A massive game on a massive stage in front of a massive crowd ended in a big letdown for Kentucky on Sunday.
That's when No. 2 Duke handed No. 5 Kentucky its first loss of the season 69-61 in front of a record-breaking crowd of 23,706 at Rupp Arena.
Several times the sell-out crowd did what it could to urge on Kentucky, which trailed by as many as 14 points early in the second half and cut it to four points with six minutes to play, but Duke always found an answer.
"We are figuring out how resilient we can be," Duke Coach Joanne McCallie said. "To be a special team, you've got to go ahead and do special things."
It helped that Duke had a special player in Tricia Liston, who was one point shy of matching her career high with 28 points to go with six rebounds in 39 minutes.
McCallie called her senior's leadership "incredible."
"She was huge for us in terms of gluing the team together and making plays happen."
Liston wasn't alone.
Forward Elizabeth Williams added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Blue Devils, who used their size advantage to hold Kentucky to its fewest points of the season, its fewest assists (seven) and its worst shooting percentage (33.3) of the season.
Duke (12-1) towered over Kentucky at nearly every position and it bothered the Cats, who are playing without senior forward DeNesha Stallworth, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery.
"They made it hard to drive, made it hard for myself especially to post up and go in there and score," said UK senior Samarie Walker, who had eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds. "So I really think it really had a big impact, especially with DeNesha being out, not having one of our biggest players."
UK's nerves as much as Duke's size seemed to bother the Cats from the start. They missed their first five shots, many from close range, and fell behind 7-1 early.
But defense and a little Bria Goss helped the Cats get back in it.
The junior guard scored the Cats' first six points and pulled them back to within a point 7-6, before the rest of her team caught up.
Goss keyed a 12-2 run, including nine unanswered, to give UK a 13-9 advantage, its largest of the half.
After the Cats grabbed that lead, Duke ran off eight straight as a part of a 17-4 run. UK went nearly four minutes without scoring as the Blue Devils went on their scoring spree.
Falling behind by 10 points 29-19, Kentucky got a three-pointer from Bernisha Pinkett and a 15-footer from the corner from Linnae Harper to get back within five points before Duke finished out the half by scoring seven in a row to grab a 36-24 lead.
Goss finished with eight points. Fellow guards Jennifer O'Neill and Linnae Harper added seven points apiece.
Coach Matthew Mitchell refused to accept Stallworth's absence as an excuse for his Cats (11-1).
"We had some stretches in the game where you saw we could make plays and function," he said. "So, I don't think that was a factor in the game because she wasn't available.
"It was Duke's players versus our players and we didn't get the job done."
The coach took a lot of the blame on himself, saying he didn't have UK ready in transition defense, nor prepared to play against the Devils' long zone.
"Duke did a great job in their zone defense of just confusing us, and that is 100 percent my fault," he said. "That's not the players. They should've been more well prepared for this game. I'm just kicking myself that we didn't do a better job of attacking their zone."
The only player who seemed to figure it out was UK point guard Janee Thompson, the also only Cats player to finish in double figures with 12 points, but all of those came in the second half.
It was the sophomore's made free throws that got the raucous crowd — the largest crowd in state history for a women's game and the fifth-largest crowd to ever see a regular-season women's game in the nation — going again.
But a Liston layup less than 10 seconds later and then a second layup and subsequent foul shot extended the Duke lead to nine points again in less than a minute.
"Duke outworked us there," Mitchell said. "Just ran by us a few times."
Grambling St. at Kentucky
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.