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- Behind “attack” mentality, No. 12 Kentucky takes down No. 5 South Carolina, 68-58
- UK Hoops advances to SEC Tourney finals with 68-58 win over South Carolina
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
The twelfth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (24-7) continued its streak of beating teams in the Southeastern Conference Tournament that had swept them in the regular season, and took down No. 5 South Carolina (27-4) 68-58 on Saturday. The win puts Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship game for the fourth time in five years, where it will take on the winner of Tennessee vs. Texas A&M.
South Carolina had used its considerable muscle and size in the previous two matchups, beating Kentucky 68-59 and 81-58 earlier this season, using sizable rebounding margins. This time around, the Wildcats kept pace on the boards, grabbing 34 rebounds compared to the Gamecocks’ 39.
Kentucky used an opening 11-0 run to set the pace for the rest of the game, aggressively driving against the Gamecocks from the start.
“I just thought the players really listened to what our plan was and that was just to be in attack mode all day,” said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. “Just get an attack mentality and stay there. I thought you saw a heavy dose of that early in the game. We were able to sustain it for 40 minutes.”
Forcing five South Carolina turnovers in the first 5:54, and 11 in the first half, propelled Kentucky to a 37-29 lead heading into the locker room. Turning it over only three times during that period helped the Wildcats capitalize even more.
Although competing against the Gamecocks required some muscle inside, it was Kentucky’s guards that initiated the “attack” mindset that Mitchell prescribed.
Freshman Linnae Harper scored four points during the opening 11-0 run, backup point guard Jennifer O’Neill swished a three-pointer and junior Bria Goss drove to the basket and got fouled, making both her foul shots. Goss, who finished with 14, scored nearly half her points (six) from the free throw line, as she continued to drive to the basket.
South Carolina looked to make Kentucky’s early run a fluke, when Alaina Coates, who finished with six points and nine rebounds, got herself fouled and made a free throw to make it 12-9 in favor of Kentucky with 9:47 remaining in the half. That was the closest the game would ever be.
The Wildcats went on a 15-6 run in the next 5:35, though, to grab a double-digit lead and flip the script on a South Carolina team that had nailed them by 30 points two weeks earlier.
“We knew the way we performed in Lexington was not our best and we just wanted to leave it all out there, no regrets, no matter the outcome,” said senior DeNesha Stallworth, who finished with 12 points. “I think every single one of us – we left it out there.”
The Wildcats maintained their double-digit lead throughout the remainder of the half, until Elem Ibiam’s layup with less than a minute remaining until halftime. Kentucky headed into the break ahead by eight points and the confidence that stemmed from through-the-roof inspiration.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row, and we knew it,” Goss said. “They killed us in the regular season and they deserved that number-one ranking in this tournament. It was just motivation. We can’t have that happen again.”
That motivation carried over into the second half, as well: Kentucky climbed back to a 12-point cushion, when Kastine Evans hit a jumper after an Azia Bishop steal. After the Wildcats grabbed that 45-33 lead with 16:15 remaining, South Carolina cut it to 10 points eight separate times, but could never get it to within a seven-point margin.
Although South Carolina turned the ball over five times in the second half, it was no match for Kentucky’s five total turnovers for the entire game.
“We probably had more poise and patience today than I’ve seen in a long time,” Mitchell said. “We turned them over 16 times and took care of it and that plus-11 in turnover margin – you’re in pretty good shape in a game if you can get that.”
Considering the aggressive nature of the Wildcats’ game plan, that five-turnover stat was even more impressive.
“Coach told us the last thing we need to think about before we go to sleep is just being in attack mode, and I think that really carried over,” Goss said.
Part of creating that turnover margin involved winning out on the 50-50 balls, of which there were plenty.
“I think the tougher team won the game,” Harper said. “We came out and did the little things. We got the rebounds. We won hustle plays and that’s who we won the game.”
With the win, the Wildcats punched their ticket to the SEC Tournament championship game at 3:30 on Sunday. They will take on the winner of Saturday’s Tennessee-Texas A&M matchup.
