MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Matthew Mitchell and Rick Insell are old friends.
So the night before Mitchell's UK team faced Insell's Middle Tennessee State team, the two met to talk shop.
"Kentucky plays wide open, come at you and that's the way we play," Insell said Sunday. "We knew ... it was going to be a fun game; it was just a little bit more fun for him than it was for us."
It definitely was fun for Mitchell, whose team had lost its previous two games at the Murphy Center, but managed to escape it with an 84-72 victory Sunday night.
"He's had more fun than us here the last two times, so we're going to really enjoy this one riding back," Mitchell said of Insell. "We're really proud of our team."
Seventh-ranked UK had to overcome the hostile environment, a sizable amount of foul trouble and a late run fueled in part by former Paul Laurence Dunbar star Ebony Rowe to remain unbeaten.
Kentucky (6-0) led by as many as 17 points midway through the second half before the Blue Raiders used a 15-4 run late to keep it interesting.
"We just kept fighting and kept fighting," said Rowe, who had a game-high 28 points and eight rebounds. "They made some big-time baskets in the second half, let's be honest.
"The proudest moment for me was my team did not give up; a lot of teams could've been down 15 points and just thrown in the towel."
As MTSU (1-3) made its run, Mitchell called a timeout and reminded Kentucky to play with some defensive energy, to move its feet and pick up the pace.
Those things, along with some key free throws and veteran leadership, helped UK seal the victory. For the second straight game, Bria Goss led the Cats in scoring with 16 points.
She was one of four UK players in double figures, including Kastine Evans, who hit two key baskets to halt MTSU runs late. She finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Jennifer O'Neill added 14 points and Samarie Walker 12 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky, which shot 50 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range.
After a blazing start from long range, hitting five of its first seven, UK missed its final six three-pointers, but the players — especially Goss and Evans — found plenty of points in their mid-range game.
"Just staying aggressive for all of us guards has been really important this season," Evans said.
Kentucky rocketed out to a 12-3 lead to start the game, scoring nine unanswered points and the Cats led by as many as 12 points midway through the first half.
Getting the big lead early was key for UK, which had not been able to do that at the Murphy Center the last two times.
"We got off to such a better start and we weren't digging ourselves out of a hole the entire game," Mitchell said.
But fouls started to mount for UK, which had five players with two fouls and two others with three before the break. By the end of the game, eight of the Cats' 11 available players had at least three fouls.
After trailing by 12 early in the first half, MTSU pulled within three points, 37-34, on two made free throws by Caroline Warden.
Linnae Harper's putback at the buzzer helped UK extend its halftime lead to seven points, 41-34, before it regrouped.
An 11-0 run behind five different players early in the second half gave Kentucky some extra cushion.
They'd need most of it to survive that late Raiders' rally.
"This is what I was telling the players: This is not going to be some 40-point blowout," Mitchell said after the game. "This is a very, very good team and to come in here and beat them by 12 on their home court and shoot 50 percent and play with a lot of toughness and poise, I'm real, real happy about this one."
Bradley at No. 7 Kentucky
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.