player on our team from the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” but he knows that’s not always possible and said he looks forward to expanding the Cats’ recruiting base.

“I haven’t had a real strong connection to players outside the country and so if that can help move us forward and help us become the best, I’m all ears listening,” the head coach said.

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Mitchell pledges $1 million to athletics department

Matthew Mitchell and his family live close enough to walk to places like Commonwealth Stadium and the renovated softball and soccer venues at Kentucky.

The coach and his wife wanted to see this place where they’ve laid down roots continue to grow, so they’ve decided to donate $1 million to Kentucky athletics.

“We wanted to be a very small part of what all they’re doing,” Mitchell told the Herald-Leader early Friday morning. “We just wanted to participate and show that we’re totally committed to all of the exciting things that are going on at UK right now.”

Mitchell pledged his donation, which will be spread out over 10 years, to Mitch Barnhart recently. The coach said it mostly will be used for capital projects, but he’s leaving that up to the athletic director’s discretion.

“The things that are going on facility wise for us and Commonwealth Stadium and all of the improvements that are on the way for football are so critical to every other program on campus that that program maximizing its financial effectiveness is crucial to all of us,” Mitchell explained.

UK is in the middle of a $120 million renovation at the football stadium and preparing to build a privately funded $45 million football practice facility nearby.

The Kentucky women’s basketball coach said he appreciates the chance that Barnhart took on him seven years ago and wanted to show that in a tangible way.

“In the coaching profession, you can live a real nomadic life, bounce around to different places, chasing a place like Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “The fact that we were able to land here at a pretty young age and put some roots down in this community and also the success we’ve had, we felt has all been a blessing.

“We just wanted to give a little bit back to the program that’s been so good to us.”

In a release from UK, Barnhart praised Mitchell’s selflessness.

“I want people to know and understand what special, special people Matthew and Jenna are to this community,” Barnhart said. “I’m very thankful for their generosity, team approach and long-term vision to this athletics department and this university.”

This isn’t Mitchell’s first big-ticket donation. When Kentucky extended his contract in 2012, the coach donated $100,000 of that money to scholarships on the academic side.

This season as part of the “We Back Pat” initiative, Mitchell donated more than $40,000 to the Pat Summitt foundation as it tries increase Alzheimer’s awareness.

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New mom, Ohio coach ‘riding on a high’

Forgive Ohio University Coach Jodi Hermanek if this NCAA Tournament trip — just the second in school history — is all a blur.

A little less than three weeks ago, Hermanek gave birth to her first child, Emma Fay Horton, who was at the Kentucky game and staying warm in the suite area with dad David Horton on Friday.

When asked how little sleep she’s getting, the Ohio coach smiled.

“It’s just not something I’ve been paying attention to, I’ve just been riding on a high,” said Hermanek, sporting a camouflage Ohio U baseball cap.

“These girls motivate and inspire me and my baby obviously is the highlight of my life right now. So I’m just really enjoying every moment. They make it a lot of fun to make it through all of this, through something I’m never going to have again in my life: a baby and post-season tournament at the same time. I’m just embracing every moment as they give it to me.”

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