UK women: Walker draws raves from Mitchell as Cats dispatch Alabama 85-63

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 2, 2014 

  • Next game

    Florida at No. 6 Kentucky

    When: 3 p.m. Sunday

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Samarie Walker can get her coach leaping into the air and furiously clapping his hands, she knows she's had a pretty good day.

Thursday turned out to be one of those days for the senior forward and her Kentucky teammates, who opened Southeastern Conference play with a dominant 85-63 win at Alabama.

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell was the first one to run on the floor and greet Walker after she got a steal and then assisted seconds later on a Kastine Evans three-pointer at the other end of Foster Auditorium.

"They had to call a timeout after she had gotten up in the passing lane and deflected the ball," Mitchell said, reflecting on his fired-up moment. "She just played terrific."

Walker had her fourth double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds and she was double trouble for Alabama when coupled with Azia Bishop, who had a season-best 16 points and eight rebounds.

"Samarie and Azia were a really good one-two punch today," Mitchell said after Kentucky beat Alabama for the ninth time in the last 10 tries.

Turned out Kentucky had more than two punches.

It also had a third, fourth and fifth punch. UK made a season-high-tying 10 three-pointers, including four from Jennifer O'Neill, who led UK with 17 points in the rout.

It was the most points the junior has scored since going off for a school-record 43 in the Cats' four-overtime win over Baylor on Dec. 6.

Evans, who hit three three-pointers of her own, added 15 points for UK, which hit 48.4 percent from the field and made half of their three-point tries.

If this turns out to be a great year for Kentucky (13-1, 1-0 SEC), the Cats may owe a thank-you note to No. 2 Duke, which handed the Cats their lone loss of the season on Dec. 22.

In that loss, UK scored its fewest points and had its fewest assists of the season.

"It was definitely an eye-opener," Bishop said of the Duke loss.

"It made us focus more on offense, our execution, because we definitely didn't execute in that game," said Walker, who also had four assists and four steals in the victory.

In Thursday's win over Alabama (7-7, 0-1), UK was able to put some of its new offensive fine-tuning to work, getting 20 assists on 31 made baskets, the Cats' most assists since a win at DePaul.

"We've been working extremely hard on our offense since the Duke game," Mitchell said. "We've been working extremely hard on moving the basketball and creating opportunities for each other.

"The players have practiced with real purpose since we left that Duke game."

Kentucky opened Thursday's game with purpose, an 11-2 run, with the first eight coming from Bishop, who averages just 6.1 points.

When Alabama cut the lead to five, it was O'Neill coming off the UK bench to score eight straight and extend the lead again.

The Cats were up 30-16 before the Tide, fueled by a game-high 20 points from senior Shafontaye Myers, cut it to five points again, 34-29.

This time another UK reserve, freshman Linnae Harper, scored six in a row to spark a 12-3 run that stretched the advantage again.

Each time Alabama made a run, Kentucky had an answer, leading by 12 points at the break, 50-38, and extending it to as many as 24 points in the waning minutes.

"That's why they're No. 6 in country," new Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. "They made plays, made shots, did a great job of making the extra pass. That's a great learning lesson for our team: They find the open shooter."

Curry couldn't help but notice that UK's spark came from within.

Well, within the paint, from players like Walker.

"I've watched film a lot and I thought today she played with great energy," Curry said of the Cats' senior. "When she can do that, good things will happen for them."

Mitchell agreed.

"When she came out of the game, I just told her how proud I was of her," Mitchell said of Walker. "She really, really played hard today, didn't let anything bother her or affect her. She's so key to us and we need her to play like that."


Next game

Florida at No. 6 Kentucky

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

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

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