UK Women's Basketball

UK women forged their identity in rout against Louisville last season

Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell said last year's win over U of L proved "we were onto something."
Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell said last year's win over U of L proved "we were onto something."

The coaches try to play off rivalry games like they're no big thing.

They mention the import of actual conference games and talk about how these games are really more for the fans.

But sometimes a bitter rival can bring out the best in you.

Just look at last season.

What most thought would be a mediocre Kentucky team turned into a defensive monster and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's final eight.

In many ways, it started with the game against Louisville, which had knocked off the Cats five straight times.

UK had had enough and took it out on the Cardinals to the tune of a 101-67 win, the second-largest in the series' 46-year history.

More important than the final margin was UK's defense in that game. It got 21 steals and forced a point guard-less Louisville into 38 turnovers, the most in Cardinals history.

"That was the first evidence that possibly we were onto something last year because (we) executed so well in that game," Coach Matthew Mitchell said on Friday.

Several players pinpoint the Louisville game as the game when UK started to develop its defensive identity.

But they also said they're well aware that the big loss last season will give the Cardinals (5-3) some extra motivation this time around.

"Most teams would," senior Victoria Dunlap said when asked if she expected Louisville to have a chip on its shoulder. "You don't want to get beat by your rival. ... For us, though, we're not worried about last year."

Louisville will have more than just last year's final score as motivation. This is the Cardinals' "Pack the House" game and as of Friday afternoon, they had sold more than 18,000 tickets for the newly christened KFC Yum Center.

UK hasn't beaten Louisville at Louisville since 1999 and the Cards, who have played two top-five teams closely so far this season, would love to see that streak continue and to get a win over eighth-ranked UK on their tournament résumé.

"It's going to be a challenge for us," Cards Coach Jeff Walz said. "They're a very good team. They're ranked in the top 10 for a reason. We've got to come out and execute our game plan."

Louisville has won two straight games and is led in scoring by Louisville native Monique Reid (15.9 points per game). Its next two top scorers are freshmen who are a part of a class ranked No. 5 in the nation.

UK hopes its defense will be able to frustrate the gem of last season's class, point guard Shoni Schimmel (13 ppg).

The Cats lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-11.6) and are scoring 27.8 points off opponents' miscues.

But Mitchell cautioned that while last season's game was a springboard for last season's Cats, that was still last season.

"Louisville is a totally different team and I think we're a different team," Mitchell said. "We'll find out Sunday where everything shakes out."

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