UK women defeat LSU 63-56

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 2, 2014 

  • Next Game

    Kentucky at Florida

    When: Noon

    Records: UK 17-5 (5-4 SEC); Florida 16-6 (6-3 SEC)

Kentucky was living a nightmare.

A grip-the-side-of-the-bed, wake-up-freezing-in-a-puddle-of-sweat kind of nightmare.

The team that had started the season with such promise, rising to fifth in the nation after a 12-1 start, had seemingly come undone in Southeastern Conference play.

"The only way to stop a nightmare is to wake up," Coach Matthew Mitchell told them.

The No. 13 Cats may have done just that on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum, topping No. 14 Louisiana State 63-56.

"This was one of the top teams in the country and we are not playing particularly well right now," he said after the victory. "To find ourselves and to gut this one out and find a way to win is huge."

The Cats' wake-up call didn't come on the practice floor.

In fact, after the loss at Georgia on Thursday night that saw UK put up its worst shooting performance of the season, Kentucky didn't even practice on Friday.

The players and coaches opted to spend their time in the film room looking at footage and having an honest — sometimes brutally honest — discussion about what had gone wrong.

"We just sat in a room and weren't leaving until we got some things straightened out about how we are going to move forward," Mitchell said. "I am telling you, this is not a physical thing. It is mental."

That meeting may be what saves the season.

On Sunday, Kentucky went back to the thing that has helped it get to three NCAA Tournament Elite Eights in the past four years: defense.

The effort on defense was the one thing the players knew they could control.

"We're going to have off (shooting) nights, but we should never have an off defensive night," said Bria Goss, who had 11 points to lead UK. "We can bring our defense 100 percent of the time."

So the Cats, even though they missed eight shots to open the game and fell in a 6-0 hole, went after LSU (17-5, 6-3 SEC).

"Kentucky was defensively awesome," said LSU's Raigyne Moncrief. "They put pressure on us and spread us out."

After falling behind early, UK made 10 of its next 21 shots, including three straight three-pointers as a part of a 13-0 run. Kentucky made as many three-pointers (six) as LSU had baskets in the first half.

But perhaps more importantly, UK held the Tigers without a field goal for nine minutes while it went on that run. Trailing 32-23 at the half, LSU shot just 23.1 percent from the field. Eleven of its 23 points came on free throws.

For the game, UK scored 25 points off of 18 Tigers miscues. It was the most points off turnovers for the Cats in nearly three weeks.

"How we did things was going to be more important than what we did today," Mitchell argued. "What you can see that shine through is those hustle plays and those effort plays."

And the defense fueled the offense, which didn't have just one player carrying the load. Instead it was seven different Wildcats scoring six or more points, paced by Goss's 11 points.

Jennifer O'Neill had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.

DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker both added eight points and chipped in more with 15 rebounds between them.

Makayla Epps came off the UK bench and scored seven points — all in a row — at a critical point when LSU was making its run behind a huge second half from Moncrief, who led all scorers with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Epps had scored a grand total of two points in the previous eight SEC games.

Getting a big team win was huge for Kentucky if it wants to continue to turn the corner, Mitchell said.

"Nobody is going to put a cape on and be Superwoman and come through and save us," he said. "Everybody has to do their part and I think it is a great, great team victory today."

But one win doesn't mean everything's fixed, Mitchell cautioned.

Kentucky is far from out of the woods.

The team is still "in the woods right now trying to get through some briar patches," Mitchell said. "Get some machetes out and hack our way through."

That description sounded like the makings of a nightmare, from which he hopes UK has finally woken up.

■ Senior guard Bernisha Pinkett, who missed the Georgia game after being taken to the hospital Wednesday with symptoms associated with her sickle cell trait, was cleared to play by team physicians. Pinkett did warm up with her teammates, but did not play in the game.

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

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