Despite playing without All-Southeastern Conference forward Victoria Dunlap, nine different Wildcats stepped up in leading the Kentucky women’s basketball team to 91-39 win over Florida A&M in Memorial Coliseum.
Sophomore Rebecca Gray (Georgetown, Ky.) came off the bench to help Kentucky tie the school record for the best start in school history at 9-0. She led all scorers with a UK career-high 19 points on a perfect shooting display, hitting 6-of-6 from the field, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. She also grabbed three rebounds and had two assists with zero turnovers in just 26 minutes of action. Fellow sophomore Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.) followed with a UK career-best 15 points and junior guard Carly Morrow (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and freshman guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) added 14 and 11 points, respectively. All nine players that saw action scored at least one point and grabbed at least one rebound. UK’s bench scored 41 points compared to FAMU’s two.
“There was a lot of effort given by our players today and I’m very appreciative of that,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They played extremely hard, and they did what we asked them to do from an effort standpoint. What we asked our players to do was play with great enthusiasm today, no matter if we got way up or way down. No matter the situation we were in, we wanted to play with a lot of enthusiasm and we did that. I’m very proud of them and it was a good win for us.”
Dunlap, who is UK’s leading scorer and rebounder averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, was dressed and on the bench but did not see action due to a mild concussion sustained in practice on Friday. The junior had played and started in 73 consecutive games prior to today’s game.
“It’s a mild concussion, so we don’t anticipate it causing any problems,” Mitchell said. “She possibly could have gone today, but then you risk it getting worse if she got hit. We needed to make certain Vic(toria) is safe and has time to recover. I expect her back practicing within the next couple of days. We just need to check with the doctor.
“I told the team before the game that I have tremendous respect for Florida A&M. They had beaten some tough teams in tough situations, so they had proven they have talented players and that can be dangerous. But, I was very calm when I got the news about Victoria, and the reason I was is because the players had prepared at a very high level this week. If they would focus and do what we had talked about in preparation for the game, I was confident in them. They proved me right. It all came from Lydia Watkins who had a fantastic week in practice, Brittany Henderson who worked extra this week, and Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden who worked extra on their defense this week. I would certainly rather have Vic(toria), but I was happy we were able to get that kind of win without her. It’s a real credit to our players for coming out and staying focused.”
Kentucky never trailed in the game, but the Lady Rattlers (5-3), who just upset Florida in Gainesville last week, kept within striking distance through the first 10 minutes of the first half. The Wildcats built a 19-10 lead after the game’s first eight minutes by limiting Florida A&M to 5-of-19 shooting from the floor. However, the Lady Rattlers heated up, connecting on four of their next six attempts to pull within 22-19 at 9:17.
The Wildcats’ defense clamped down once again and they began pulling away over the next six minutes. UK outscored Florida A&M 17-4 after a Gray three-pointer and baskets from Mathies and junior Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.) who finished with nine points and six rebounds. UK led 47-29 at the half and scored 15 points off 16 FAMU turnovers.
“I have to give Kentucky their props, they played a very aggressive style of defense and we just lost our confidence,” FAMU Coach LeDawn Gibson said. “I thought we had prepared the ladies for it but we just didn’t come out and do what we needed to do. We didn’t bring the game plan to the floor.”
The Cats continued their defensive attack in the second half, jumping out on a 16-6 run with 11:19 left in the game. Senior Lydia Watkins (Hopkinsville, Ky.), who started in Dunlap’s absence, scored four of her nine points during that span. UK allowed just three field goals and a mere 10 points in the final 20 minutes of play and the Cats held FAMU to a season low 39 points in the game. UK has held eight of its nine opponents this season to under 60 points, including seven in a row.
“I am really proud of the pressure we were able to give defensively,” Mitchell said. “Our players continued to guard and Florida A&M had some bad numbers in the second half. But, I give a lot of credit to our players for continuing to play hard, making every pass difficult to complete for Florida A&M. It takes a lot of energy to play that way. I think that was the key to getting the big run in the second half.”
With the victory, Kentucky ties the school record for wins to start a season with nine. The Wildcats match the feat accomplished by the 1980-81 squad.
The 52-point win was the second-largest margin of victory this season. UK, which came into the game ranked eighth nationally in scoring margin, has defeated all nine opponents by double digits, including three by 30 point or more.
Kentucky shot 50.0 percent from the field (30-of-60) while limiting FAMU to a season-low 24.2 percent (15-of-62) from the floor, including just 22.2 percent (2-of-9) from beyond the arc. The Wildcats have held three of their last four opponents to under 30 percent shooting from the floor.
The Cats forced 28 turnovers and has now forced 20 or more turnovers in seven of nine games this season, including five consecutive games with 25 or more miscues.
After a week break for final exams, the Wildcats return to Memorial Coliseum for a clash with intrastate rival Louisville Sunday, Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. EST. It’s “Pack the House” day as the Wildcats look to sellout Memorial Coliseum.