For a Kentucky team that began SEC play at 5-5, going to the tournament championship game is even sweeter.
“Just from where we were, and all the adversity we went through, it was so much easier to just kind of be like, ‘I can’t wait until this season is over,’” Goss said. “But we really stuck together and ‘bowed up and took the challenge.”
For more coverage of the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit wildcathoops.com, and follow updates via Twitter @WildcatHoops1. UK Hoops will take on the winner of Tennessee/Texas A&M on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN, and @WildcatHoops1 will provide live updates.
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
No. 12 Kentucky (23-7) rattled off a 15-6 run to start the second half, erasing a nine-point deficit, and the Wildcats took down Florida (19-12) in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday, 75-70. The Wildcats had lost to Florida twice this season: 83-73 in January, and 86-80 in February.
A game that saw 13 lead changes and eight ties gave new meaning to the term “back-and-forth” as both teams traded constant punches but had trouble difficulty landing a knockout blow.
That final lead change came at the 8:35 mark of the second half, when Kentucky’s Linnae Harper hit a jumper to move the needle in the Wildcats’ favor, 55-54. On the next play, fellow freshman Makayla Epps fired a bullet of a pass on the fast break to DeNesha Stallworth, who converted the layup and gave Kentucky a three-point lead – its largest of the game since the 8:39 mark of the first half.
“I thought the pass Makayla made to DeNesha in transition really energized our team and I thought it was a game-changing play,” said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell.
Epps had seen a Florida defender streaking to the spot right between herself and Stallworth, but knew she could get the ball to her teammate in time. That decision proved to be a difference-maker for the Wildcats.
“It’s kind of natural because in high school I threw it to Kyvin (Goodin-Rogers, current Kentucky freshman and former high school teammate of Epps),” Epps said. “So it’s all muscle memory. I saw that Florida defender and I was like, ‘You can get it there if you throw it hard enough and high enough.’ … It got the crowd going, got the coach fired up with the players … so I was like, ‘Yes, that’s a good play.’”
Except for one instance where Florida got the margin to two points, Kentucky held at least a three-point lead from that point on, until the Gators made their last-ditch effort at a comeback. Two straight three-pointers from Cassie Peoples gave the game its eighth tie with 1:29 remaining at 70-70.
Janee Thompson’s jumper with 1:14 on the clock and a Samarie Walker put-back with 28 ticks remaining gave Kentucky a four-point cushion it wouldn’t relinquish. A made Stallworth free throw set the final score of 75-70.
That five-point victory was a welcome one after Kentucky dropped two regular season contests to Florida earlier this year. In the first half, a third straight win over the Wildcats seemed in the cards for Florida. The Gators took a seven-point lead into halftime after shooting 5-10 from long range and scoring 15 points off turnovers.
“The way we responded in the second half shows how much poise we really had going into the locker room and keeping each other together and writing down points of improvement and points that we were doing good,” said junior Jennifer O’Neill. “Everybody’s speaking. That was the first time I’ve heard everybody say something and from that moment, you could just tell that people were listening to what Matthew (Mitchell) was saying about having poise, about coming out and playing in the first four minutes.”
Kentucky, which averages 15.9 turnovers a game this season, gave it up 13 times in the first half as the Wildcats stumbled to a seven-point deficit by halftime.
Florida jumped out of the gate and took a 7-0 lead to start the game, but after Kentucky battled back to within 12-11, there were four ties and 10 lead changes before halftime.
Stallworth, Kentucky’s second leading scorer, sat the majority of the half. With two quick fouls within the first 2:20, she recorded two minutes, three turnovers and zeros across the rest of the stat sheet in the first half.
“It was very frustrating, but my assistant coaches and Coach Mitchell just did a great job of telling me, ‘Just stay in the game,’” she said. “I think they really helped me in the second half, because in the past, I would probably get frustrated and check out, but I knew my team needed me so just staying strong mentally.”
Without Stallworth’s inside presence, Kentucky still out-rebounded Florida in those first 20 minutes, 20-13, and scored 10 second-chance points.
