UK's Dunlap surprise entry in SEC player of year race

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2010 

  • Thursday

    No. 19 Georgia at No. 17 Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m.

    Records: Kentucky 20-3 (8-2 SEC); Georgia 19-5 (6-5 SEC)

    Series: Georgia leads 32-11

    Last meeting: Georgia won 61-60 in overtime at Athens, Ga., on Jan. 7

    TV: Fox Sports South

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • One of the best

    Where Kentucky junior Victoria Dunlap ranks in Southeastern Conference statistics this season:

    Category Rank Avg.

    Scoring 4th 17.8

    Rebounding 3rd 8.9

    FG pct. 8th 52.8

    FT pct. 15th 69.1

    Steals 1st 3.3

    Blocks 5th 2.0

  • SEC standings

    SEC All

    Tennessee 9-1 21-2

    Kentucky 8-2 20-3

    Florida 6-4 13-10

    Mississippi 6-4 15-8

    Mississippi State 6-5 15-9

    South Carolina 6-5 13-10

    Vanderbilt 6-5 17-7

    Georgia 6-5 19-5

    LSU 4-6 15-7

    Auburn 3-8 12-12

    Alabama 2-9 10-14

    Arkansas 1-9 9-14

    Thursday's games

    Georgia at Kentucky, 7 p.m.

    Arkansas at Auburn, 7 p.m.

    LSU at Florida, 7 p.m.

    Miss. State at South Carolina, 7 p.m.

    Tennessee at Mississippi, 9 p.m.

  • Matchups

    KENTUCKY

    Probable starters — Amber Smith, 5-5, Jr., G (10.1 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.7 rpg); Carly Morrow, 5-11, Jr. G (7.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg); A'dia Mathies, 5-9, Fr., G (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.5 spg); Amani Franklin, 5-11, Sr., G/F (7.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg); Victoria Dunlap, 6-1, Jr., F (17.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.3 spg, 2.0 bpg).

    Top reserves — Lydia Watkins, 6-1, Sr., F (6.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Rebecca Gray, 5-10, So., G (6.0 ppg); Keyla Snowden, 5-7, So., G (5.6 ppg); Crystal Riley, 5-5, So., G (3.9 ppg).

    Georgia

    Probable starters — Ashley Houts, 5-6, Sr., G (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Jasmine James, 5-9, Fr., G ) 12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Meredith Mitchell, 6-1, So., G (8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Porsha Phillips, 6-2, Jr., G/F (9.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Angel Robinson, 6-5, Sr., F (8.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg).

    Top reserves — Anne Marie Armstrong, 6-3, Fr., F (7.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Jasmine Hassell, 6-2, Fr., F (5.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Candace Williams, 5-8, Fr., G (2.9 ppg).

The Kentucky coaches see Victoria Dunlap almost every day.

They know her abilities, her tendencies and her weaknesses.

At least Coach Matthew Mitchell thought he knew them.

In the second half of the Cats' game at Arkansas, the junior forward made a move that shocked even her coach.

"When did she add that to her repertoire?" he asked the assistant coach sitting next to him.

Dunlap has added quite a few moves to her skill set this season and, because of that, she is the only player in the Southeastern Conference to be in the top five in both scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg).

The Nashville native is first in the league and eighth in the nation in steals (3.3 spg) and is 10th or better in the SEC in four statistical categories, including rebounding, scoring, field-goal shooting (52.8 percent) and blocked shots (two per game).

For the second straight time this week, Dunlap was named the conference's player of the week.

Not bad for a player who wasn't picked by the coaches or the media to be on the SEC's pre-season first team.

She should be on their post-season teams, possibly more, Mitchell said.

"I think she's one of the best players in the country," he said. "She should be a candidate for whatever you wanna call it — All-SEC or All-American or whatever you have — I would not want to go into a game without her, and there aren't many that would want to go against her."

Mitchell is right about that.

More than a few coaches have talked about Dunlap being a difficult matchup.

"You can't play her one-on-one," Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said. "She's as good as any post player we've played all year. ... She's fantastic."

Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis ranked Dunlap, who has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, as one of the toughest players in the conference.

"She's hard-nosed," Fanning-Otis said. "She's just tough. She is alert and plays every possession."

Despite her big numbers, Dunlap has gone unnoticed on national watch lists.

The SEC candidates on those lists include Louisiana State's Allison Hightower, Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen and Georgia's Ashley Houts.

But with no dominant player putting up dominant numbers in the SEC this season, does that mean Dunlap could be considered a candidate for top defensive player or overall player of the year?

"That's not anything that's on my mind, but maybe it should be," Mitchell said last week. "I feel like if we win, Victoria will feel real good about that, and she'll get whatever awards come our way."

The coach knows Dunlap, who has seven double-doubles this year, will get his vote.

She's special, he said.

"Good players in this league are either very talented or, if they're not very talented, they work extremely hard," Mitchell said. "Great players in this league are players that have the combination of talent and work ethic.

"Her competitive drive and her desire to do the tough things well separates her from a lot of people in this conference."

Dunlap said she just keeps playing hard.

"It's kind of been going in and out of my mind, just thinking there's a possibility that I could be," she said of the recent player of the year chatter. "But if I do or if I don't, it would be nice that people recognize that I can play."

Mitchell said Dunlap is going to have to be special Thursday night against No. 19 Georgia, which No. 17 UK fell to in overtime 61-60 on Jan. 7.

At 6-foot-1, Dunlap is one of the tallest players on a vertically challenged UK team.

The Cats will be facing a big Georgia group that starts three players taller than Dunlap and has two more who come off the bench first.

"No doubt she needs to play well for us" Thursday, Mitchell said of Dunlap, who had 12 points, seven rebounds and five steals in the last game against Georgia before fouling out in overtime.

Mitchell said fans shouldn't be fooled by Georgia's recent slide, in which they've lost four of their last five games. The coach said UK is going to need every extra advantage — including a rowdy crowd in Memorial Coliseum — to win.

"We're one bad week or two bad weeks away from not being very good at all," he said. "So we desperately need to win this one."

In the SEC race, Kentucky is two games ahead of a pack of six teams that all have six wins, but the Cats have arguably one of the toughest schedules the rest of the way, including games at No. 5 Tennessee and Vanderbilt as well as home contests against Georgia and South Carolina, who have both beaten UK already this season.

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