At times Sunday, it was like a game of one-on-one back at the Lexington Catholic gym, only with eight other players on the floor. In this case, college players. At Memorial Coliseum.
Natalie Novosel scored Notre Dame's first seven points to give the Irish an early lead. Late in the first half, Keyla Snowden scored five straight points, including Kentucky's first three-pointer.
Snowden nailed two more threes in the first part of the second half, but then Novosel rallied with seven straight points to cut the Kentucky lead to three with 10:43 left.
Snowden stepped up and buried a three over the Notre Dame zone to punch Kentucky back up by six with 10:25 left. But Novosel came right back with a rebound basket to chop the UK advantage to one point with 8:30 left.
Thing was, even though Novosel ended up with a career-high 21 points, Notre Dame never got closer.
"I would rather have had zero points and won the game," the former Lexington Catholic standout said afterward.
Snowden scored 17.
"But honestly," said Notre Dame's Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw, "I really thought that 4 won the game for them."
That No. 4 would be Snowden, herself a former Lexington Catholic standout.
"I think UK won the game for UK," said Snowden.
Yes, UK won the game, the ninth-ranked Cats beating the No. 12 Irish 81-76 before a "Pack the House" crowd of 6,794 at Memorial Coliseum.
In the past, whenever UK played one of these hyped-up, make-a-difference games, the results on the scoreboard often left a lot to be desired. That was in the past. That was before Victoria Dunlap (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Bernisha Pinkett (17 points, including 10 in the first half) and a deep bench of others.
"This was a huge win for us," said Matthew Mitchell, the UK coach.
Mitchell had tried to sign Novosel, too, after she helped lead Lexington Catholic to a pair of state titles. But the 5-foot-11 junior signed on at South Bend, where she appears to be working her way into stardom.
In a double-overtime loss to UCLA on Thursday, Novosel scored a career-high 19 points. She bettered that Sunday, to go along with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in front of a crowd that included a sizable Lexington Catholic cheering section.
"I was excited to play in front of my hometown, and I just went at it," said Novosel.
Snowden was happy to be back on the floor. A sprained knee caused her to miss the Cats' road win at Miami of Ohio last Sunday.
"It felt good to be back out there," said Snowden. "It felt good to get hot, for once. I'm a shooter and that's what I bring to the team. It felt good to help my teammates in the second half and to hit shots."
The Cats had clanged their first 11 threes before Snowden broke the ice. She wound up making five of 12 from beyond the arc.
"I thought the threes that she hit were unforgivable defensively for us," McGraw said. "They were huge, huge shots. I really thought if we could have guarded her, we could have won the game."
Ah, but an Irsh win would have given Snowden's old teammate bragging rights.
"It was fun, just seeing a familiar face from high school," Snowden said. "We've played together since we were younger. She's definitely a great player, and she's developed her game really well."
They both have. And who knows, maybe they will duel again — before the scheduled return game next year at South Bend — in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think," said Novosel, "we're going to be able to use (this game) to our advantage, and learn from it."
Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.