DULUTH, Ga. — Victoria Dunlap didn't feel like the conference's Player of the Year last weekend.
After missing 13 of her 15 shots and finishing with four points at Auburn on Sunday, Dunlap felt like the opposite of Player of the Year, whatever that is.
"I let my team down completely," Dunlap said of her worst statistical performance since Feb. 19 of the previous season.
Two days after the Auburn loss, Dunlap was honored with the Southeastern Conference's top player award.
Three days after that, in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in the Gwinnett Center, the junior showed why, scoring 24 points in the No. 19 Cats' 65-54 win over that same Auburn team.
"She played like a Player of the Year at a very, very important time for our basketball team," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She did a great, great job. I'm really, really proud."
At the most pivotal point of the game, Dunlap didn't let her team down again.
Next game: Kentucky vs. Miss. State
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Duluth, Ga.
TV, radio: ESPNU, WLAP-AM 630
She picked them up.
UK trailed the Tigers 19-14 with nine minutes to go in the first half. Dunlap scored seven points in an 18-6 run that put the Cats up 32-25 at halftime.
"I told my teammates before the game that I wouldn't let them down again," Dunlap said. "I didn't really care if it was scoring 20 points or whatever. I just wanted to go out there and be a leader."
Lead is what Dunlap did, both the winning and losing coaches said afterward.
She scored 24 points — 18 in the first half — to go with six rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists to help send UK to the semifinals.
"They definitely lit a fire under her," Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said of Dunlap. "She played like the SEC Player of the Year. I don't think she did that when she came to Auburn. ... She did not attack the basket like she did today. She did not play as aggressively as she did today."
It wasn't just Dunlap that was aggressive, either.
UK's defense forced the Tigers into 20 turnovers, which the Cats converted into 22 points. UK outscored Auburn 14-0 in fast-break points.
"They picked it up to a whole other level and we weren't able to handle it as well as we should have," Tigers guard Alli Smalley said.
Kentucky scored the first seven points of the second half to quickly double its lead to 14 points.
"Once we get up, we need to stay up," point guard Amber Smith said. "It definitely gave us some energy."
Auburn responded by scoring 11 consecutive points to cut the Cats' lead to 39-36.
That's when UK's other player with a new title in front of her name took over.
After the Cats had gone nearly five minutes without a bucket, SEC Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies tossed in a three-pointer from the left wing. She scored 11 of her 15 points in the second half. The reigning Kentucky Miss Basketball also added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
The victory was important because it helped UK (24-6) end its first losing streak of the season. The Cats limped into the tournament off back-to-back losses at Tennessee and Auburn.
"We knew we had to turn it around because we didn't want to keep getting down on ourselves," Mathies said.
It wasn't UK's best game of the season, but it was an important win to help the Cats re-establish their identity as a strong defensive team with big goals.
"As a team, we were playing together and having that mind-set of being a team and not worrying about who did this or who did that, but who could do what for each other," Dunlap said.
"It was not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly a good performance."