HATTIESBURG, Miss. — With Kentucky clinging to a five-point halftime lead, Coach Matthew Mitchell asked his Wildcats to pick up the defensive intensity. They certainly did.
The Wildcats forced eight turnovers — including five steals — to fuel a 19-2 run to open the second half and lead No. 9 Kentucky to a 79-60 victory Saturday over Southern Miss in the championship game of the Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic.
Kentucky forced 33 turnovers and came up with a season-high 18 steals.
"I just thought the five players we had on the floor were able to bring the pressure up a couple of notches and get that going and create some turnovers," Mitchell said.
Kentucky overcame the absence of reigning SEC Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap, as sophomore guard A'dia Mathies scored 14 points to lead six Wildcats with at least nine points.
Dunlap missed Saturday's game with a mild concussion after hitting the back of her head on the court while taking a charge Friday night in Kentucky's opening-round 91-59 victory over Murray State. That left the Wildcats having to make up the 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game that Dunlap came into the tournament averaging.
They did that with defensive pressure and a balanced offense.
"To be able to win by the margin that we were able to without Victoria, I think, says a lot about our team," Mitchell said.