Kentucky dodges another road loss at Alabama

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 6, 2013 

  • Women's SEC Tournament

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

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Personnel was limited, the situation less than ideal, but Kentucky found a way to win.

That was the thing that pleased UK Coach Matthew Mitchell the most after his sixth-ranked Cats dropped Alabama 87-70 on Sunday in Foster Auditorium.

"Just the fact we were able to get in here and find a way to win," Mitchell said when asked what impressed him most. "There were a lot of things we didn't do well today, but that didn't matter. There are no style points."

If the game had been won and lost on style points, the Cats might not have been so fortunate. They had been upset here a season ago and did what they had to do late to keep that from happening again.

So when the game got tight in the second half, Kentucky put its foot on the gas and used a late 20-9 run to pull away.

"I love winning on the road, I think we all do," junior forward Samarie Walker said. "It's something we struggled with last year when we lost three straight (on the road). This year we don't want to do that. This is a big road win."

The win came on the backs of UK's biggest players, forwards Walker and DeNesha Stallworth, who both came out with double-doubles for UK.

Stallworth had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Walker added 15 points and 13 rebounds for Kentucky, which outrebounded the Crimson Tide 54-30, including holding Alabama to just nine offensive boards (to 22 for UK).

Kentucky (14-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) won its school-record 13th straight game and is tied with Duke for the longest streak in the nation.

Senior guard A'dia Mathies made five three-pointers and scored 17 points, all in the second half after sitting out all but seven minutes of the first half in foul trouble.

Bria Goss added 12 points and Jennifer O'Neill 11 points and five assists in the victory.

But O'Neill's biggest contribution was her ability to speed up the game, especially in the second half.

"Jennifer O'Neill did a great, great job of pushing the ball back at them and we got some easy buckets that helped us separate," Mitchell said.

The final score doesn't show it, but the game was filled with obstacle after obstacle for Kentucky.

By the end of the first half, the Cats were clinging to a 35-28 lead, playing mostly with subs late with four of the five starters in foul trouble.

A team already short in the post with Samantha Drake home for her grandmother's funeral then saw sophomore Azia Bishop go down hard and exit with a concussion.

The Cats were struggling from the three-point line, making just one of 16 tries in the first half.

Mathies hit two three-pointers from the left wing early in the second half to break UK out of its three-point shooting slump.

After starting out the second half strong, Mitchell watched as Alabama crept back in it, cutting it to four points with 14 minutes to play. He called a timeout and a do-over.

"We were up four and said, 'Let's just start the game over,'" Mitchell said he told his team at the timeout. "Then the kids really came out and were able to get some stops."

Stallworth, who recorded her third double-double in four games, said it was good to see UK respond when the game got rough at a place where it faltered last season.

"We came together as a team, even when adversity hit us," Stallworth said.

Alabama (10-5, 0-2) got 18 points and six rebounds from Meghan Perkins. Reserve Shafontaye Myers added 17 points, including four three-pointers.

Bishop suffers concussion

After taking a hard spill on a fastbreak layup in the first half, Azia Bishop sat out the rest of the game with what Mitchell called a mild concussion.

"She's cleared up a little bit, but the doctors here in Tuscaloosa just advised us not to play her in the second half," Mitchell said after the win. "We're optimistic."

Thompson does not play

Freshman guard Janee Thompson didn't play in the Cats' win over Alabama.

"She's not practicing hard enough," Mitchell said to explain her absence. "She's not working hard enough in practice. And when you don't work hard, this league will expose you. She got exposed Thursday night with some mental breakdowns."

Thompson played just five minutes against Florida in the Cats' SEC opener Thursday night. She missed one shot and grabbed one rebound in that game.

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

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