John Clay: Four-overtime test of fitness played into UK women's hands

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 7, 2013 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill (0) went in over Baylor Bears guard Makenzie Robertson (14) and scored two of her career high 40 points as Kentucky defeated Baylor 133-130 in four overtimes on Friday December 6, 2013. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

ARLINGTON, Texas — On a cold and icy Texas night, two women's basketball teams took the raised floor at AT&T Stadium and kept playing and playing and playing and playing and playing some more.

Back and forth it went, a full 60 minutes of playing time, with Baylor's Odyssey Sims scoring 47 points and Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill scoring 43 points and by the time it was over there had been 112 free throws taken and an NCAA-women's-record combined 163 points scored and the women had stolen the spotlight from the men.

Or at least made them wait, and watch, and marvel.

Final: Kentucky 133, Baylor 130.

Seriously.

"Are you guys tired?" asked Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey when she hit the post-game interview room. "I know I'm tired."

Mulkey had another question.

"You all ever seen a game like that? I've never seen a game like that."

"An epic game," said the winning coach, Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell.

An epic game in a most unusual setting, and we're not just talking a basketball doubleheader in the cavernous home of the Cowboys.

The winter storm "Cleon" hit the city on Thursday, pretty much paralyzing things. It took 90 minutes from the time my plane touched down at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport late Friday morning until we were finally allowed off the plane, in part because the jet bridge had frozen.

And taxicabs? Forget it — there were no taxicabs.

A marathon scheduled for this weekend was canceled. TCU canceled classes. A holiday parade was canceled. Everything was canceled, except for the basketball, and by the end of the women's game most were glad it wasn't canceled.

Earlier in the week, Mitchell had called Baylor's Sims, a 5-foot-8 senior, the most dynamic talent in the country, and she didn't disappoint. The senior made 17-of-33 shots before fouling out in the first overtime.

"I don't know that there is a meter that can measure the happiness I felt when she went out of the game," admitted Mitchell, largely in admiration.

O'Neill, a 5-6 junior, was almost as good, becoming the first UK player since Valerie Still to score more than 40 points in a game.

"I didn't even know it was that many overtimes," she said. "I thought it was more than that. I thought we were going to break the Syracuse record (the six-overtime men's game with Connecticut in 2009)."

"I played in a four-overtime game my senior year of AAU," said teammate Bria Goss. "We went to sudden death for the fourth overtime and we lost."

They didn't lose this one.

"We're in such good condition we were excited every time it went to another overtime," Goss said. "We felt like we had the advantage. This is what we get up at 6 a.m. four days a week and train for."

"I had confidence we could hang in there and keep going," Mitchell said, "and they kept fouling people out."

By game's end — finally — seven Lady Bears had fouled out, to the point where Mulkey had to use an injured player she wasn't planning on playing just to have five players on the floor.

"I can't put a trainer in there, and they wouldn't let me go in there," Mulkey said. "They told me I could play with four. We played two (actually three) overtimes without Odyssey and hung in there."

Both teams kept hanging and hanging and hanging around — almost all night long.

"I'm not into moral victories," said Mulkey, who graduated several top players, including Brittney Griner, from last year's 34-1 club. "But if they're the No. 5 team in the country, then we're going to be all right."

Meanwhile, the Kentucky men's coach, John Calipari, popped into the UK women's locker room to congratulate the victors. The tired but happy victors.

Someone asked Mitchell what he and Mulkey were talking about during an extended post-game handshake.

"She just asked me if I had ever been in one like that before, and I said I hadn't," Mitchell said. "She said she hadn't either."

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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