Alabama stuns UK women 57-55

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2014 

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There may be no room left on Kentucky's drawing board when the Cats go back to it on Friday.

Ninth-ranked UK struggled on both ends of the floor, scoring a season-low in points and suffering its worst loss of the season 57-55 to Alabama on Thursday night.

SEE PHOTOS FROM THURSDAY'S GAME

To add insult to injury, the same Crimson Tide that fell to UK by more than 20 points three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, was playing without its leading scorer and senior leader at Memorial Coliseum.

But Alabama may have found a new go-to player in junior Daisha Simmons, who scored 21 points, including the go-ahead layup with three seconds to go.

It was a huge win for the Tide, who have won just four Southeastern Conference games in the past three seasons, and have been settling in with a new head coach.

"A lot of tears," is how Coach Kristy Curry described her victorious post-game locker room. "They've worked so hard. ... Just happy for our kids, it's definitely a step in the right direction."

For Kentucky, it was a locker room full of what-ifs and what-happeneds.

"Clearly we're struggling right now and we need to find some way to right the ship and get back headed in the right direction," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We need to get that way fast."

After a listless first half that ended in a 27-27 draw, Kentucky looked like it had righted the ship, getting 10 straight points from Samarie Walker, who missed all but six minutes of the first half with foul trouble.

UK's only first half production came from Bria Goss, who scored 12 of her 14 points, including 10 of the Cats' final 14 points in the first half.

Walker's spree gave UK what seemed like a semi-comfortable lead, 39-31, with 14:33 to go. Alabama answered with a 16-2 run. That spree was accompanied by a UK drought that included one made basket in eight minutes.

Kentucky, which came into the game leading the league in scoring at 88.8 points a game, struggled to break 50.

A few quick baskets got UK right back in it, cutting the Alabama lead to one point 52-51 on a Walker 18-footer. The senior finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.

But Alabama's Sharin Rivers hit a massive three-pointer from the left corner with 3:49 to play to end the Cats' run.

Jennifer O'Neill made four straight free throws to even the score at 55-55 with 15 seconds to go, but Kentucky couldn't get a stop on defense as Simmons sliced through the lane to score a layup on the left side with three seconds to go.

"We were really fortunate to make a few plays down the stretch," Curry said. "I loved the way our kids stuck together."

Kastine Evans' heave at halfcourt clanged off the back of the rim to end the game and give Alabama its first win in Lexington since 2002.

Goss and Walker aside, Kentucky made just nine of its 40 shot attempts, including going 0-for-11 from three-point range.

The Cats have a lot to figure out down the stretch, which includes five ranked teams in the final 10 games as well as road games at Georgia and at Florida, who already knocked off the Cats in Lexington.

Might it be time to wipe that drawing board clean and start over again?

"I just think the team has such great expectations on it, and they are just not handling it really well right now," Mitchell said. "I am not doing a good job of helping them handle it."

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

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