LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior guard Samantha Mahoney (Detroit) turned in the finest performance of her Kentucky career by scoring a personal-best 30 points, including five three-pointers, to direct the Wildcats to an 84-76 win over James Madison on Wednesday in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats now face Big East member Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament Sunday, March 30 at 2 p.m. EST in Memorial Coliseum.
The senior, not wanting her Kentucky career to end, became the first Wildcat to score 30 or more points in a game since standout Sara Potts scored 32 points against Xavier in the 2005 WNIT third round. Mahoney, who helped the Cats rally from a six-point second-half deficit, put on a show that was incredibly reminiscent of Potts’ display just three years prior on March 24, 2005.
Her five made three-pointers tied her career high and marked the second-most three-pointers by a Wildcat in a WNIT contest, second only to Potts’ seven threes against Chattanooga in a second-round contest in 2005. She also went 7-of-9 from the free-throw line. Mahoney moved into sole possession of fourth place on UK’s all-time scoring list with 1,586 career points, surpassing Potts.
“It means a lot,” Mahoney said of her Potts-like performance in the WNIT. “Sara Potts was a great player at Kentucky. I’ve known her since high school and we played together in college. She really took over this tournament my freshman year and it really means a lot to me ranked with her in the scoring records.”
“Incredible,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said about Mahoney. “I don’t know what to say to describe that, other then it was a senior playing like she didn’t want it to be her last game. She just didn’t want to stop playing. She put up the most points she ever has, 30, and was vocal on the floor and from the bench. She was not going to be denied tonight. Playing a good James Madison team that brought a lot of intensity to the floor, we had to match that intensity and Sam did that tonight.”
Mahoney was one of four UK players to score in double figures as senior guard Chelsea Chowning (Berea, Ky.) tied her career high with 14 points and seven rebounds and made a career-best six free throws. Freshman forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.), who grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds in UK’s last game vs. MTSU, once again dominated the paint by pulling down 12 points and 12 rebounds for her second career double-double. Junior forward/center Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) came off the bench for a season high-tying 10 points and helped fill the void of senior center Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.) who went out with a knee injury at the 7:54 mark of the second half.
“We left it all out there tonight,” Roddy said. “This was probably the hardest I’ve seen us play all season. We just gave it our all and decided we weren’t going to lose this game. We definitely came to play tonight.” UK’s four seniors combined for 55 points and 12 rebounds in the game.
Kentucky, which shot 42.4 percent (28-of-66) from the floor in the game, made eight three-pointers, its second-most of the season. As a team, the Wildcats blocked 10 shots, marking their most blocks in a WNIT game in school history. Elliott tied her season high and came one swat shy of tying her career high with five blocks, while sophomore guard/forward Amani Franklin (Decatur, Ga.) blocked a career-high two shots. The Wildcats’ presence in the paint was a key factor, as UK out-scored James Madison 36-28 in points in the paint.
“I don’t know how we do it,” Mitchell said. “We did it again, overcoming an explosive opponent in a tough, hard-fought game. I am proud of the way the team played and how they finished off the half. For the last 10 minutes of the half, we played hard and well. James Madison is a good, hard-nosed team and my hat is off to them.”
Kentucky raced out to a 10-4 advantage to begin the game with Dunlap and Mahoney scoring four points each during that run. The two teams traded baskets until James Madison’s leading scorer Tamera Young scored five unanswered points over the next minute-and-a-half to come within two, 18-16. A jumper by Elliott out of a media timeout sparked a 10-0 run by the Cats that included back-to-back three-pointers by Mahoney and Franklin.
With the Wildcats leading 30-18 with 8:43 to go until the break, the Dukes’ Dawn Evans knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to whittle their deficit down to six, 30-24, with 5:59 left in the half. James Madison continued to claw back, coming as close as five points several times in the first half. Kentucky used a three-pointer and a put-back by Chowning to push its advantage back out to eight and eventually took a 37-32 advantage into the locker room. UK shot 42.8 percent (15-of-35) from the floor in the opening period. James Madison, which shot 35.1 percent (13-of-37) from the field in the first half, out-rebounded UK 24-22. Mahoney scored 12 of her points by halftime to lead Kentucky.
The Wildcats pushed their lead out to eight, 42-34, out of halftime after a lay-up by Mahoney at the 18:17 mark. From there, the Dukes went on an 11-0 run that put them ahead 45-42 with 15:44 remaining. Back-to-back jumpers by Elliott put Kentucky back in front 46-45, but James Madison scored seven unanswered points capped off by one of Evans’ game-high seven three-pointers at the 13:02 mark to take its largest lead of the game at 52-46.
Out of a UK timeout in which Mitchell challenged his post players to rebound, the Cats rallied with five consecutive points and two rebounds to come within one, 52-51. Kentucky kept fighting and went ahead 59-58 after an old-fashioned three-point play by Roddy with 7:37 left. Mahoney’s fifth three-pointer of the game extended the Wildcats’ lead to five, 65-60, with 6:06 remaining. Down the stretch, the Wildcats remained poised despite an attempted comeback by the Dukes and made 14-of-18 free-throws in the final 1:46 to claim the win. The Cats shot 72.0 percent (18-of-25) from the charity stripe in the second half.
Young, the Colonial Athletic Conference Player of the Year, led James Madison (24-10, 14-4 CAA) with a team-high 28 points and 17 rebounds while Evans added 23 points.
The Wildcats (17-15, 8-6 SEC), improve to 12-3 all-time in WNIT play and advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons. UK will face Marquette (18-14, 8-8 Big East) which defeated Illinois Wednesday in its third-round game, 72-64. The Wildcats are 2-0 all-time vs. the Golden Eagles but haven’t met them since 1989 and 1990.
Reserved seats for the WNIT are $10 each (all ages). General admission seats are $10 for adults and $4 for youth/seniors (18 & under, 65+). Tickets for UK Students are $4 each with a valid student identification card and must be purchased at the ticket office. For further ticket information, log on to ukathletics.com or call the UK ticket office at 859-257-1818 or 1-800-928-CATS (2287).