Freshman Linnae Harper gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at 11:41 after her jumper made it 13-12 in favor of the Wildcats. After Samarie Walker’s converted three-point opportunity and Janee Thompson’s basket with 8:37 remaining in the half, Kentucky took its largest lead of the half at 21-18.
After the Wildcats took a 27-25 advantage off an Azia Bishop basket, the Gators ripped off an 11-2 run to close the half, led by four points from Peoples, who finished with 18 points.
Staring at that seven-point deficit, Mitchell knew that effort would be key in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought we sort of stepped back from the challenge in the first half. … I just didn’t think we were competing very hard in the paint,” Mitchell said.
Once the second half started, Stallworth got involved right away, converting a layup 45 seconds in, and recording a steal two minutes later. Walker also got herself fouled before the first media timeout, and her two free throws got Kentucky to within one point at 41-40.
O’Neill’s free throw at 14:04 completed a 15-6 Kentucky run that tied the game at 44-44. Harper’s jump shot that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the half, and the spark that they needed to finish out a win, came less than three minutes later.
“I thought the players showed a lot by coming back in the second half and finding a way to win,” Mitchell said.
Kentucky will move on to the SEC Tournament semifinals, where the Wildcats will take on No. 1-seed South Carolina at noon on ESPNU.
For complete coverage of the UK women’s basketball team, follow @WildcatHoops1 on Twitter or visit wildcathoops.com.
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
The No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats blew a 17-point first-half lead, but held on at the end to beat Vanderbilt, 65-63, on Sunday.
Forward DeNesha Stallworth led the way for Kentucky (22-7, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) with 18 points, after she and fellow seniors Samarie Walker, Kastine Evans and Bernisha Pinkett were honored at Senior Day festivities prior to the game. The four combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds.
The Wildcats came within a missed Vanderbilt (18-11, 7-9 SEC) shot at the buzzer of making that group’s last regular season game at Memorial Coliseum more on the bitter side of “bittersweet.”
After getting together a 17-point cushion by the 6:47 mark of the first half, Kentucky fell victim to the Commodores’ 15-0 run that got them to within 32-30 at 1:02. The run was led by seven points from Christina Foggie, who finished with 23 total.
“It became such a struggle to score, as oftentimes happens, you let your offense affect your defense, and you just cannot do that,” said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. “I thought we played an incredible 14 or 15 minutes there in the first half and then we just allowed Vanderbilt to execute some things and we didn’t do a very good job of attacking their 2-3 zone. They played some tough defense.”
Kentucky headed into the locker room with a slim 36-33 lead and the mental side effects of having missed nine of their last 10 shots during that half, including eight straight.
“I think it was just a matter of adjusting to what they wanted to do,” Foggie said of the defense Vanderbilt played. “I think the communication part I talked about really helped – knowing who the shooters are and who was cutting to high post, and we were able to take that away. I think that allowed us to go on a little bit of a run.”
To Foggie, being aggressive from the start was key to fighting back from 17 down. The Commodores took that attitude into the second half, as well, and grabbed their first lead since 42 seconds into the game, when Jasmine Lister hit a layup at the 13:11 mark. Vanderbilt was up 48-47 at that point, and a game that earlier seemed like it was headed toward a Kentucky blowout was suddenly in question.
“Certainly we didn’t play the cleanest game in the history of the Coliseum,” Mitchell said.
The Wildcats used jumpers from Evans, Stallworth and freshman Linnae Harper to take a slim five-point lead at 6:08. Vanderbilt fought back to another tie – 56-56 with 1:29 remaining – but Janee Thompson’s jump shot gave Kentucky a lead with 1:19 remaining that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Bria Goss hit four free throws down the stretch to put Kentucky ahead 64-58 with 28 seconds on the clock, but a Foggie three-pointer, Lister steal and Foggie free throw cut the Wildcats’ lead to one point with 13 seconds left.
Goss split her next set of two free throws, and Vanderbilt took the rebound of Goss’ missed foul shot the length of the court, setting up a Jasmine Jenkins shot in the lane that failed right as the buzzer sounded.
