UK women go cold in second half, fall to UConn 80-65

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2012 

KINGSTON, R.I. — A poster outside the Kentucky locker room showed the Final Four emblem.

It served as a daily reminder to Kentucky's players of their final goal.

But their season didn't end in Denver as Coach Matthew Mitchell and his players had envisioned. Instead, it ended here one game short in an 80-65 loss to Connecticut on Tuesday night in the Kingston Regional finals of the women's NCAA Tournament.

"You get so close, and you feel like you have a chance, and you want to punch through, and you want to make it," Mitchell said after the Cats failed to advance out of the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.

"But we just need to keep showing up, keep knocking on the door. At some point in time, we'll get in there."

For a good part of the first half in the Connecticut-colored Ryan Center, it looked as though this could be the Cats' time.

Despite falling in a 9-0 hole to a UConn team that had been to the Final Four 12 times and won seven titles, Kentucky righted itself.

But the Cats found their legs and used a 12-2 run midway through the first half to take their first lead of the game, 31-30, on a Bria Goss drive to the basket.

Mitchell kept running in player after player, as he's done most of the season, and Connecticut struggled at times to keep up. The Huskies had six players get a bulk of the minutes in the first half compared with eight for UK.

"They did a beautiful job of getting back into it and really had a great first half," Mitchell said of his team.

It looked as if two A'dia Mathies free throws with two seconds left would send the teams into halftime tied 39-39, but the Huskies got a layup at the buzzer on a runout by Kelly Faris to grab the lead, 41-39.

"The way we played defense in the first half is what gets you beat at this time of the year," Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. "But the way we played defense in the second half is exactly how you win games this time of the year."

UConn definitely won it with defense.

The Huskies and their physical 2-3 zone held UK without a basket for seven minutes and used a knockout 21-5 run early in the second half to put the game out of reach.

"We couldn't hit shots, and it was tough," UK senior Amber Smith said. "We had breakdowns, and they'd get offensive putbacks, backdoor cuts. We just lost focus, and they're a good team, and we can't afford to lose focus like that."

Mitchell took credit for the offensive woes in the second half, which included UK shooting 25.8 percent from the field (and 31.1 percent for the game).

"That is my inability over the course of this season to help our players with big, physical zones," he said. "Connecticut probably plays it better than anyone. They are so physical and are really, really tough with a lot of contact. If you're not tough enough to play through it, you can have some of those withering runs."

UConn never withered offensively, and five players finished in double figures, led by Kingston Regional Most Outstanding Player Tiffany Hayes, who had 22 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

"She's an outstanding basketball player, and that's an impressive basketball team," Mitchell said. "She's so big and physical, we had a hard time guarding her."

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley had 13 points apiece for the Huskies (33-4), who won their seventh straight.

Kentucky (28-7) was led by UConn transfer Samarie Walker, who had 14 points and five rebounds. Freshman Bria Goss added 12 points, and Kastine Evans had 10 points.

Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies struggled, going 2-for-12 from the field. She finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

"It was a bad (shooting) night for us, but we gave a lot of effort, got a lot of loose balls and rebounds and steals and stuff," Mathies said. "So I don't fault our effort."

But Mathies, who returns along with all but one starter, said losing in this round and not getting to Denver will fuel UK's fire in the off-season.

"Our season ended, so we're not too happy about it," she said. "We're going to regroup and try to come out even stronger next year."

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

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