UK Women's Basketball

John Clay: UK women have endgame figured out

Henderson, right, was congratulated by teammates after making the game-winning shot against Louisiana State.
Kentucky's Brittany Henderson, right, was congratulated by teammates after making the game-winning shot against Louisiana State.

So when it comes to this close-game thing, maybe John Calipari needs to seek out Matthew Mitchell for advice.

Or maybe Cal just needs an A'dia Mathies.

By that, we mean a sophomore who can create.

By all this, we are kidding, of course. It's just that it's too easy to resist, comparing the Kentucky men's recent array of white-knuckle losses, including that frustrating 81-77 setback at Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym on Saturday, with the Kentucky women's messy but pulse-pounding 49-47 win over LSU in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.

It also begs the question: Does the difference in these war of wills in the waning minutes depend on superior skill, or just blind luck?

For instance, the Kentucky men are 0-4 in SEC games decided by five points or less. All four of those heartbreak hotel check-ins have come on the road.

In fact, if you look at the SEC thus far, 20 games have been decided by five points or less. The home team has won 12.

The Kentucky women were at home on Sunday, before a raucous, pink-tinted crowd that practically filled the Coliseum to its storied gills for the "Think Pink" game to aid the fight against breast cancer.

"The crowd was unbelievable," said Mitchell afterward. "I don't know how much they enjoyed watching it, but they really helped us."

After all, Kentucky shot all of 32.1 percent from the floor. LSU shot 29.5. There were 41 turnovers between the two teams, 25 committed by the Tigers.

Van Chancellor, LSU's veteran coach, lamented that he had used a press offense called "Kentucky" — "Joe B. Hall gave it to me," he said — with some success until the final four minutes, when he thought his team free-lanced too much and lost control.

The coach's lament brings us to another important difference in this close-game comparison. On Saturday in Nashville, the Kentucky men could not get stops at the end. The black-and-gold of Vanderbilt scored on six of its last eight possessions, as Calipari complained afterward about his players leaving men open.

"Why would you do that?" asked Cal in exasperation.

Sunday, after the purple-and-gold of LSU had taken a 47-46 lead on two free throws with 3:30 remaining, the Kentucky women held the Lady Tigers scoreless the rest of the way.

"We got a great stop," said Mitchell of the visitors' final possession.

On the men's side, Big Blue Nation just wants this year's heartache to stop. Ah, but Calipari has a team led by three freshmen. Mitchell has a team led by a senior in Victoria Dunlap, and a sophomore in Mathies, who scored 11 points in the second half — huge in such a low-scoring game — and made the penetrate-and-pass to teammate Brittany Henderson with 1.1 seconds left for the game-winner.

No wonder that when it was announced this week that Kentucky's men had a record four signees named McDonald's All-Americans, a UK fan tweeted, "I don't want McDonald's All-Americans. I want sophomores."

Of course, it's not like Mitchell is blessed with an assortment of the aged. Dunlap and Carly Morrow are his only two seniors.

And to be sure, this had not been a good week for the occupants on the other side of the Joe Craft Center. After Monday night's nationally televised loss to Tennessee, Mitchell's club had suffered an affair to forget at South Carolina on Thursday.

Plus, though his team did have a two-point loss to Georgia, and a one-point win over Florida on its résumé, Mitchell said it had been awhile since it faced the sort of heart-pounding last-second situation it faced on Sunday.

"So it was good to win it," said the women's coach.

Now, it's the men's turn.

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