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By: ASHLEY SCOBY
A missed three-pointer by Bernisha Pinkett kept the UK Hoops team from its second straight 100-point game, but not from another 40-point-plus victory over an SEC team. The Cats cruised over Auburn, 97-53 Sunday afternoon, leading Tigers head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy to speak less than kindly of her opponent’s tactics.
“I thought it was pretty unclassy to continue to press when you’re up by 46 points,” she said. “We’re a pressing team also, and at some point we do take the press off because that becomes not respectful of the other team.”
The Cats used a dominant first half of play to get to that point in the first place: Kentucky led 25-13 with 10:54 on the clock. Within eight minutes, they had used a 24-2 run to extend their lead to 31. Heading into the locker room, Kentucky led 51-31, and coach Matthew Mitchell talked about the goal for his team’s attitude heading into the second half.
“It’s hard when you’re up 30 at halftime,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It takes tremendous discipline to come back out and be focused. We are trying to hold ourselves to high standards. We’re not trying to look at the scoreboard. We’re trying to play the best that we can because that’s what we’ve committed to doing.”
As the Cats kept their feet on the gas pedal early in the second half, they extended their lead to an eventual 39 points by the 15:17 mark. Their style of play, however, did not change, based on the scoreboard.
Auburn started hitting some shots they had missed in the first half, and ended up making a second-half run that cut Kentucky’s lead to 24. After a Hasina Muhammad layup with 7:23 to play, the score was 74-50 – a key moment in the game, according to senior A’dia Mathies.
“There was a point right before the eight-minute timeout that they cut it down to 20-something,” Mathies said. “We felt like they were on a run and if they cut it down ten more, the last four minutes, you’ve really got a game. We felt like we had to step up the pressure again and continue to do things we did the whole game that led to that big lead. It paid off in the end.”
Kentucky’s main focus on defense was to “make life miserable” for Auburn’s primary ball-handler, Najat Ouardad. She finished with 1 assist to her 8 turnovers and was 1-3 from the field. The Tigers as a team finished with 30 turnovers, which UK converted into 34 points. That pressure defense is what the Cats have relied on for both close wins and blowouts this season. But is there a point where the Cats should back off their opponent?
Mitchell defended his decision to continue to go after Auburn, even though his team was up by 24 points or more for the whole second half.
“We work really hard to get ourselves in position to play the way we play,” he said. “These kids are up at 5:30 in the morning four days a week during the summer and (they) lay it on the line. If anybody is unfamiliar with how we play and what our goals are, then that’s their problem. I’m really proud of our players and I thought they conducted themselves with tremendous poise today.”
The Cats will continue digging into SEC play Thursday at South Carolina. Their next home game will be Sunday, January 27 against LSU.