MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Kentucky's first road trip of the season turned out to be quite the adventure.
The No. 13 Cats saw a 20-point lead disintegrate to three points and then they dodged overtime when Central Michigan's game-tying three-pointer with three seconds to play clanged off the rim.
Whether the win was by 50 points or three, Matthew Mitchell was just happy to walk away from Central Michigan the winner, 71-68, on Saturday night.
"Great win for us," Mitchell said. "Proud of our team for hanging in there and finding a way. We knew this was going to be a really tough game."
It was Kentucky's fourth game in eight days and it was at a rowdy gym that got even rowdier when the Cats became flummoxed by multiple defenses in the second half.
A 2-1-2 extended, a 2-3, a trapping defense.
Central Michigan threw all of it and more at Kentucky (4-0).
"We started slowing down and thinking too much," Mitchell said.
Makayla Epps, one of three UK players in double figures, confirmed Mitchell's suspicion.
The sophomore guard said she looked up as she was coming down the court "and was like, 'Whoa.'"
The changing defenses definitely slowed the Cats, who were outscored 40-24 and outrebounded 26-15 in the second half.
Luckily for Kentucky it built a big lead in the first half. The Cats raced out to a 9-2 start.
Jessica Green, who missed the three-pointer at the end, scored Central Michigan's first eight points and kept the Chippewas in it early. She finished with 16 points.
A Kyvin Goodin-Rogers three-pointer with 11:25 before halftime expanded the Cats' lead to 22-10 before the Chips responded with an 11-4 run to cut Kentucky's lead to five points 26-21 with 7:46 to go.
That run seemed to fuel UK, which held the Chippewas (1-1) to just one field goal the rest of the half as the Cats went on a 21-8 run of their own to end the half with a 47-28 lead.
Epps had eight points in that spree and matched Jennifer O'Neill with 10 points at the break for UK, which shot 42.2 percent from the field.
For the game, O'Neill led all scorers with 19 points, including hitting five three-pointers in the victory. Epps added 12 points, four rebounds and four assists and Linnae Harper 10 points and six boards.
"I knew you can't win a game in the first half, but you can lose it and I thought that's what happened to us today," Central Michigan Coach Sue Guevara said.
Kentucky's big lead necessitated the defensive switch in the second half and Guevara's plan worked perfectly, holding the Cats to just one field goal in a seven-minute span.
"We felt like they really hadn't practiced against it much," Cassandra Breen said of the zone. "It bothered them, you could see it on their faces."
As UK went cold, the Chips got hot, including two straight three-pointers by Breen in the right corner that pulled Central Michigan within eight points, 60-52, with 10 minutes to go. She had 11 points for Central Michigan.
The Cats' lack of offensive firepower also caused some defensive lapses, Mitchell said.
"Boards were a disaster for us in the second half," he said. "It was a very poor defensive effort for a large chunk of the second half and that got us in trouble."
In the end, Mitchell is confident pulling out a win like this one will do wonders for his team.
"This victory will be very, very good for us down the line."