UK Hoops remains perfect, 10-0 start

The Kentucky women’s basketball team used its stifling defense to force a school-record 38 turnovers on a season-high 21 steals en route to a 101-67 win over intrastate rival Louisville on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. A season-high 7,323 fans witnessed the game as the Cats improved to a school-record 10-0 start.

Four Wildcats scored in double figures led by junior All-Southeastern Conference forward Victoria Dunlap’s (Nashville, Tenn.) game-high 27 points. She also added nine rebounds and a career-best eight steals and four blocks in the second-largest margin of victory in the series. Junior point guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) netted a career-high 19 points and dished out a game-high five assists while freshman guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) and junior Carly Morrow (Chattanooga, Tenn.) added 15 and 12 points, respectively. All 10 players that saw action scored at least two points.

“I just left a really happy group of Wildcats in the locker room and I just couldn’t be more pleased and proud of them,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They absolutely earned a big victory today. They played with incredible enthusiasm, incredible energy and incredible effort. It was a really good day for our team and I am really happy for them. They worked extremely hard as a team.”

Kentucky blitzed Louisville from the get-go, forcing seven turnovers before the first media timeout. The Cards cut the Wildcats’ lead to six points twice inside the first eight minutes before Kentucky sprinted on an 18-6 run to take a 30-12 advantage with 7:50 to go. Six different Wildcats scored during the run led by Dunlap’s five points. Consecutive conventional three-point plays off the break by Smith and Morrow highlighted the spurt. Kentucky never trailed by less than 16 points and took a 49-26 lead at the half.

“Our plan was to try to take advantage of our speed, quickness and athleticism,” Mitchell said. “Our team works very hard every day on defensive fundamentals and footwork and today we were able to get some good traps. It was tough on Louisville today. Our players did the best job all year of staying in a stance and staying in defensive position. Those things allowed us to turn them over. We knew, coming in, that we needed to create a lot of turnovers to be successful.”

Louisville (6-5) had no answer for UK’s pressure defense in a physical, start-and-stop game that featured 59 fouls, including 34 in the first half. The Cats didn’t back down in the second half either as they built a 30-point lead (76-46) with 9:57 remaining in the game. UK led by as many as 38 points (95-57) with 3:19 to go.

“We were absolutely terrible today,” U of L Head Coach Jeff Walz said. “Since we lost our two point guards, we have been trying to find something to help us get the ball cross half court and make the next pass.

“We do two things very well right now, that’s foul and turn the ball over.”

The Wildcats, who entered the game ranked third nationally in turnover margin (+9.6), scored 39 points off the U of L turnovers and have now caused 20 or turnovers in eight of 10 games this season, including each of the last seven contests.

“We want to continue focusing on what we are doing which is playing good defense, pushing the ball in transition and playing together as a team,” Morrow said. “This is a good team win for us as well as for our program. This game builds confidence for us as we go in to our next games. We are trying to focus in on what we really do best. I think we did that today.”

Neither team shot the ball well as both hit 39.7 percent from the field. The Cats shot 69.2 percent from the free-throw line and set the school record for free throws made (36) and attempted (52). The Cardinals went 80.0 percent (20-of-25) from the charity stripe and shot just 14.3 percent (1-of-7) from three-point land.

Becky Burke led Louisville in scoring with 21 points. Monique Reid and Ashley Rainey each grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.

Kentucky reached the 100-point plateau for the second time this season and 34th in program history. Earlier this season, UK recorded a 107-53 win over Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 1. Kentucky is 34-0 when scoring 100 points.

UK improves to 29-17 in the all-time series against Louisville, including a 19-4 mark in Lexington. The victory snaps a five-game losing streak against the Cardinals. The Wildcats are now 68-30 all-time against teams from the BIG EAST conference, 2-0 this season.