NASHVILLE — Matthew Mitchell bellowed loudly in the hallway outside the locker room at Memorial Gym.
The guttural yell was in direct response to Kentucky's gut-it-out 82-68 victory at Vanderbilt on Sunday.
"Very pumped," Mitchell said. "Very pumped. ... We got real tough in the second half."
In the final 12 minutes of a back-and-forth game, Kentucky flexed its muscle and went on the attack behind Linnae Harper, who had 14 of her career-high tying 22 points in that final stretch. The sophomore guard also grabbed five rebounds, four on the offensive end, in that span.
Harper sat for five minutes early in the second half with her team clinging to a slim lead. Mitchell was trying to send his guard a message about toughness.
"I didn't have time to get mad at her today," he said. "I really needed her to play. ... She really had a huge second half."
He pointed out that UK had only three offensive rebounds in the first half and it wasn't enough against a Vanderbilt team that had forced Kentucky into an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers in the first half, more than they had in five complete games this season.
All 5 foot, 8 inches of Harper went to work and she finished with five rebounds and three assists in the victory, UK's eighth in a row over Vanderbilt (13-11, 4-7 Southeastern Conference) and third straight in Memorial Gym.
"We couldn't keep Linnae Harper off the boards," Commodores Coach Melanie Balcomb said.
Behind Harper, Kentucky (18-5, 7-3) became more contentious and combative.
"You could just tell that they wanted it and they were more physical than they had been the whole game," said Vandy forward Heather Bowe, who had 12 points and five rebounds. Rebekah Dahlman paced the Commodores with 20 points.
Harper personified Kentucky's second part of the second half to Balcomb, whose team turned the ball over 25 times, its most in league play this season, leading to 29 UK points.
"We didn't stay as aggressive and they got more aggressive and we weren't able to stop them from being who they are," the Vanderbilt coach said.
The Commodores' press bothered Kentucky in the first half, leading to bad decisions and rushed shots.
"They're uncomfortable being attacked; they want to attack you," Balcomb continued. "Thought we did a really good job in our press of attacking them, making them uncomfortable, turning the ball over and I don't think in the second half we attacked them as much."
Makayla Epps, who added 18 points, said better communication and halftime adjustments were the big differences against the Vanderbilt pressure in the second half, when UK turned the ball over just seven times.
Epps was one of the Cats' only weapons in the first half, scoring 13 points.
Kentucky (18-5, 7-3) trailed by as many as seven points midway through the first half and clung to a 32-31 halftime advantage before using a 10-1 surge early in the second half to set the tone.
"The communication in this game was big," Epps said. "We just did some of the little things, especially when we made some adjustments at halftime."
In the second half, UK outrebounded Vanderbilt 24-17 and pushed through with points off turnovers to extend its lead to as many as 16 points.
Jennifer O'Neill added 12 points, five rebounds and five assists and Bria Goss chipped in with 13 points and five rebounds. Freshman forward Alyssa Rice had a career-best nine points in the victory.
"I'm really, really proud of our team today because I thought Vanderbilt played very hard, played with a lot of fight," Mitchell said. "I thought they wanted to win the game and they were extremely prepared. ... This is a very big victory for us."