UK women get their confidence back in 80-69 victory over Missouri

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 11, 2014 

  • Sunday

    Kentucky at Auburn

    When: 2 p.m.

    TV: SEC Network

The talk all week was about how the sky wasn't falling for Kentucky.

But Coach Matthew Mitchell admitted Sunday that the sky definitely lacked its blue hue after those back-to-back losses.

Tack on that the ninth-rated Cats learned they'd be without injured senior leader Kastine Evans for Sunday's game against Missouri and the coach was on edge.

"You have no idea how nervous I was before the game, just with where our psyche was after the two losses," he said.

Early on, Kentucky did little to save Mitchell's fingernails.

Bad offensive production and tentative play had UK trailing by as many as eight points late in the first half. Mitchell called a timeout.

"We were playing like we were scared to lose," he said. "You have a couple of bad games and now suddenly everybody thinks they're a bad player."

After that chat, a Kentucky team that discussed playing together before the game found a way to walk the talk and shuffled past Missouri 80-69 in Memorial Coliseum to snap the losing streak.

"I'm as happy as about this win as I've been in a long time," Mitchell said. "We needed it bad."

The change of attitude after that timeout, with UK trailing 24-16, was the turning point in the game.

"Missouri stood in the paint — five people in the paint — and somebody at some point was going to have to hit a 15-footer," Mitchell said he told his team. "Somebody at some point had to quit worry about being scared of losing the game and I just tried to wake them up the best that I could."

He specifically challenged Janee Thompson, whom he saw hanging her head after a couple of early missed shots. On the next possession she hit a 15-footer that started a 19-4 Kentucky run in which she scored seven points.

"We came into this game kind of struggling," said Thompson, one of five UK starters to finish in double figures. She had 16 points and six assists. "We just needed something. In that timeout he told us to just let everything go, let loose and play and be confident. When he said that, it really picked me up."

Kentucky (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) started playing like a confident team again even without Evans and with reserve Bernisha Pinkett playing limited minutes with her own leg injury.

With those players out, Mitchell said he quietly hoped before the game that Bria Goss could get going.

The junior guard had a career night (23 points) one game before conference play opened and then went flat, scoring just 15 points in the next three games combined.

Goss responded to her own personal slump in a big way on Sunday, scoring 20 points (including making all 10 of her free-throw attempts), grabbing eight rebounds and taking two charges, including a final one that ended the night for the Tigers' leading scorer.

It was Goss's second charge of the game and her 21st of the season, one more than she had all of last season with nearly an entire slate of league games to go.

The Tigers' Bri Kulas had a season high 27 points and 14 rebounds before that player control foul with 2:15 to go.

Stopping Kulas became Goss's job as well in the second half and the Missouri senior was held to just seven points after scoring 20 of the Tigers' 31 in the first half.

"On a day when we needed a big effort and we needed all hands on deck, she was able to get it done on both ends of the court and that is big time," Mitchell said of Goss.

But Goss, who scored UK's final 10 points of the first half, was quick to credit her teammates.

"Before the game, I brought the team together and said we're down another player so everybody has to step up," she said. "Not just me, I knew my teammates would step up to the challenge as well."

They did.

Samarie Walker had her sixth double-double of the season with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Jennifer O'Neill and DeNesha Stallworth, still coming back from knee surgery, added 11 points apiece.

"It was a great team win for all of us and everybody contributed in different ways," Stallworth said. "That's what we'll need later on down the road."

More than anything, Kentucky needed it now.

"Not from the standings or our long-term future, but just for our immediate psyche right now we needed to win," Mitchell said after the victory, the program's 700th overall.

UK shook off a 5-for-19 start from the field and made 21 of its next 50 shots, turning the ball over just 10 times. The Cats scored 28 points off of 17 Missouri (13-4, 2-2) miscues.

Injuries

Evans did not play on Sunday as she battles chronic leg pain that has bothered her for most of her career at UK.

The issue flared up on Thursday night at South Carolina and the senior guard struggled through practices this week. Kentucky is hopeful that resting it this week (including a bye on Thursday) will help fix the issue.

"We don't anticipate this being anything long term," Mitchell said of Evans, who is the Cats' third leading scorer at 11.2 points a game and had started 30 straight games before sitting out this one.

Pinkett, another senior guard, tried to play but was limited to two minutes. Before the game, UK officials said she was suffering from shin splints.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service