UK Women's Basketball

UK women get tested in win over Southern Miss

Kentucky's A'dia Mathies shot between Ance Celmina, left, and Jamierra Faulkner. Coach Matthew Mitchell complimented her play.
Kentucky's A'dia Mathies shot between Ance Celmina, left, and Jamierra Faulkner. Coach Matthew Mitchell complimented her play.

A home-floor win in November against a lightly regarded opponent might not generate much excitement.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell was revved up, though, after his 17th-ranked Wildcats held off Southern Mississippi 88-71 Saturday in Memorial Coliseum.

"Good, good win for us. Good game for us," Mitchell said. "I was really happy to get that victory. That was an up-tempo game and I thought Southern Miss really took it to us and provided us some opportunities to really have to play some good basketball to win that game.

"This is a tough stretch we're going through right now, not a lot of time to practice and we just sort of had to figure a way to grind it out. So really, really happy with that win today."

UK (4-0) won for the third time in five days — the first three on a school-record nine-game homestand.

First came a 100-25 rout of Jacksonville State, picked to finish ninth in the Ohio Valley Conference. Then came an 81-47 pasting of Northeastern, picked last in the 12-team Colonial.

Southern Miss (1-2) is No. 9 in the Conference USA pre-season poll.

Yet the Lady Eagles gave UK a scare.

"I think that helps us tremendously," Mitchell said. "It's just a different set of emotions you have to work through. There's probably some nerves over there in some of the kids when it's a tight game, and clearly we hadn't had that yet this year. So I thought we had some fantastic responses at critical times in the game where Southern Miss had some momentum. ... When we have a little more time maybe to practice and get some more reps, it may look a little bit prettier. But right now we just have to get wins, and that was a good win for us."

A'dia Mathies led UK with 20 points, bringing her career total to an even 1,000. The 5-foot-9 junior added five rebounds, six steals and two assists, with no turnovers.

"I'm just fortunate and grateful that I have the opportunity to play here," Mathies said. "... I couldn't do it without my teammates. They do a lot for me, and I do a lot for them."

Amber Smith, who missed last season because of a torn ACL in her left knee, added 17 points, six boards, four assists and three steals.

"I'm feeling pretty good. I'm just trying to get in game shape, help my teammates," Smith said. "I'm just glad we got the win."

Kastine Evans chipped in with 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. Bria Goss had 12 points, a team-high eight rebounds and four assists.

In all, UK had 15 steals and 16 assists. A 31-11 advantage in turnovers translated to a 36-6 gap in points. UK is forcing a staggering 36.5 turnovers a game.

Tanecka Carey, a 5-9 junior guard, led Southern Miss with 22 points and eight rebounds. However, she also had 11 turnovers to one assist.

Sedreka Plummer and Jamierra Faulkner each added 15 points, with Plummer notching eight rebounds and Faulkner handing out seven assists. Niesha Pierce had 11 points and seven rebounds.

The Cats needed turnover-bred points to make up for some poor marksmanship.

UK shot 15-for-51 (29.4 percent) in the first half, 31-for-89 (34.8) for the game. Free throws weren't much better — 3-for-11 (27.3) in the first half, 17-for-31 (54.8) overall.

UK forced five turnovers in the first two minutes, racing to a 12-0 lead.

Southern Miss clawed back and used a 9-0 run to take a 24-19 lead. During that stretch, UK shot 0-for-11 from the field, 0-for-4 at the free-throw line and committed a turnover.

However, an 11-2 flurry to close the half gave UK a 37-33 lead. Mathies had eight of the 11 points with a three-point play, a three-point shot and a steal-and-layup. Maegan Conwright added a three-pointer, her only score of the game.

Southern Miss was still within 52-49 when Carey converted a three-point play with 13:43 left.

UK countered with a 15-2 run for a 67-51 bulge.

The Eagles rallied to within 72-65 with just under five minutes left, but Mathies and Smith ignited an 8-2 spurt to put the game out of reach.

Mathies dished to Azia Bishop for an easy bucket. Smith made a steal and layup, then two free throws. Mathies made a steal and drove through the lane for her 1,000th point.

"She's really playing with great presence, and I thought she played hard today," Mitchell said of Mathies. "Six steals is unbelievable and (she) just made some big plays in the game. But just the way she carried herself today — take the statistics away, her presence on our basketball team is very valuable for us, and for us to be really special this year and be very good, we'll need her to continue that."

■ UK coaches and staff wore orange and black ribbons as a sign of sympathy for Oklahoma State coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, who were killed Thursday in a plane crash. During warmups, UK players wore T-shirts bearing the OSU colors and logo, with "Forever in our hearts" across the front, and "UK Hoops supports Oklahoma State University" on the back.

■ Bernisha Pinkett, on the cover of the game-day program, did not play because she was late for a team meeting Saturday morning. "Bernisha Pinkett's a really good kid and just made a bad mistake this morning," Mitchell said. "She paid for it today and, luckily, we didn't lose and she can learn from it."

■ UK has won 24 games in a row at home against non-conference opponents, dating to the 2008-09 season. ... UK has scored at least 81 points in each game this season. The 71 Southern Miss points is the most surrendered by UK. ... The Cats have forced double-digit turnovers in 86 consecutive games and have made three-pointers in 261 straight games.

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