UK women move on to Elite Eight

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2012 

  • Women's SEC Tournament

    Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Missouri winner
    When: 6 p.m. Friday
    TV/Radio: SportsSouth/WLAP-AM 630

KINGSTON, R.I. — It looked like there was another Kentucky collapse in the making Sunday night.

Against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament region semifinals, the Cats had a 21-point lead. They watched the Bulldogs cut it to eight in the second half and nearly cut it to six two more times.

But the second-seeded Cats didn't panic. They'd seen a big lead evaporate before.

Kentucky said it learned some valuable lessons against Green Bay in the previous round, and in this round the Cats continued their education in beating Gonzaga 79-62.

"We played hard because we knew what was on the line today," said senior guard Keyla Snowden, who hit five of UK's 12 three-pointers, a school record in the NCAA Tournament.

It was the second-most made shots from outside for UK behind the 14 they had against Mississippi State on Jan. 8.

Snowden led four Cats in double figures with 17 points. Samarie Walker added 16 points and 12 rebounds.

"Keyla has been playing with a sense of purpose you like to see a senior playing with," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She's not just a shooter. She's been competing on both ends of the floor like a person on a mission who wants to get to a Final Four."

Kentucky is now one win away from its first Final Four in school history after reaching its second Elite Eight in three years.

The Cats advance to Tuesday's regional championship game where they will face top-seeded Connecticut, a 77-59 winner over Penn State in the early game here in front of a highly partisan Huskies crowd at the Ryan Center.

UK's shooting, hitting 57.1 percent from three-point range, and Snowden's sharpshooting especially, impressed Gonzaga's players.

"We weren't expecting them to be just daggers from the three-point line like they were," Kelly Bowen said. "(Snowden) was phenomenal. ... She was just awesome."

But for a few minutes, it looked like UK had set it on cruise control too soon as the Zags cut the lead to eight points with nine minutes to play and held Kentucky without a basket for nearly seven minutes.

The Cats had forged that 21-point lead on Snowden's three-pointer with 13:54 to play and then went seven minutes between baskets until Snowden bailed them out again with another three-pointer with 6:46 to play.

Senior guard Amber Smith said UK didn't panic when Gonzaga went on its 14-1 run — fueled by Kayla Standish, who finished with a game-best 25 points — because of what it learned against Green Bay last week.

"I knew we couldn't let what happened against Green Bay happen tonight," Smith said. "Once they cut it to eight, I knew we needed a boost. We didn't get rattled like we did against Green Bay, so we learned from that experience."

Walker, a transfer from Connecticut who will become a main story line for Tuesday's game, was key as UK extended its lead again.

She and Connecticut native Kastine Evans, who had a career-high 10 rebounds, got key boards, especially on the offensive end, to limit Gonzaga possessions.

"Even though they only outscored us by two on second-chance points, it just seemed like they were big and at the end when we were trying to climb back," Coach Kelly Graves said. "We would get a stop and then they'd get an offensive board."

Kentucky earned a 44-34 rebounding edge.

Kentucky's bench outscored its Gonzaga counterparts 44-10 as well, mostly behind Snowden and Walker.

A'dia Mathies, who made three three-pointers of her own, had 15 points and seven assists for the Cats. She had 10 points at the half, including a slicing layup that fell at the buzzer to give UK a 43-28 lead at the break.

Bria Goss broke out of a shooting funk and scored 10 points in the victory.

"We're a good shooting team," Goss said afterward. "We're great in practice, we just had to show it on the court, and we did today."

Mitchell was glad to see Goss and several others show some confidence and knock down big shots at big times.

"Everyone who made one today has always been capable of making them," Mitchell said. "I just told them we were getting good shots. If you want to get to Final Four, no one is going to give it to you. You need to earn your way there."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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