Kentucky 81, Notre Dame 76

Dunlap leads No. 9 Cats past No. 12 Irish

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 22, 2010 

Maybe Kentucky just caught lightning in a bottle last season.

Maybe it was all just a fluke.

There were all sorts of conspiracy theories out there for how lowly Kentucky managed to advance to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time ever.

The players for ninth-ranked UK heard all of the pre-season questions and went a long way toward answering them Sunday with an 81-76 win over No. 12 Notre Dame at Memorial Coliseum.

"This shows that last year wasn't a fluke," junior Keyla Snowden said. "We're just trying to keep proving a point and keep building on that legacy."

Playing shorthanded in the post against a much bigger Irish team, All-American Victoria Dunlap played nearly every minute of the game and finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and two steals.

She led all players in each of those categories.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a kid work as hard as she did," Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said of Dunlap. "Really, just a great game today for her. Probably a normal day at the office for her but I was really impressed by her game and her poise."

The senior was joined in double digits by Snowden and Bernisha Pinkett, who hit some huge three-pointers as Notre Dame made its late run. The two guards finished with 17 points apiece.

Pinkett, who set a new career high, had maybe the most important shot of the day when she banked in a three-pointer to extend the UK lead after the Irish had cut it to one point late.

The 6,794 at Memorial Coliseum got loud.

"I was going crazy in my head, too," Pinkett said.

Natalie Novosel, a former Lexington Catholic teammate of Snowden, scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Sophomore sensation Skylar Diggins added 18 points, but turned the ball over six times against UK's pressure.

Novosel, who scored six straight points midway through the second half to get Notre Dame within three points, said she'd have preferred a different outcome.

"I would have rather had zero points and a win," said Novosel, who also had eight rebounds and three assists.

As soon as Novosel made two free throws to cut it to three, Snowden answered with a three-pointer, one of four she made in the second half.

"They were huge shots," McGraw said. "I really thought if we could have guarded her we could have won the game."

Notre Dame (2-2) looked poised to win the game early. Despite coming off a double-overtime loss against No. 15 UCLA just three days before, the Irish grabbed a 9-2 lead early with Novosel scoring the first seven points.

Kentucky (3-0) crawled offensively, shooting just 27 percent from the field in the first 12 minutes of the game, including missing its first 11 tries from long range.

UK got its second wind late in the first half, using a 23-5 run behind eight points from Pinkett to grab a 12-point lead, 38-26, with 2:23 left in the first half. Pinkett had 10 points at the half.

The Cats turned up their defensive pressure in that span and scored mostly in transition.

"We tried to make it about effort and hustle, because we're just not the best at executing right now," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We were hoping we could just hustle and give great effort and the players did that clearly."

That effort made Mitchell smile.

"Proud is really not sufficient to say how I feel about our players today."

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