On a day that celebrated Arkansas’ three seniors in their home finale, it was Kentucky’s seniors that stole the show as Chante’ Bowman (Detroit), Chelsea Chowning (Berea, Ky.), Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.) and Samantha Mahoney (Detroit) combined for 39 points and 20 rebounds to help the Cats win a nail-biter 59-56 in Bud Walton Arena on Sunday.
Mahoney led all scorers with 19 points while Elliott, who scored all 10 of her points in the second half followed with 10 points and six rebounds. Sophomore Lydia Watkins came off the bench to add 10 points and grab five rebounds.
Kentucky’s 40-28 rebounding advantage was led by Chowning with a career high-tying seven boards. She also scored six points in the winning effort. Bowman scored three points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists.
“I am extremely pleased with this win,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We started great and give credit to Arkansas for continuing to fight. Down the stretch we made enough plays to win and it was a great, great victory for our team.”
Kentucky (14-13, 8-5 SEC), which is one game shy of tying the school record for most SEC wins in a season (9), came out blazing to start the game, jumping out to a 16-point lead (22-6) with six points apiece from Mahoney, Watkins and freshman Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn). However, the Lady Razorbacks (17-10, 2-10 SEC), who celebrated Senior Day in pre-game ceremonies, would not back down. Instead, Arkansas put a defensive clamp on the Cats, holding UK without a field goal for the remaining 9:34 of the first half. UK’s lone point in that span came on a free throw from Bowman. Arkansas’ 17-1 run, sparked by senior Brittney Vaughn’s nine points, including two three-pointers, tied the score at 23 at the half.
“We just lost our composure there in the first half,” Mitchell said. “We were forcing the ball inside and it led to turnovers. Arkansas was playing aggressive and we weren’t able to stop them driving to the basket.”
The second half proved to be yet another back-and-forth battle as there were 12 lead changes and three ties alone in the second half. Playing in their 10th game decided by five points or less, Kentucky allowed Arkansas to grab a five-point lead (42-37) with 7:28 remaining. The Cats scratched back and Mahoney hit a key three-pointer with 5:09 left to tie the game at 48 apiece with 5:15 to go. Elliott, who went 0-2 in the first half, hit three-straight jumpers in the final five minutes to give UK a 55-50 lead with 1:07 left. Arkansas’ Vaughn raced down and hit a layup with 44 seconds on the clock but Mahoney was fouled on UK’s next possession. Her two foul shots put UK back up by five (57-52) with 19:1 to go.
Dunlap was then whistled for a foul on the ensuing play and Vaughn hit both charity shots to pull the Lady ‘Backs to within three, 57-54, with 12.5 seconds on the clock. Vaughn hit another layup with seven seconds left and but Arkansas was forced to foul. Chowning hit 2-of-4 free throw attempts in the final 12 seconds to give UK a final 59-56 win.
Both teams shot 40.0 percent from the field and UK outscored Arkansas 16-4 in second-chance points.
Vaughn led the Lady ‘Back with 16 points and Whitney Jones followed with 14.
Arkansas still leads the overall series 12-11 but Kentucky has won five straight, including two straight in Fayetteville.
After an open date Thursday, UK will play its final regular-season game Sunday, March 2 at 3 p.m. EST in Rupp Arena. Four Wildcat seniors (Chante’ Bowman, Chelsea Chowning, Sarah Elliott and Samantha Mahoney) will be honored in a pre-game ceremony.