Women: 2nd-half rally sends Cats past Cards, 69-64

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 1, 2013 


    Kentucky: 7:30 p.m. Friday vs. Baylor in Big 12/SEC Challenge at Arlington, Texas

    Louisville: 7 p.m. Tuesday at home vs. Missouri State

Kentucky's reputation for being aggressive and tough seemed like a rumor in the first half against rival Louisville on Sunday.

In a battle of the unbeatens, the Cats fell behind by 14 points in the first half, were outrebounded by double figures and struggled to get anything going offensively.

"We kind of got punched in the mouth in the first half," UK point guard Jennifer O'Neill said later.

A pep talk of sorts from Coach Matthew Mitchell reminded the seventh-ranked Cats of a few important points.

"It just made us want to play, show him we came here to play," O'Neill said. "We didn't work this hard to get where we're at to just give up a game like this."

So UK did something about it, using aggressive defense and rebounding as well as some timely three-pointers to claw back into the game and upend the No. 4 Cardinals, 69-64.

It was Kentucky's third straight win over the Cardinals.

"We had a great opportunity to win the basketball game," Cards Coach Jeff Walz said. "There's no other way to say it, we pissed it away."

In the second half, Louisville missed its first nine shots, many from point-blank range, and started yielding rebounds to Kentucky.

What Walz called a "bad combination" for Louisville (7-1) fueled a huge 24-9 run to open the second half, including 11 unanswered for the Cats to give them their first lead since of the game since the score was 2-0.

"Just one of those nights we weren't going to let them come into our house and win," senior reserve Bernisha Pinkett said of UK, which has won 16 in a row over the Cardinals at Memorial Coliseum. "We work so hard in this gym and it means a lot to us to be here."

Pinkett was a key part of that run, first hitting the three-pointer from the wing to give Kentucky (8-0) the lead and then hitting another a minute later to extend the margin to 51-45, UK's largest of the game until the final seconds.

"Man when those things left her hand, both of them, I was like 'Oh gosh I think they're going in, they really look good,' and I was strongly encouraging the ball to go in when she shot it," Mitchell said. "I wanted that badly."

But the coach questioned just how badly UK wanted it when his team trailed at the half for the first time this season, 36-27. It marked UK's lowest first-half output of the season.

Kentucky missed nearly as many layups (seven) as it made shots (nine) in the first half, and the only reason the Cats were within striking range at the break was because five of those makes were from beyond the arc, including two in a row from freshman reserve Makayla Epps.

Only Janee Thompson, who hit a runner in the lane at the buzzer, had double figures at the break for Kentucky, which got hit by a massive 17-3 run in the first half and was outrebounded 20-7 early in the game.

Mitchell said his team was "fortunate" to be down by only that margin.

"Louisville just took it to us, credit them," he said. "They came out the way you need to come out."

Everything changed at the break. The Cardinals missed those early shots and turned the ball over, and UK fed off the mistakes. Louisville went from shooting 50 percent in the first half to 27.8 percent in the second. The 64 points was a season low.

"Nobody got taller at halftime, nobody got faster, we didn't give anybody anything that got them jumping higher or anything," Mitchell said. "They had to get their mindset changed. It was a very, very disappointing first half for us."

One of the biggest changes came from DeNesha Stallworth, who scored 15 of her team-high 16 points and grabbed six of her eight rebounds in the second half.

"We all saw what she can do and you can't wait to get chewed out at halftime all the time," Mitchell said of his senior forward.

O'Neill scored all 12 of her points in the second half. The junior guard had three assists and two steals. Thompson finished with 13 points and four assists.

Louisville, a veteran team coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament championship game last season, tied it twice late in the second half, but was never able to regain the lead or momentum.

"Losing to a rival school is no fun, but we'll put this one behind us and move on to the next one," said senior guard Shoni Schimmel, who had a game-best 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Sara Hammond added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Cardinals, who won the rebounding battle 44-39. It was the first time this season UK was outrebounded.

It's one of many teaching points that will come out of the game, Mitchell said. "I am glad we can learn a lesson out of a win instead of having to learn it through the pain of defeat."

Next Games

Kentucky: 7:30 p.m. Friday vs. Baylor in Big 12/SEC Challenge at Arlington, Texas

Louisville: 7 p.m. Tuesday at home vs. Missouri State

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

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