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UK Hoops proves unbeaten record no mirage in 74-54 win over Louisville

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A'dia Mathies scored 20 points in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies scored 20 points in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With a spotless record and a top-15 ranking, Kentucky looked the part of a contender, but Matthew Mitchell wasn't quite sure. Having dominated seven home games against teams overwhelmed by UK's depth and athleticism, the Wildcats had not yet been sternly tested.

With archrival Louisville coming to town on Sunday, that was all set to change.

In defeating a Cardinal team with talented guards and bruising post players, the Cats showed their coach and anyone else who was watching what they were all about.

"We were clearly superior in all seven games and so you just don't know until you go up against an opponent like this," Mitchell said. "I think it showed us we were able to get prepared and get ready for a tough opponent."

Avenging a 26-point defeat at the hands of the Cardinals from a season ago, No. 12/10 UK (8-0) shot its way past No. 10/11 Louisville (7-2) in a 74-54 victory. The Wildcats' connected on 10-of-19 attempts from 3-point range, led by Louisville native A'dia Mathies' 20 points and career-high four makes from beyond the arc. A raucous sell-out crowd of 7,951 was on hand, the sixth-largest in Memorial Coliseum history.

The win capped a nerve-wracking week for Mitchell, who was happier than anyone to see his players cut their teeth against a high-level opponent.

"I still think we have a ways to go and we need to work to get better, but I'm awfully proud," Mitchell said. "This was a miserable week for me. The unknown, I don't like that. I had no idea how the game was going to go."

Mitchell may not have known how his team would respond to the big-game atmosphere and a talented opponent, but Amber Smith did.

"It wasn't clear to the public, but we knew what we were capable of doing," Smith said. "We knew how hard we work in practice so there was no doubt in our minds what we could do."

The senior point guard was recuperating from knee surgery during last year's 78-52 loss in Louisville and used the number 26 as a mantra in her preparation for Sunday's game. She scored seven points and dished out a game-high six assists.

"It was definitely a payback game and we went out there and earned the victory," Smith said.

Smith was one of 11 Wildcats to play against Louisville, including eight who played 10 minutes or more. There were numerous occasions, especially in the first half, when Mitchell did his best imitation of a hockey coach calling for a line change and three, four or even five new players entered the game. The strategy was a big part of UK's game plan but, again, Mitchell wasn't sure if it would work.

"I really felt like we had to make depth a factor today," Mitchell said. "We hadn't played in a game where we could tell whether we had quality depth or not but today I think it paid off for us."

After having 10 players score against the Cardinals, there's no longer any question about whether the Cats have depth capable of playing at a high level. UK sent waves of players at star sophomore guard Schoni Schimmel, who had 26 points and six assists in last season's matchup between the two teams. She played 37 minutes and scored a team-high 17 points, but hit just 7-of-18 shots and committed five turnovers with multiple different Wildcats taking turns guarding her.

"We already knew we had depth," Smith said. "Coming in to the season, we knew it was going to be competitive with people (fighting) for minutes, but with how hard we play, we know we're going to get a rest so we go out there and give it our all."

Mitchell was excited to learn he'll be able to count on his bench the rest of the season.

"When we subbed five at a time, there wasn't a tremendous drop-off in defensive pressure," Mitchell said. "Louisville's so tough on defense, we looked like we didn't know what we were doing at times on offense but defensively we were able keep the pressure on them pretty good. I think that gives us a chance to be a pretty tough team."

UK may not have always been on the same page offensively in the face of Louisville's pressure defense, but the Cats proved how good shooting can overcome deficits in other areas. In spite of taking fewer shots than its opponent for the first time all season and committing as many turnovers (26) as Louisville, UK coasted to a 20-point victory with hot 3-point shooting and its second-best shooting performance from the field this season. Fifteen offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points didn't hurt either.

"I think the game was closer today than the margin," Mitchell said. "It was a tough game and (there are) really good players on both sides and it is an exciting time for women's basketball in the Commonwealth."

Any victory over Louisville is a cause for celebration, but the Cats don't have much time to do so. On Thursday, the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils come to Lexington for a game against UK in Rupp Arena.

"We don't have a lot of time to stop and smell the roses on this one," Mitchell said. "We have to get back to work tomorrow and get ready for a tough Duke team."

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