LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 8/8 Kentucky looks to get back on the winning track when it plays host to the Samford Bulldogs on Wednesday, Dec. 21 in its final home game of 2011. Tip off in Memorial Coliseum is set for 7 p.m. ET.
The Wildcats (10-1) are coming of their first loss of the season at No. 3 Notre Dame on Sunday, 92-83. The setback snapped Kentucky’s 10-game winning streak which tied for the third-longest winning streak in school history. UK led by one point with five minutes to play before the Fighting Irish went on a 10-0 run to put the Cats’ upset hopes out of reach. Sophomore center Samantha Drake (Bardstown, Ky.) led four Wildcats in double figures with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Despite fouling out with 7:25 left in the game, junior A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) scored 17 points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Freshman guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) and senior point guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) followed with 14 and 13 points, respectively. In her UK debut, sophomore transfer Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) recorded seven points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of play.
“We have to move forward and we have to put it behind us and learn the lessons,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was painful to watch. Notre Dame has an outstanding team, and on that day, to beat them, Kentucky needed to be in tune and we were not and that’s disappointing.”
Kentucky has dominated at home this season, defeating opponents by a +33.8 margin while forcing the opponent into 35.4 turnovers per game. UK’s current 11-game home winning streak ties for the sixth-longest streak in school history. The Cats have also won 30 consecutive games at home vs. nonconference opponents. Samford will be no easy task as the Bulldogs rank 13th in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (13.8).
“We have a tough opponent ahead of us tomorrow,” Mitchell said. “I have known the Samford coaching staff for a long time, and coached against Coach (Mike) Morris when we were in the same league when I was at Morehead State. If there’s an offense that is constructed and devised schematically to beat pressure defense it’s the Princeton offense, and they run that and they do it well. They really do a good job with backdoor cuts and backdoor passes. They’re a great 3-point shooting team so we will have to be locked in and ready to go and ready to see if we can earn a victory tomorrow against a good Samford team, a team we have a lot of respect for.”
The Wildcats’ defensive pressure, often dubbed “40 minutes of dread,” has once again been their bread and butter as they lead the nation in turnover margin (+15.7) and rank third in steals (16.2). The Cats have forced a league-high 371 turnovers for an average of 33.7 forced turnovers per game.
Leading the charge is Mathies, who already ranks in the top 10 on UK’s all-time steals list. She averages a Southeastern Conference-high 3.9 steals per game to go along with her team-best 16.8 points per game. She has netted double-figure points in all 10 games she has played this season. Goss has also been a key contributor as she averages 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Drake is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.5 rpg.
Samford (6-4, 1-2) is located in Birmingham, Ala., and is a member of the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs enter Wednesday’s contest coming off a 64-61 overtime victory over Western Carolina. Samford was led by senior guard Paige Anderson, who scored a team-high 19 points. Senior guard Jazmine Powers led the Bulldogs on the glass with eight boards, while also adding 11 points.
Anderson has led the Bulldogs this season in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game. On the glass, redshirt senior guard Ruth Ketcham paces Samford with 4.2 boards and 9.1 points per game.