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March 8, 2019

Robin Pingeton

Sophie Cunningham

Amber Smith

Nashville, Tennessee

Missouri-70, Kentucky-68 OT

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Missouri. We will start with an opening statement from coach.

ROBIN PINGETON: Obviously that was one heck of a tough game. I've got so much respect for Matthew Mitchell, the University of Kentucky women's basketball program. They've had an incredible year. They've got some really, really talented kids.

It was a battle. I thought defensively we were pretty solid, just defending personnel. Offensively obviously way too many turnovers. But I thought we competed. We did a good job on the boards. I was really proud of the way we could just stay in the moment, you know, just next play, that resiliency that we showed throughout the course of the game.

It was a game of runs. We found a way to battle. I thought we hit some key free throws at the end, found a way to get a really good win against a great team.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Amber, you led this team in rebounding all year long, continued today. What were you able to do to get some boards against Kentucky?
AMBER SMITH: We do a drill in practice, just widen out on each possession, go and get the ball rather than waiting on it to come to you. Then on the offensive end go get extra possessions, because not every team boxes out as well. Just being relentless on both ends.

ROBIN PINGETON: Mind you, we still gave up way too many offensive rebounds.

AMBER SMITH: Amen (laughter).

Q. Sophie, you're three points away from the all-time record now. Do you think about that at all or just next game?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: No, no. I'm so glad we won today. Yeah, my teammates got me the ball. I'm ready for Mississippi State. I'm ready to get going, yeah.

Q. You put the ball on the floor a lot today, not only just taking shots from the outside but even posting up. What did you see out of Kentucky's defense?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I really never know what type of defense the opposing team is going to throw at me. To start off, they were kind of doubling a little bit. As the game went on, I just found myself one-on-one. Like I said, my teammates gave me the ball when I needed it. Helped when we were hitting outside shots as well. That opens up some space for me. They gave me the ball and I just went to work.

Q. It seems like every time Kentucky went on a run, y'all would find a way to respond. As two of the leaders on this team, what do y'all say when talking on the court?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: I'm going to tell you, just being real honest, at the beginning of the season we wouldn't have done that. When we got punched in the mouth, we couldn't come back from it. But I think our team has matured a lot. We've been through some ups and downs. We're in the best spot we've been in all year long mentally and physically.

When we get punched in the mouth a little bit, we stick together. We finish it out with a game plan. We focus on what we're trying to get done. It's will. It comes from the heart. When you're playing with that, you're going to stop runs.

Q. Amber, as someone just watching the game, not participating in it, how does Sophie's energy leak out to the rest of the team?
AMBER SMITH: She's definitely a high-energy player. I think we just feed off her energy. We try not to soak it up so much, and give poor energy back into her. I think when she gets her energy and that burst of energy going, whether from defense or offense, she feeds it off to us a lot.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you. We will continue with questions for coach.

Q. 26 turnovers today, 13 in the first half. What particularly did you think Kentucky was able to do to force all those turnovers?
ROBIN PINGETON: I definitely want to give them credit where credit's due. I think they're a really good defensive team. They've got some tremendous athletes. They're just relentless pursuing that ball. Definitely need to give them credit.

I think we had our fair share of just not having the kind of poise that you need to against that kind of pressure. I feel like a lot of times teams like that, they try to speed you up, try to make you play at the pace they want the game to be played at. We certainly had a handful of possessions where we bought into that.

But you got to give them a lot of credit. Certainly a lot of controllable things we can do, too. They held us to 41 points the last time we played them, switched all screens. Taylor Murray is as good as they get in regards to just being relentless on that ball. We tried in that first half to just send our point guard out of there, have Sophie and Jordan and at times Amber bringing the ball up to give Lauren a break. But you got to give them a lot of credit.

There's a lot of controllables we can do, but they're a really good defensive team. What are they averaging? I think they're turning people over 21 times a game. We're only five over the average, right (laughter)? That's the way you want to look at it.

Q. Sophie and you both mentioned resiliency of this team, how far it's come from the beginning of the year. What have you been able to do as a coach to foster that? Where is it coming from?
ROBIN PINGETON: Give a lot of credit to our senior leadership. I'm a big believer as a coach in just communication, real, authentic, genuine conversations, tough conversations. As we've gone throughout the course of this season, through the ups and downs, challenges that we've gone through, we just continue to do it again and again and again, have those conversations in that locker room. Not only teach basketball lessons but life lessons, what the parallels are.

You got to have a group of young ladies that are willing to listen, buy in, own it. I think that's really how you grow. We haven't really swept anything under the rug that we've gone through this year. It's been a really good year. I told my players this. I think it's been the toughest year I've ever had as a coach, but also the most rewarding because of the growth that we've had as a team throughout the course of the season.

You recruit kids from all different backgrounds, all different experiences, you put them in a locker room, you can't just tell them to love each other because you're in a locker room together. You have to build deeper-rooted relationships than that. Every year is unique and different. The timing of that, you never know when it's going to bloom, but you do it again and again and again as a coach. When you got great senior leaders that can echo your words, typically great things happen.

It's just fun we're playing our best basketball, despite the fact that we had 26 turnovers, I really do think that we're playing our best basketball in March.

Q. From a game plan standpoint, what was your team able to do to prevent Kentucky from being able to get good looks on the outside?
ROBIN PINGETON: We're a team that we spend a lot of time breaking down film, breaking down tendencies, trying to take away other player's strengths. Then you have to have a group of young ladies that's willing to invest in that scouting report. It's hard to go 24 hours later there's new numbers, who is the three-point shooter, who is the driver, who do you force right, left? That's the only way we know how to scheme for games. We don't have the athleticism. We can say we're going to flat-out turn people over. We have to really guard personnel.

I thought our players did a good job of following the game plan. We try to put them in a position to be successful. Assistant coaches obviously do a great job with that scout, looking at those tendencies. Then our players got to go out and execute.

I thought we made them take tough shots tonight. There's some really, really talented players on that Kentucky team.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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