“We were down 17 points and fought back in a very tough environment against the No. 12 team in the country,” said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. “My heart’s not broken.”
With the victory, Kentucky locked up the No. 4-seed in this week’s SEC tournament. The Wildcats will play their first game on Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET, potentially against Florida, who swept Kentucky during the regular season.
After a slow start to conference play, Kentucky still remains in the top third of the SEC, and is playing its best basketball heading into the postseason.
“I think we put ourselves in a position where nobody thought we could get out of,” Goss said. “Like Coach said, four Sundays ago, we were 5-5 and here we are, still a No.4-seed. I think that takes a lot of toughness and encouragement and support. I think we really buckled down and got it together.”
Stallworth, whose knee surgery kept her out of five games, agreed that the team is hitting its stride after a sense of togetherness propelled them forward.
“It just would have been easy for everybody to go their own separate ways and just say, you know, ‘Forget this,’” she said. “But I think we did a great job with just staying positive and just knowing that we have more opportunities ahead of us. We just came together, and that’s why we’ve been winning these games.”
For final stats from this game, as well as Senior Day feature stories, visit wildcathoops.com.
Kentucky will kick off its SEC tournament play this Friday, March 7 at 2:30 p.m. ET in Duluth, Ga. For live updates from the tournament, follow @WildcatHoops1 on Twitter, or visit wildcathoops.com for full coverage.
By LARRY VAUGHT
I continue to get a lot of good emails from readers. This one from a long-time UK fan I thought was worth sharing — and it came before Randle had 25 points and went to the foul line 14 times in Tuesday’s win over Mississippi.
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
No. 4 South Carolina went on a 17-4 run to start the second half, and added onto what had already been a double-digit lead, to pummel the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats 81-58 Thursday night.
Aleighsa Welch led the Gamecocks with 21 points on 10 of 16 shooting, and South Carolina rode a 44-19 rebounding advantage to the road win.
Freshman Makayla Epps scored a career-high 16 points to lead Kentucky, scoring 14 of those in the second half and providing a spark for the struggling Wildcats.
After the Gamecocks grabbed a 53-32 lead with 15:09 to play in the game, Kentucky went on a 16-6 run to cut it to 11 at the 9:31 mark. Epps led the charge with 11 points herself, and had a hand in 14 straight points for the Wildcats.
“I looked up at the score board, and I was like, ‘You know, we’re down 20 and it can’t get no worse, so just fight to the finish,’” Epps said. “I just tried to keep attacking, tried to keep everybody in it. … Just try to fight to the finish.”
Kentucky had cut South Carolina’s lead to 11 and looked to be on its way to making it a game again, but the Gamecocks closed out the final 9:31 of the game on a 22-10 run.
“We kind of just tried to calm down,” Welch said of her team’s response to Kentucky’s signs of life midway through the second half. “They really pushed the tempo, tried to get up a lot of shots. So we just wanted to slow the tempo of the game down. We knew that we were still ahead and we could keep doing the same things that we had done to get that lead.”
Those “same things” came mostly in the paint. South Carolina dominated the glass, out-rebounding Kentucky 44-19, and only allowing the Wildcats to pull down five offensive boards in the game. Welch led the Gamecocks’ rebounding performance with 10, while not a single Kentucky player had more than five.
The Gamecocks also were able to produce offensively in the paint, outscoring Kentucky there, 38-26. While South Carolina blocked six shots (with Welch swatting five herself), Kentucky didn’t block a single South Carolina attempt.
“I think we just pretty much gave Kentucky a taste of their own medicine,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “They like to push the ball and get the ball into the paint, and sometimes when that’s your strength, that’s also your weakness, so we wanted to make sure we were equally as aggressive getting the ball to the paint.”
South Carolina hit Kentucky with that strategy early and often, jumping out to a 13-point lead in the first half. The game was knotted at an 11-11 tie at the 13:22 mark to start the game, but South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 23-10 in the next 9:57.
