The 25th-ranked University of Kentucky women’s basketball team forced 25 turnovers en route to a 68-50 win over Auburn Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats featured a balanced offensive attack with three players in double digits, led by freshman guard A’dia Mathies with 11. The second-highest crowd of 6,784 was on hand for the victory as UK celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day and Alumni Day.
“That was another terrific defensive effort by our team,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our ability to put pressure on them today and get them to turn the ball over was the difference in the game. It takes a lot of energy and effort not just from one player but the whole team and we had great contributions from all 10 players today. I am proud of that. It doesn’t get any easier for us, we need to stay focused and humble and hungry. We have to keep working.”
Kentucky (16-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) did not trail in the game, extending a slight 10-7 lead at 15:22 to a 20-point cushion (36-16) thanks in large part to the play of Mathies. The freshman from Louisville scored all of her game-high 11 points during the 26-9 run. Reserve forward Brittany Henderson (Pasadena, Calif.) added six points and the Wildcat defense caused headaches for Auburn, forcing nine of the Tigers’ 11 first half miscues during the stretch. UK led 38-24 at halftime after hitting 51.7 percent and limiting Auburn to just 38 percent.
“It was a good first half,” Mitchell said. “I never felt like the game was in hand until very late in the game. We need to keep plugging and do what we can to take care of mistakes. We need to see if we can get better, but the first half was good.”
After the break, Kentucky went cold from the floor missing its first three attempts. Auburn (11-9, 2-5 SEC) pulled to within 10 points (43-33) after a basket by 6-foot-7 center KeKe Carrier with 12:59 left. Senior forward Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.) answered with four straight points to push the Cats’ lead back to 14 and from there it was all Kentucky as the Cats’ defensive pressure began to wreak havoc once again. Senior reserve forward Lydia Watkins (Hopkinsville, Ky.) recorded two steals, made a conventional three-point play and scored another basket, all in a span of 49 seconds to thwart the Tigers’ rally and extend UK’s advantage to 17 points.
“That was the turning point,” Mitchell said. “They had the ability to make some three-pointers, and if they bang those in, it is a really close ball game. This team has shown the ability to create turnovers and there were none bigger than that span.”
Kentucky’s bench play also was a key factor in the victory. UK’s bench outscored Auburn’s 26-15 as nine of the 10 Wildcats that saw action scored at least three points.
“It is very important for us (to have a deep bench),” Mitchell said. “I thought they allowed us to create the kind of tempo we wanted in the first half to make it difficult on Auburn. The bench knows what its job is and they practice hard every day. They are talented players and we have strong contributions from them every game. You look at the stat sheet and nobody really jumps out at you and as a coach that makes you proud that players are that committed defensively.”
Franklin and Watkins scored 10 apiece for Kentucky while junior forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) added nine points and a team-high seven rebounds. Junior point guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) scored seven of her nine points in the second half.
Carrier led Auburn with 11 points while Alli Smalley, who entered the game averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game, finished with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“Kentucky played great pressure defense,” Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said. “They do a great job of taking you out of what you want to do and Matthew (Mitchell) has done a tremendous job with this program. I thought Kentucky was in control the whole time and it was their day today.”
UK’s 18-point win over Auburn marked its largest margin of victory in the series since a 24-point win in 1995. Kentucky has won three of the last four meetings with Auburn, but the Tigers still lead the overall series 24-12, including a 10-5 mark in Lexington.
Kentucky has won three consecutive SEC games, games marking the longest SEC win streak since winning four in a row during the 2005-06 season.