UK women fend off Vandy on Senior Day, 65-63

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 2, 2014 

  • NEXT GAME

    Women's SEC Tournament

    When: 2:30 p.m. Friday

    Where: Duluth, Ga.

    Opponent: To be determined

In a game that was eerily reminiscent of its season, Kentucky dominated for a stretch, fell apart for a few minutes and then hung on at the end to top Vanderbilt 65-63 Sunday.

It was a fitting end to a regular season that saw No. 12 UK rise to fifth in the nation and then stumble early in conference play.

Coaches and players didn't seem to care how they got there, they were just happy to get a win on Senior Day at Memorial Coliseum.

"Really, really proud of the team," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Certainly we didn't play the cleanest game in the history of the coliseum. There were some tough times in it, but to get the victory means everything."

Kentucky likely wouldn't have gotten the victory, its seventh in a row over the Commodores, without the play of one senior in particular: DeNesha Stallworth.

The 6-foot-3 forward used her big advantage over a small, speedy Vandy team to score 18 points and lead Kentucky, which started Southeastern Conference play at 5-5 but ended it as the No. 4 seed in the league tournament, which starts on Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.

The Cats (22-7, 10-6 SEC) earned what once seemed like the unlikely double bye.

Kentucky went up 17 points midway through the first half, allowed a late 18-2 run later in the half and surrendered its big lead midway through the second half before winning out.

But nothing was settled until the buzzer.

Even one of the nation's most consistent free throw shooters, UK's Bria Goss, gave them a scare with 13 seconds left to play when her second free throw that would've provided a three-point cushion went in and out of the basket.

It left the window open for the Commodores to win or tie it, but their runner in the lane didn't fall.

"I was really proud of the team for staying steady enough to win because we never got it to a real comfortable situation," Mitchell said. "It was tough all the way down to the end."

Goss finished with 12 points. Five other players added five points or more in the victory, UK's fifth in six games.

Midway through the second half, buoyed by Christina Foggie who finished with 23 points, Vanderbilt grabbed a 51-49 lead on Jasmine Lister's make in the lane and foul shot. She added 15 points and seven assists for the Commodores (18-11, 7-9).

UK responded with a 16-5 run to reclaim the lead for good on Janee Thompson's jumper at the elbow.

"That's not a scared play," Mitchell said. "That was a winning play."

It didn't seem like the game would ever be that close early on as UK dominated Vandy inside, grabbing a 32-15 lead.

But when UK forwards Samarie Walker and Stallworth went to the bench in foul trouble, the Commodores took advantage, holding the Cats six minutes without a point while going on an 18-2 run, trailing just 36-33 at the half.

"It became such a struggle to score as often times happens, you let your offense affect your defense and you just cannot do that," Mitchell said. "We played an incredible 14 or 15 minutes there in the first half and then we allowed Vanderbilt to execute some things."

That surge was something Melanie Balcomb was happy to see from her team, which has struggled down the stretch winning just two of its final 10 games.

"We were down 17 points and fought back in a very tough environment against the No. 12 team in the country," the Vanderbilt coach said. "My heart is not broken. It gives us a lot of hope for next week."

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

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