It had been 50 days since Kentucky was able to come together on its home floor and sing the fight song after a win.
Fifty long, confounding days for the Cats, who had lost 10 of their 11 games since then.
There was a clear sense of relief when that victory came in a breakthrough 79-54 win over Alabama on Thursday night that saw the Cats shoot a season-best 64.7 percent and outscore the Crimson Tide 25-5 in the decisive fourth quarter.
The fight song was a little louder, and most of the 4,957 at Memorial Coliseum stuck around to join in the chorus.
“There was some real joy there from the players because it’s been a tough road,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “And there’s a tough road ahead.”
But for at least one night, Kentucky was going to sing and do a little happy dance that things started to look the way they imagine when they take shots in practice.
Those same shots hadn’t been falling in actual games, and it has been a frustrating go for UK.
“During the bye week, we really had to try and adjust our attitude and get out of the doldrums,” Mitchell said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. I was overjoyed for them because we sure have worked hard to earn that victory.”
Taylor Murray starred, becoming the first player in UK women’s basketball history to manage 20 points and 10 assists in a Southeastern Conference game.
The junior guard added three rebounds, three steals and just one turnover in 38 minutes for the Cats (10-11, 2-5).
“It feels good,” the soft-spoken Murray said after the victory, UK’s fifth in a row over the Crimson Tide. “We’ve been working really hard and to see it pay off tonight is really a good feeling.”
Murray had plenty of help, with three others scoring in double digits, including 16 points and one steal from fellow junior Maci Morris.
For the second straight game, the Cats got major production from freshman forwards Dorie Harrison and KeKe McKinney. Harrison had a career-high 15 points and added five rebounds. McKinney chipped in 12 points, matching her career best, and five boards.
They were in the core group that made nine straight baskets and scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, when UK made 76.9 percent of its shots and held Alabama to 22.2 percent shooting.
“We were just all on,” said McKinney, who made six of her seven attempts, the lone miss coming on a three-pointer.
Trailing 54-49 going into the fourth quarter, Alabama took too many quick shots and gave up too many easy transition points, Coach Kristy Curry said.
Kentucky “had a great sense of urgency and desperation about them tonight that Alabama couldn’t match,” she said.
The Cats were desperate to get a win, to see something good come from their hard work.
Kentucky will try to earn a win and a chance to sing the fight song on the road at Arkansas on Monday night. The Hogs (11-10, 2-6) struggled against No. 9 South Carolina, falling 90-42 on Thursday night.
Mitchell said: “Just really happy they could see some of the fruits of their labor. They’ve been working really, really hard and we need to be able to build on this one.”
Kentucky at Arkansas
7 p.m. Monday (SEC Network)