LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Matthew Mitchell era began Thursday in Memorial Coliseum in front of 2,119 fans as the Wildcats used an in-your-face pressure defense to force 30 turnovers and defeat NCAA Division II foe Kentucky Wesleyan 83-61 in their first exhibition game.
Four Wildcats scored in double-figures led by senior guard Samantha Mahoney’s (Detroit) 13 points. Sophomore guard Amani Franklin (Decatur, Ga.) came off the bench for 11 points and junior Carly Ormerod (Louisville, Ky.) and freshman Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) added 10 apiece. Dunlap also posted a game-high 12 rebounds for her first career double-double.
“I thought it was great to play tonight and great to get out and play in a game atmosphere with officials and the crowd and everybody there,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I thought our players tried to play with the type of intensity that we had been working on in practice.”
Eleven of the 12 Wildcats that saw action scored at least one point. Jenn’e Jackson (Radcliff, Ky.) who started for injured center Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.) charted nine points and four rebounds in the winning effort and Lexington native Chelsea Chowning came off the bench for nine points and seven boards. Following Chowning in the scoring column was freshman shooting guard Carly Morrow (Chattanooga, Tenn.) who hit 3-of-5 from the field, including two three-pointers, for eight points. Senior Chanté Bowman (Detroit), red-shirt junior Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) and sophomore Lydia Watkins (Hopkinsville, Ky.) scored four points each and sophomore Brittany Edelen (Springfield, Ky.) added one point.
The first half was the tale of the tape as Kentucky bolted out of the gate to start the game. The Wildcats jumped out to a 19-9 lead in the first 10 minutes with back-to-back three-pointers from Mahoney and scoring from five different Wildcats.
“The first half was a good half for us and I am not sure we are a finished product yet, but we will get there,” Mitchell said. “The intensity was there from the standpoint that the players wanted to try to play hard for us. I was proud of that and we need to get better in a lot of areas and I am confident that we will.”
UK hit 6-of-12 from beyond the arc and shot 40.5 percent from the floor. The Wildcats also forced 18 turnovers alone in the opening stanza and scored 21 points off those miscues. The Cats led by as many as 27 points (44-17) heading into halftime and 22 points came from the Wildcat bench. UK held the Panthers to just 26.1 percent shooting (6-of-23) and won the battle on the boards 26-20.
“We were pleased with our defense,” Mitchell said. “Anytime you force a team into 30 turnovers, you are playing with the type of aggressiveness that we are trying to instill in our players - a type of intensity and aggressiveness that teams do not want to play against. I thought there were several times in the game where Kentucky Wesleyan just kind of tossed the ball out of bounds and that was a direct result of our pressure. I don’t think we are used to playing that for 40 minutes, so that is a work in progress.”
In the second half, Kentucky built a 30-point cushion (54-24) before the Panthers began to whittle the lead down. Kentucky Wesleyan went on a 12-0 run at the 15:04 mark, pulling to within 18 points (54-36). The Cats responded and rebuilt a 25-point lead before posting the final 83-61 win. UK shot just 33.3 percent in the second half while KWC improved to 46.9 percent. The Panthers held the Wildcats to just one three-pointer in the second half and outscored UK 44-39.
“It was a totally different offensive scheme on our part in the second half,” KWC Coach Ron Williams said. “I thought defensively we really did a pretty good job. We told our kids that if we give up anything we want to give up the three-ball. And we did, and they knocked them down. You have to give UK credit for that. In the second-half they didn’t hit the threes like they did in the first half and we were able to hang in there a little bit better. The kids did a good job of understanding the adjustments we made in the second half and how to take advantage of (Kentucky) playing aggressive.”
Kentucky concludes its 2007-08 exhibition schedule on Monday, Nov. 5, when it plays host to the Ohio Legends. Tip-off in Memorial Coliseum is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be carried live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Neil Price.
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