Duke will try to set world record versus UK

Duke will try to set a world record during its game against Kentucky on Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It’s not an attendance record or a basketball record.

Nope. It’s a world record for the largest gathering of holiday sweaters.

A Duke athletics release said fans who wear a holiday sweater to the game will receive free admission. Fans decked out in holiday gear are told to go to the North Ticket Booth outside of Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor to show off their sweater and receive a free ticket.

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Kentucky assistant coach resigns

Christian Stefanopoulos has stepped down from her position as assistant coach at Kentucky while battling an undisclosed illness, head coach Matthew Mitchell told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday morning.

“We are behind Christian all the way and we are supporting her through her journey back to good health,” he said.

That leaves No. 8 Kentucky short an assistant coach and a recruiting coordinator for the rest of the season, but Mitchell said the staff has functioned well in her absence and will continue to do so.

“I’m so grateful,” he said. “Everybody’s just really picked it up. … I couldn’t ask for much more. This is not what you plan. It’s been very tough on me because I was so worried about Christian and then you have the job going on and the gap to fill, so it’s been hard.”

Crystal Riley, a former point guard at Kentucky who has been on the support staff since graduation, has been activated to an on-the-court coach position.

The Memphis native will be able to join new assistant coaches Tamika Williams and Adeniyi Amadou on the road recruiting as soon as she takes her recruiting test, Mitchell said.

“She’ll be a full-time coach for the remainder of the season, then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do,” he said.

There will not be an official recruiting coordinator; the position is being filled by committee for now.

Amy Tilley, assistant athletics director for women’s basketball, is playing a large part in that. In her previous position in women’s basketball, she was largely responsible for many of the duties.

“She’s really organizing everything,” Mitchell explained. “We’re still running the same system, just Amy’s overseeing that.”

Mitchell has been working with the guards during Stefanopoulos’ absence and he will continue to do that until her replacement is hired after the season ends.

The head coach said Kentucky’s players have been great during a trying time.

“The kids were concerned about her, but they’ve handled it well,” he said. “They understand it’s a difficult situation.”

Stefanopoulos, who previously was a video coordinator at Kentucky and as assistant coach under Mitchell at Morehead State, rejoined the UK staff in April. The 31-year-old Florence native’s two-year deal was worth $170,000 a year with additional incentive clauses.

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Broken thumb sidelines Goss 4-6 weeks

Kentucky will have to get through at least the next month without its best on-ball defender and most veteran leader.

Senior guard Bria Goss will miss between four and six weeks with a broken left thumb, which she sustained at a shoot around on Sunday morning.

The 5-foot-10 guard from Indianapolis tried to play through the injury on Sunday versus Belmont, but was only able to go three minutes.

Goss, who averages 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, hasn’t missed a game in her Kentucky career, playing in 117 games with 102 starters, including 17 in a row.

“We are thankful Bria’s injury was not season-ending,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said in a release on Monday night. “That would have been quite a blow.

“We hate (that) Bria is out but we all need to work hard so when she returns, we are stronger than ever.”

No. 8 Kentucky heads to No. 13 Duke on Monday and has a road game at Alabama at the start of the season. The Cats also have home games against Tennessee State, Ole Miss and Auburn during the span Goss is expected to be out.

The four-week timeline would put Goss close to a return when the Cats travel to top-ranked South Carolina on Jan. 11.

The weightiest portion of UK’s Southeastern Conference schedule, including games against No. 11 Tennessee, No. 15 Georgia, No. 21 Mississippi State and No. 4 Texas A&M, is later in the season.

Goss started the season slow in the scoring column before coming on in the four games before the injury, averaging 11.5 points a game in those contests.

But as she noted after her season-best 16-point performance against Northern Kentucky recently, she tries to focus on doing more than just score.

“There are still a lot of things I am doing off the court, so me not being the leading scorer did not discourage me because I do a lot of the things that the stats don’t show,” Goss said. “Yes, it was nice to be on the board tonight, but my main focus is a Kentucky win.”

For the past three years, Goss has been responsible for taking on the opposing team’s top player.

Those duties likely will fall by committee on players like Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper, who have a team-best 18 steals apiece so far this season.

He hopes every UK player can work together to make up for the loss of Goss.

“For our team, this is a great opportunity to develop in the areas of defensive energy, offensive efficiency and leadership, all things that Bria consistently brings,” Mitchell said.

“In her absence, our players will have to find ways to strengthen themselves in these critical areas to make up for what we lose with Bria on the sidelines.”

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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

“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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