For the first time this season the Wildcats’ offense seemed to struggle but the defense was once again stifling and that led the Kentucky women’s basketball team to a 66-55 win over Chattanooga on Sunday in front of a season-high 4,301 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats (4-0) rallied from a 39-30 second-half deficit and overcame a season-low 39.3 field goal shooting effort to remain unbeaten on the season.
“Tonight was not one of our best but I am really proud of the team to come out with a victory on a night when things really weren’t going our way,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We had a lot to do with that, but Chattanooga just had a really good game plan and executed it well. They are always well coached and tonight was no different. They played an excellent game. It was hard-fought and I am glad that we won.”
Four players scored in double figures, led by freshman guard A’dia Mathies’ (Louisville, Ky.) 14 points. She also posted career-best numbers in steals (four) and blocks (three). Junior forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) followed with 12 points while sophomore guard Rebecca Gray (Georgetown, Ky.) and freshman forward Brittany Henderson (Altadena, Calif.) came off the bench for 10 points apiece.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle that saw four ties and two lead changes. The Lady Mocs (1-3) did a good job of limiting Dunlap, UK’s leading scorer and rebounder, to just four points and two rebounds and the Wildcats didn’t seem to have an answer. Then along came Henderson. In just eight minutes of action in the first half, the 6-2 backup to Dunlap gave the Wildcats the spark they’d been looking for, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds.
“I really like the energy that Brittany Henderson played with tonight,” Mitchell said. “It was a terrific example of how she doesn’t know exactly what it going on all the time because she is a freshman and is still learning, but her energy was great. I am a big believer in that the type of energy you have and are giving to your teammates is crucial. She was a person that came in and gave us some great energy. It is very frustrating for Victoria to have three of four people on her but at that time I thought it was necessary because I thought we were getting too fixated on trying to get her going and it probably ended up helping us offensively.”
With the score knotted at 26 apiece coming out of halftime, Chattanooga (1-3) jumped out to a nine-point 39-30 lead with 15:59 left in the game. Four different Lady Mocs scored during that span and Kentucky needed to regroup during the ensuing media timeout.
A more defensive-minded UK team returned to the court as the Wildcats clamped down and held Chattanooga to just 13 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. UK clawed back to tie the game at 42 with 12:22 to go and although the score remained close the next few minutes, UK finally pulled away with a 13-2 spurt over a six-minute span. It started with a crucial three-point basket and tenacious defense from junior point guard Amber Smith.
“We were really encouraging them to start to be more intense defensively,” Mitchell said. “It starts with her (Amber) because she is on the ball and it creates confidence in her teammates because they see her giving that kind of effort and the rest of the team feeds off of that.”
The Wildcats definitely fed off Smith’s defensive energy as Dunlap, Henderson and Mathies each recorded a block in the next two minutes. Henderson’s two free throws at 3:32 gave the Wildcats a 61-51 advantage and the Wildcats held on for the 10-point win.
“We were down on ourselves at the time and I told them the only way we could get it going is through defensive intensity and making some plays and creating some positive energy through hustle,” Mitchell said. “…it was a good defensive stand to finish the game.”
UK forced the Lady Mocs into 24 turnovers, resulting in 28 points for the Wildcats. UK turned it over just 14 times and outscored UTC’s bench 28-9.
UK is off to its best start since the 2005-06 team opened at 8-0.