UK Women's Basketball

UK women run away from Spartans in 2nd half

LOUISVILLE — Matthew Mitchell was a self-described "basket case" before Kentucky's NCAA Tournament game against Michigan State.

The UK coach knew his star Victoria Dunlap was receiving IV fluids before the game because she'd been sick all day.

The coach was scared that under the bright lights of Freedom Hall with a trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on the line, his UK team might wilt under pressure.

That didn't happen.

Instead fourth-seeded Kentucky used its fast-paced style and its pressuring defense to make its way to Kansas City with a 70-52 win over a much bigger Michigan State team on Monday night.

"Everybody played with confidence tonight," Mitchell said. "I told them I was scared this would be the last game we would play together. ... They played remarkably confident tonight for this situation. I was very impressed with that."

In a season full of firsts and high-water marks for Kentucky, the Cats reached another on Monday: a trip to the final 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Behind Victoria Dunlap's 21 points and a giant 24-6 run early in the second half, UK pulled ahead. The 18-point margin of victory was the largest in the school's tournament history.

It's the first time the Cats have advanced out of the second round since the field went to 64 teams in the 1982-83 season.

UK will play the winner of Tuesday's game between top-seeded Nebraska and No. 8 seed UCLA on Sunday in the Kansas City Regional.

Dunlap, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, got her points, but it was a team effort all around with seven different players scoring six points or more in the victory.

"We all did it together," said Keyla Snowden, who had 10 points for Kentucky

Lydia Watkins added nine points and Amani Franklin and A'dia Mathies eight points apiece. Seven different Cats grabbed at least three rebounds against the much taller Michigan State team, which was outrebounded 40-37.

UK may be small, but at times it pushed around the Spartans' players.

"That's the most physical team I've played in three years at Michigan State," Coach Suzy Merchant said of UK.

Michigan State (23-10), which advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, trailed 35-31 at the half before cutting the Cats' lead to 37-35 with 17:10 to play in the game.

That's when UK (27-7) responded with the big run to blow the game open and take a commanding 61-41 lead in Freedom Hall.

"When we were able to get it rolling in transition, I felt like it was a pretty good sign for us," Mitchell said. "We need to push this thing as far as we can go."

As Kentucky pushed the tempo, Michigan State struggled to keep up.

"They get you to play a little bit faster than what you want to," Merchant said. "There was a period of time I thought we were handling it, then we got real fatigued and melted down a little bit."

Forward Lykendra Johnson agreed.

"They just outran us up and down the floor and it wore us down," she said.

It was the Cats' first win over a Big Ten opponent in eight straight tries.

Kentucky, which made its first five shots of the game, was up 35-31 at the half behind 11 points from Dunlap, who got most of her points on drives around the bigger Michigan State defenders.

"She just kept attacking our post players and she never stopped," MSU's Lykendra Johnson said of Dunlap. "She had the mentality of big person, a 6-foot-8 person. She couldn't be stopped out there."

The Cats struggled from three-point range early on, missing their first four before Rebecca Gray hit one with 47 seconds to go in the first half to give UK a lift going into the locker room.

Kentucky scored eight unanswered after Jasmine Thomas' 15-footer with 6:36 to go in the first half. The Cats' defense clamped down after that, holding the Spartans to just one field goal in the last 10:20 of the first half.

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