BATON ROUGE, La. — With history standing in the way for so long, you couldn't blame the Kentucky women's basketball team if it started to wonder Thursday night just what it had to do against 18th-ranked Louisiana State.
Just in time — and for the first time at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center since 1995 — the Wildcats figured those answers out on the way to a 71-62 victory.
Kentucky ended a 16-game losing streak to LSU that dated back to the 1999 SEC Tournament. The victory was the Wildcats' first in Baton Rouge since 1995, ending an eight-game skid.
More important than turning history around, though, UK (17-3, 5-2 SEC) claimed a league road victory, with Victoria Dunlap (24 points, nine rebounds), Crystal Riley (11 points off the bench) and A'dia Mathies (nine points, eight rebounds, four assists) leading the way.
"This is a huge win for our team," Wildcats Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We had not had much success on the road in the league and, to get to the NCAA Tournament, you have to have wins and getting them on the road is really big."
Asked moments later about ending the streak against LSU, Mitchell said, "Real nice. But we needed this (win) for this particular team. This particular team had never lost 15 or 16 in a row. We needed to get a one-game winning streak with this team."
That was accomplished because the Wildcats finally seized momentum n the second half with the help of a 2-3 zone defense.
UK set the pace in the first half and made the defensive-minded Lady Tigers (14-5, 3-4) run the floor more than they wanted to.
Yet when halftime arrived, Kentucky looked up and saw the score deadlocked 36-36 after Allison Hightower's leaning jump shot from the lane with 1.8 seconds to go.
"We talked at halftime about how the first 16 minutes we had done a great job and that's how good LSU is — in 4 minutes, 16 minutes of hard work could go away," Mitchell said. "We just wanted to try to focus as well as we could on 4-minute segments in the second half. The thing whole night was we tried to outwork LSU. We played with a lot of heart and energy."
Things got worse when LSU grabbed a three-point lead midway through the second half and seemed to have momentum.
Down 57-54, the Wildcats finally came to life with an 11-0 blast, culminating with Mathies' three-pointer from the left corner. That gave UK a 65-57 lead, which loomed large because the Lady Tigers couldn't hit a shot.
Against the zone, LSU made only two field goals in the last 7½ minutes and never got closer than five points.
"In the second half we went back to defending fundamentally," said Riley a transfer from LSU. "We talked about all week being energetic on defense. We knew what we had to do was focus and play hard on defense."
Added Lady Tigers coach Van Chancellor, who was tagged with a technical foul late in the game, "That (zone) shouldn't have been a major problem for us. They couldn't guard us in the man, all we had to do was feed the high post and we just didn't."