ROCHESTER, Mich. – Senior Kentucky guard Jenny Pfeiffer (North Vernon, Ind.) scored a game-high 21 points, including five three-pointers, and the Wildcats used a strong second-half defensive performance to turn back stingy Oakland, 65-56, in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament First Round on Thursday in the O’Rena.
The Wildcats (19-13), making their third consecutive postseason appearance, led the Golden Grizzlies (19-13) by four, 43-39, with 11:09 remaining in the game before Kentucky began employing a match-up zone that stifled the Oakland offense. From there, the Cats used a 12-2 run midway through the final period to go up 55-41 with 6:38 remaining.
Oakland would not go away, shrinking a 15-point Kentucky advantage (60-45) with 3:33 remaining down to six points, 60-54, with 52 seconds left. The Wildcats, however, made 5-of-6 clutch free-throws in the game’s final minute to secure the win.
"I was very pleased with how we fought down the stretch," UK Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "I thought the turning point was when we went to the match-up zone in the second half. It really stifled their offense. They couldn’t get it inside with our big people stationary in the zone and it really bothered them. It was a great team effort for us tonight."
Kentucky advances to play Ball State in the WNIT Second Round on Monday. Tip-off in Worthen Arena in Muncie, Ind., is set for 7 p.m. EDT and the game will be carried live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Neil Price.
Pfeiffer, who tied her season high with five treys, was one of three Kentucky players to score in double figures. Junior guard Samantha Mahoney (Detroit), in a return to her home state, scored 14 points, while junior center Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.), who was forced to miss practice time due to a sore back, added 12 points and three blocks. Motor city native Chanté Bowman (Detroit) came up with a career-high four steals.
"There are some games where people key on Jenny Pfeiffer," DeMoss said. "Tonight, they were more concerned with our inside game. They were allowing her to get looks and she was able to knock down some shots. Her five threes gave us a cushion with our lead, and I think that gave us a lot of confidence down the stretch."
Senior forward/center Jennifer Humphrey (Memphis, Tenn.), who was sidelined for much of the first half with foul trouble, came on strong in the second half with a game-high 10 rebounds to complement eight points and three assists. Humphrey also made 6-of-8 free throws for the game.
"I thought Jennifer Humphrey was big on the boards today," DeMoss said. "When she’s not in the game, our board play suffers. I thought she was very active. When she was out in the first half, it hurt us on the high-low and we weren’t able to get a lot of high-low feeds to [Sarah] Elliott. When we were able to keep her in the game in the second half, she came up with some big boards and finished with 10 rebounds."
Oakland controlled the boards in the opening period and won the rebound battle, 44-34, for the game. The Golden Grizzlies also out-scored UK 32-18 in points in the paint.
The Wildcats shot 42 percent (21-of-50) from the field for the game, while holding Oakland to just 32.4 percent (22-of-68) shooting. The Golden Grizzlies were perfect from the charity stripe, making each of their nine attempts from the free-throw line. As a team, UK tied a school WNIT record with 10 steals.
The Wildcats made four of their first six shots in the game and raced to a 9-2 advantage at the 15:15 mark of the opening period. From there, Oakland’s Melissa Jeltema scored five unanswered points in a 40-second span to bring the Golden Grizzlies within two, 9-7, with 14:01 left. A pair of threes by Pfeiffer allowed Kentucky to extend its advantage back out to four, 15-11, with 10:40 remaining until halftime.
With UK up 15-13, the Cats went on a 6-0 run to push their lead out to 21-13 with 7:10 left. Oakland then used a 9-0 run of its own over the next 2:43 to take its first lead of the game at 22-21. The two teams battled closely for the remainder of the half with the Wildcats taking a 28-26 advantage into the locker room at intermission. The Golden Grizzlies held a commanding 24-14 edge on the boards in the first half.
Out of the locker room, Kentucky quickly used a 7-0 run to move ahead 37-28 after a free-throw by Humphrey at the 16:02 mark of the second half. Oakland, however, began slowly chipping away at the Cats' advantage to come as close as 43-39 with 11:09 left in the game. At that point, Kentucky changed its defensive scheme and it paid dividends. After a free-throw by Humphrey, Pfeiffer scored five consecutive points, including knocking down a three-pointer while falling down, to put UK ahead by double-digits for the first time at 49-39. The Wildcats led by as many as 15 points (60-45) before Oakland made its late 9-0 run.
Oakland was led by forward Nicole Piggott's team-high 19 points. Hanna Reising was the squad's leading rebounder with nine boards. The Wildcats held the Golden Grizzlies' second-leading scorer Jessica Pike to just two points in the game.