The first seven minutes of the game, Kentucky looked unstoppable.
In the last seven minutes of the game, Kentucky looked unstoppable.
It was the minutes in between that had Coach Matthew Mitchell scratching his head Wednesday night.
"We don't have a good, mature basketball team yet and we need to work on that desperately," he said. "We had a chance to drop the hammer. I'm sort of stunned that we were able to turn it back around."
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Behind serious pressure defense in the waning minutes of the game, No. 11 Kentucky was able to overcome an 11-point deficit and top Middle Tennessee 81-72 to earn its 24th straight win in Memorial Coliseum.
With seven minutes to play, former Paul Laurence Dunbar star Ebony Rowe gave the Raiders a 10-point edge on a shot in the lane.
"It looked like we were sort of dead in the water," Mitchell said.
But Kentucky's life vest was its defense, which forced Middle Tennessee into 27 turnovers, scoring 33 points off of them.
After the Raiders grabbed the big lead, UK used a 27-8 run fueled by defense to get the lead back with 4:30 to play on a Carly Morrow floater in the lane.
"We started hustling," Mitchell said. "The times we had success, you could see us hustling and the times that we didn't have success and were struggling, we were low energy."
In the final seven minutes, Kentucky forced nine turnovers and held MTSU to just one field goal for more than six minutes.
"We panicked," Middle Coach Rick Insell said. "But you've got to give them credit. ... Kentucky's the best team we've played. They're even better than (No. 4) Xavier. Xavier's got great talent and great size, but they don't play as hard as Kentucky."
UK opened its big spree with a 19-2 run in which Victoria Dunlap had nine of her 13 points. "It was a little frustrating, I'll admit," said Rowe, who led everyone with a career-high tying 25 points and 11 rebounds. "We — myself included — we lost our composure."
Keyla Snowden led UK with 16 points, including four three-pointers. A'dia Mathies added 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Morrow finished with 10 points.
The Cats will be right back at it Thursday when they play host to Tennessee-Martin at 6 in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky seemed in control early, grabbing a 13-point lead on a Maegan Conwright three-pointer with 9:56 to go in the first half. The freshman's three capped a 7-for-7 trey display for the Cats (10-1).
"We started to get comfortable and we dug ourselves a hole," Snowden said.
Dunlap got in foul trouble and sat the final eight minutes of the half. Her first-half stat line was not her best. She had zero points, zero rebounds and four turnovers.
With the senior star out, UK sputtered on both ends of the floor, allowing the Blue Raiders to get within two points with a 12-1 rally before a Sarah Beth Barnette three-pointer ended the drought.
Barnette finished with a career-high nine points, including three three-pointers, her first makes from long range this season.
The Raiders' momentum carried over into the second half as they scored 17 straight (over two halves) to grab a 52-41 lead with 15:35 to play.
UK went nearly seven minutes without scoring.
Rowe, who recorded her third straight double-double, was the Raiders' (9-4) only offense in the final seven minutes of the game.
"She's special," Insell said of the freshman forward. "She's been special all year for us. We're very fortunate to have her. ... I'm awful proud of her."
It was a family affair for Insell, since his son Matt is a UK assistant coach. But the elder Insell made it clear about his loyalties. "When the game started, I can assure you I didn't have any love toward my son," Rick Insell said. "I guess I'd have looked for him if something happened to the building, but I'd probably have gotten my girls out first."