Kentucky was 11 of 31 from the field in the first 20 minutes, but sophomore point guard Janee Thompson scored five points in a row to close out the first half for Kentucky, putting the Wildcats within shouting distance of the Gamecocks. Kentucky headed into the break facing a manageable 36-28 deficit, even though head coach Matthew Mitchell believed his team’s energy was lacking.
“I thought when we started going through an offensive drought there midway through the first half, I just thought it really affected our energy level and our competitiveness, and you just can’t let that happen,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that.”
That lack of competitiveness showed up most obviously on the boards in the second half. South Carolina had out-rebounded the Wildcats 24-11 in the first half, but took that margin – and its margin of victory – to a new level by game’s end.
“I think toughness was definitely lacking,” said Kentucky point guard Jennifer O’Neill, who finished as Kentucky’s only other double-figure scorer besides Epps, with 12 points. “I think we didn’t have enough people going to the boards and boxing out. I don’t think enough people wanted to grab rebounds, to be honest. It’s something we’ve got to learn from.”
Vaught’s note: I got this email from Ash Mason today that I thought would be fun to share getting ready for tonight’s game against Florida.
Hey Larry! Hope is well with you. I thought I’d reach out and let you know about a big milestone for us out here in San Francisco at Zeke’s. Not only is tonight in the spotlight from the ESPN Gameday cameras, and probably the biggest game of the year for the Cats. But….. From our club’s release:
Twenty years ago – on February 15, 1994 – Wildcat fans happen to come to Zeke’s Sports Bar & Grill to watch the Cats play. That night the Wildcats came back from 31 points at LSU. Down 68–37 with less than sixteen minutes left in the game, Kentucky outscored LSU 62–27 to win 99–95 in one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA basketball history – also known as The Mardi Gras Miracle.
From that date on, Kentucky fans have been coming to Zeke’s for Wildcat game watches. On Saturday, February 22nd we will continue our Celebration of Twenty Years of Wildcat Basketball at Zeke’s with our annual potluck, to be followed by a screening of the “Mardi Gras Miracle”, following the game. Hope you’ll join us in celebration at Zeke’s!
Larry, I just thought you might find this little piece of BBN history interesting. We can’t wait for tonight. Things get going as we present a custom plaque to the owners of Zeke’s during the Gameday pre-game show. Hope you can join us out here one of these days!
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
Kentucky scored the most points it has since Southeastern Conference play began, and the No. 18 Wildcats took down Mississippi, 108-78, Thursday night.
By the 6:34 mark of the second half, Kentucky had already scored more points (86) than it had in any other SEC contest to date. Sparked by a 20-36 shooting performance in the second half, the Wildcats made former Kentucky assistant and current Mississippi head coach Matt Insell’s homecoming a bittersweet one.
“It was exciting to see that we could get back to playing the way we were once before,” said Kentucky junior guard Jennifer O’Neill.
O’Neill led the offensive charge for the Wildcats with 27 points on 8-15 shooting (5-7 from the three-point line). She also swished all six of her free throws.
“She doesn’t have to score 27 every night but she needs to go out and try to get 27 every night mentally,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said “Her mentality needs to be one of aggressiveness and attack. It’s just such a big difference when she does what she did tonight.”
O’Neill made 3 of 9 shots in the first half, but hit a scorching 83 percent in the second half, including 3 of 3 from behind the arc.
Kentucky built a 14-point lead by the 6:15 mark of the first half, but Mississippi went on an 18-11 run to close the gap to seven with 4 seconds remaining until the break. But O’Neill took an inbounds pass, drove the length of the court and nailed a jumper at the buzzer to bump Kentucky back out in front by a nine-point margin.
“Shooting the ball helps you a whole lot,” Mitchell said. “Instead of 2 for 16, we were 8 for 16 from three, and everybody just gets fired up and everybody gets going.”
O’Neill’s shot at the buzzer, although not a three-pointer, fired her team up to shoot lights out in the second half. The Wildcats shot 55.6 percent in the final 20 minutes, including 57 percent of their three-pointers during that period. Meanwhile, they held Mississippi to 38.5 percent shooting in the second half (37.5 for the game).
