kentucky 82, mississippi 41

Kentucky women maul Mississippi, take two-game lead in SEC

UK gains two-game lead in SEC after Lady Vols' loss

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 2, 2012 

Even to an outsider, Kentucky's goals are clear.

"Their team is on a mission," Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner said. "Their style of play affects everyone in this league, and tonight we got bit by the same bug: turnovers, pressure."

The sixth-ranked Cats used their defensive pressure to force the Rebels into 36 turnovers Thursday night and ran away with an 82-41 win, their 10th in a row and their 18th straight in Memorial Coliseum.

The victory kept UK (21-2, 10-0) perfect in the Southeastern Conference and tied the best start in program history.

UK's players said they're glad the goal is clear.

"We're focused on winning a championship," said sophomore Samarie Walker, who had 11 points — one of four players in double figures — and six rebounds.

Kentucky got a step closer to earning its first title in 30 years when South Carolina beat Tennessee 64-60 in Knoxville on Thursday, giving the Cats a two-game cushion with six games to play.

Coach Matthew Mitchell warned against getting too excited about a two-game lead in a conference like the SEC.

"You hope you can get as much separation as you can," he said. "You'd love to see a huge lead in the standings, but it's just a two-game lead and we have a bunch of games left. It is a positive development for us but it is nothing we can spend time thinking about."

Instead, Kentucky will continue to think about and focus on defense. Against Ole Miss, the Cats' chaos forced 36 turnovers, the most in a game between two SEC foes this season. In turn, UK only turned the ball over 10 times, including just two miscues in the second half.

"It's crazy," said the Rebs' Monique McFarland, who had six points and seven turnovers. "They press for 40 minutes and they sub in and out. It's constant pressure."

Mississippi (12-11, 2-8) came in averaging 17.5 turnovers, but it had 20 by the break and the Cats had capitalized by converting them into 20 points.

Ladner was asked if UK is the best team in the SEC. She said it is.

"They're definitely the hardest team to play against because of their relentless pressure, their ability to sub," the coach said. "They wear you down. We played with them for what, 15 minutes? Then they're up and you're digging out of a hole. Then the pressure comes back."

For 15 minutes, Ladner's team did stay with UK, which struggled to find its offensive rhythm.

The Rebels, shorthanded without Nikki Byrd, the team's second-leading scorer, grabbed a two-point lead with 13:30 to play in the first half before Kentucky used a 19-4 run to pull away. In that span, UK scored 11 consecutive points.

"During the run, we just want to keep running," freshman Bria Goss said. "Keep increasing the score, keep increasing the lead."

Mitchell wasn't worried about the poor shooting early on because he saw his team playing hard.

"I just kept telling them at each timeout that if we kept hustling, we would break it open and the shots would start falling," Mitchell said. "We kept hanging in there and giving good effort and we got back on track."

UK's leading scorer, A'dia Mathies, never really got on track offensively, making just two of her 14 shots. She finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Goss led UK with 19 points. Kastine Evans added 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and a career-high seven steals.

Another big run early in the second half gave UK a 20-point edge, and it grew from there. The Cats outscored Ole Miss 45-18 after intermission.

"We hustled from the opening buzzer until the final one," Mitchell said.

It's a part of a bigger goal, the players said.

"If we do all of this and come out with nothing, we're going to be disappointed," Goss said.

Ali makes SEC debut

Freshman Bra'Shey Ali, who hasn't played in a game since Dec. 21, played eight minutes for UK on Thursday night, getting five rebounds and a steal. But it doesn't mean she's out of Mitchell's doghouse.

"Bra'Shey is day to day," he said. "But we're all probably day to day. I just wake up every morning hoping we can get through another day with Bra'Shey. This day's successful and I'll give you a report tomorrow."

■ Fellow freshman Azia Bishop was not on the UK bench after a violation of team rules. Mitchell expects her to return quickly.

'Brought tears to my eyes'

The crowd of 7,429 in Memorial Coliseum gave one of its longest, loudest ovations before the game even started for 16-year-old Marlana VanHoose, who sang the National Anthem before the game.

The Johnson Central student, who is blind and was born with Cytomegalovirus, got a visit at midcourt from Mitchell before the game.

"It was really moving," he said. "I told her before tipoff, it really brought tears to my eyes. It was the best performance we've ever had here at Memorial Coliseum. What an unbelievable voice on a little bitty girl like that."

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