LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Kentucky women’s basketball team used a strong inside game to help catapult the Wildcats to a 59-54 win over Ole Miss in Rupp Arena on Thursday night. UK won the rebounding battle 47-31, its largest in SEC play this season and outscored the Rebels 38-16 in the paint. Senior center Sarah Elliott led the efforts with 14 points and 12 rebounds while senior Chelsea Chowning (Berea, Ky.) and freshman Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) added 12 points apiece. Dunlap also charted nine rebounds and two blocks.
“I’d like to start by saying how proud I am of our players tonight,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a tremendous game and a tremendous performance from them. We were clearly up against a big challenge tonight with the way Ole Miss plays defense. I thought we really pulled together. We really needed a group effort and it certainly was tonight. I’m just very happy for our players and I’m very proud of them.”
The Wildcats (12-11, 6-3 Southeastern Conference), playing without a true point guard due to injuries to junior Carly Ormerod (foot) and freshman Amber Smith (knee), used a committee of players to feed a strong post game. UK’s 38 points in the paint were the most in a SEC game this season and the most since UK scored 44 post points vs. William & Mary on Dec. 4. UK’s six conference wins equals last year’s win total when the Cats went 6-8.
“Points in the paint were a big key for us,” Mitchell said. “Having 38 points in the paint is a great sign that our team did well offensively. Rebounding is something that we talk about everyday in practice.”
Mitchell was forced to use the ninth different lineup this season, starting seniors Chante’ Bowman, Chowning and Samantha Mahoney (Detroit) along with Elliott and Dunlap. Chowning flourished in her starting assignment, netting a career-high 12 points, including a career-high three three-pointers.
“That’s what I love about Chelsea Chowning, she not afraid to take shots,” Mitchell said. “Every time she shot the ball it looked like it was going in. Those were critical times in the game where I thought we were struggling to score.”
UK built an 11-point lead early in the second half before Ole Miss pulled to within one, 40-39, with 12:58 to play. Back-to-back three-pointers by Chowning helped push UK’s lead to nine at the 8:10 mark but the Rebels would not back down. With the Cats up seven, 55-48, UM’s Shantell Black hit a three-pointer and then followed up with a layup on a UK missed three-pointer. That five-point swing helped shrink the Cats’ lead to just two points, 55-53, with 1:37 to go. Mahoney grabbed one of her five defensive rebounds and hit a key field goal on the other end with 21 seconds to give UK a 57-53 lead. Sophomore Amani Franklin (Decatur, Ga.) added two free throws with 10 ticks left and UK held on for the 59-54 victory. UK is now 9-5 in games decided by 10 points or less this season.
“Ole Miss was a tough match up for us especially without a point guard,” Mitchell said. “I just thought the players were marvelous filling in; Chanté (Bowman) and Samantha (Mahoney) handled those duties. It was just a good effort. We are pleased that our team has been able to handle adversity this year.”
UK controlled much of the first half, pulling to a 10-point lead with 2:35 to play. UK took a 32-24 advantage to the locker room at halftime, led by Elliott’s eight points and six rebounds. Red-shirt junior Eleia Roddy (Columbus) came off the bench to score four of her season-high six points in the first half.
The Wildcats shot 38.7 percent from the floor compared to UM’s 32.1 percent. UK has held four of its last six opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
The Rebels (9-12 overall, 3-5 SEC) were led by Shawn Goff with 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Ole Miss still leads the overall series 19-10, including a 9-5 advantage when playing in Lexington. UK is now 20-11 all-time in Rupp Arena.
After a much-needed weekend off, the Wildcats head to the Music City for their next game on Feb. 14 vs. Vanderbilt. Game time in Nashville, Tenn., is 8 p.m. EST.
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