The hot shooting performance from the Wildcats was not led solely by O’Neill from behind the arc. Kentucky outscored the Rebels in the paint, too, 46-26.
Mississippi was led by a career performance from junior forward Tia Faleru, who came into the game leading the SEC in rebounding average (9.5). She finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds (six offensive).
“I didn’t think we really met the one-on-one challenge that was created by Faleru,” Mitchell said. “She’s a very, very active player. Offense was really good. Defense, we can get better.”
Offensively, Mitchell was pleased with the performance of his preseason All-American. DeNesha Stallworth finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, her best performance since coming off a mid-season knee injury in December.
The combination of two solid Stallworth and O’Neill performances earned praise from their former assistant coach.
“They’re real good when DeNesha Stallworth plays. They’re even better when Jennifer O’Neill plays,” Insell said. “So you get both of those clicking together on the same night like they had tonight, that’s a team right there that has a chance to play in Nashville.”
Kentucky went on a 12-3 run out of the locker room to take a 20-point lead at the 16:32 mark of the second half, and there was no slowing down from there. The Wildcats’ lead would not fall below 14 points for the rest of the game.
“It felt really good, just getting our confidence back and us just having fun again and us just believing in ourselves and just trusting one another,” Stallworth said. “It just felt fantastic, especially going into the next game versus Tennessee.”
For complete coverage of the UK women’s basketball team, including stats and notes from today’s win over Mississippi, visit wildcathoops.com.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and defensive lineman Danny O’Brien were arrested on alcohol-related charges and resisting arrest, authorities said Sunday. Officers received a call about a loud party at the apartment of former Tennessee linebacker Dontavis Sapp, 22, who was also taken into custody with Johnson, 22, and O’Brien, 20, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office said.
Johnson, a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection last season, was charged with purchasing alcohol for a person underage and resisting arrest. O’Brien, a reserve nose tackle as a redshirt freshman last season, was charged with criminal impersonation, resisting arrest and underage consumption of alcohol.
O’Brien “had a very strong odor of alcohol on his breath and became combative” as an officer tried to take him into custody, according to the arrest report, which did not provide details about the other arrests.
Sapp was also charged with resisting arrest and buying alcohol for a person underage. All three have been released. The players phone numbers were unlisted and it’s unclear if they have attorneys.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said in a statement he’s aware of the situation and is gathering facts.
“We have very high standards and expectations within our football program at the University of Tennessee, and appropriate action will be taken,” he said.
Johnson made a team-high 106 tackles last fall in his third season as a starter. He had 138 tackles in 2012 and ranked fourth among all Football Bowl Subdivision players with 11.5 tackles per game. Johnson announced last month he would return for his senior season rather than entering the NFL Draft.
Bria Goss led the way with 11 points, and her No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats got back on the winning track with a 63-56 victory over No. 14 Louisiana State (17-5, 6-3 Southeastern Conference).
Kentucky (17-5, 5-4 SEC) had lost four of its past seven games before Sunday’s matchup against the Tigers. The team got back to the basics of its past success, with pressure defense and constant intensity.
“Kentucky defensively was awesome,” said LSU’s Raigyne Moncrief, who led LSU with 19 points. “They put pressure on us and sped us up.”
The Wildcats built a 21-10 lead by the 7:37 of the first half using that pressure defense, as they forced 10 first-half turnovers from LSU which led to 15 points for Kentucky.
“I think the one thing about Kentucky, and it’s been a staple of (head coach) Matthew (Mitchell)’s, is he relies on his defense,” LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell said. “His defense did a nice job of disrupting us, and by doing so, that allowed them to get those transition baskets.”
Although Kentucky shot the ball well from behind the arc in the first half (40 percent), the Wildcats pointed to their defensive pressure that allowed them to build their initial lead.
“We’re going to have off nights, but we should never have off defensive nights,” Goss said. “We can bring our defense 100 percent of the time.”
Taking a 32-23 lead into halftime, Kentucky was on good footing to take down the No. 14 team in the country after dropping one to unranked Georgia in its last contest.
Since that loss to Georgia, Mitchell had preached consistent effort to his team, and that refreshed mindset led the Cats to their victory on Sunday.
“We’ve really just talked about how we did things was going to be more important than what we did today,” he said. “So we really just tried to focus on that, and one way you can see that shine through is those hustle plays and those effort plays.”
After a Theresa Plaisance jumper, LSU cut Kentucky’s lead to single digits at the 16:55 mark of the second half. The teams traded baskets for a while, but the Wildcats eventually jumped back out to a 15-point lead at 11:36 after a Kastine Evans three-pointer made it 48-33.
Three-point shooting was a key asset for Kentucky on Sunday, as the Wildcats shot 8 of 22 from behind the arc (36.4 percent), including 6 of 15 in the first half. Several Wildcats got a piece of that pie, with five different players hitting at least one three-pointer.
Kentucky spread the wealth for the majority of the second half. Freshman Makayla Epps, who has played limited minutes for the past several games, had a key stretch from the 7:00 mark onward. She scored seven points in a row after LSU had cut the game to an eight-point margin, including a layup to make it 57-45 with 5:10 remaining.
The Tigers slashed Kentucky’s lead to seven once more at the 1:05 mark after a DaShawn Harden jumper. Plaisance’s layup at 0:47 cut it to five at 59-54. Then one missed DeNesha Stallworth free throw and another Harden basket later, Kentucky’s margin was at four with 19 seconds remaining.
Several made free throws from Goss, who has now hit 23 in a row from the foul line, and Evans, along with a Harden turnover with 12 seconds remaining, sealed the deal for Kentucky.
“I think the intensity carries over from practice,” said Kentucky point guard Jennifer O’Neill, who finished with 10 points. “We’ve been going cut-throat, really going at each other one-on-one. … We just wanted to bring that to the court today.”
That cut-throat mentality led Kentucky to the actual, physical court several times on Sunday, as the Wildcats scrambled for loose balls and 50-50 rebounds.
“It looked like we were back to Kentucky’s way of playing,” Goss said.
Getting back to the “Kentucky way” has been a staple in Mitchell’s communication with his team over the past several weeks. Having contributions come from all over the roster on Sunday was refreshing to him, and something that the team will have to maintain consistently if they are to make a push towards the top of the SEC standings.
“A team victory really helps them come together and understand that no one person is going to dig us out of this hole,” he said. “Nobody’s going to put a cape on and be Superwoman and come through and save us. Everybody’s got to do their part.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Don’t tell Missouri coach Frank Haith that Julius Randle has been struggling for Kentucky lately.
“He’s a load. He does so many things. He plays with such high energy. For a young kid, he’s put together. When you have his girth, his athletic ability, his size and then you add on top of that the intangible of how hard he plays, it makes him very difficult,” Haith said. “We’ve got to have great team defense against him. No one guy is gonna stop him. We’ve gotta have an awareness of where he’s at, in terms of keeping him off the offensive glass. And then we, like I said, we have to have a great team effort to defend him, because he scores a lot of different ways.”
Despite UK’s loss at LSU Tuesday, Haith says the Wildcats are better now.
“They’re better now than they were in November, as all young teams will get better. They had a tough game against LSU, but I don’t take into account – I mean, LSU I think is a talented team, too, and their front line is very, very good. But I anticipate Kentucky being Kentucky (on Saturday),” Haith said. “When I watch them play against Louisville or any of the games they’ve played, they’re an outstanding team and their young guys are way better than they were when they started.
“The game the other night, I think that was a great matchup in terms of their front lines. Cauley-Stein, he gave us problems last year in terms of his length when we played down there; made some huge plays. He’s a guy that can affect the game in so many ways without scoring points because of his length and athleticism and how well he moves his feet.
“Then you got Dakari Johnson. I mean, they got McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench, so they can throw a number of guys at you. Alex Poythress, he’s kind of the forgotten man sometimes, but he’s a tremendous talent, too.”