Kentucky shot the ball well from long distance, passed the ball around with purpose, played 10 players and got scoring from 10 players. Really, it was the complete opposite in many ways of what the Wildcats did in their opening two wins.
"I thought that was a fantastic performance from our team today," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Our players really gave a lot of effort and we beat a very good Gonzaga team. I thought coming into the game they were one of the most well-coached and hardest playing teams that we have watched this year and have tried to get prepared for. I am just really happy that our players performed at the level today so we are proud to be moving on to the Elite Eight and that is a great credit to their effort today."
After turning the ball over a season-high 34 times against Green Bay and 20 times against McNeese State, UK gave the ball up just 14 times against Gonzaga. It turned the Bulldogs over just 10 times, but that's not what most concerns Mitchell. After outrebounding Gonzaga by 10, hitting 11 more 3-point field goals and attempting 13 more free throws, committing just four more turnovers seems awfully trivial.
What pushed UK to victory against Gonzaga Sunday night were the aforementioned 3-pointers and a balanced effort that displayed UK's team-first mentality. The Wildcats hit a dozen bombs from 3-point land, just two shy of the season- and program-record, and got at least two points from each of the 10 players who played, and at least two rebounds from eight of the 10 players who got minutes.
"We did a good job of knocking down open shots and creating shots off the dribble," UK junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "Just being aggressive - that really helped today. We did a good job of making layups and we were clicking on all cylinders."
Sophomore forward Samarie Walker continued her fantastic play in the NCAA Tournament, registering her second consecutive double-double with 16 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Senior Keyla Snowden scored a team-high 17 points fueled by a season-high tying five 3-pointers. Mathies was clutch en route to a 15-point and career-high tying seven-assist performance. Sophomore guard Kastine Evans played taller than her 5-foot-8 frame with a career-high 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Bria Goss broke out of a recent shooting slump, draining a pair of 3-pointers - her first two 3s since Feb. 16.
Gonzaga pulled to within eight points with 9:03 remaining in the game following a 14-1 run. Facing a newly reenergized team with growing confidence, UK regrouped and went on a 15-4 run of its own to take a commanding 19-point lead with just over three minutes remaining.
"It wasn't like we had gotten passive or were back on our heels like in the Green Bay game," Mitchell said. "I kept telling them to hang in there and at some point if they just kept defending, a shot would go down. So I just tried to keep perspective and really had a lot of respect for Gonzaga so that probably helped me during that time. It was a tough run to absorb."
The win continues UK's magical season. Already winners of a program-record six games against top-10 ranked foes, Kentucky will look to make it seven Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN) when it faces top-seeded and No. 3 ranked Connecticut. The game will pit Walker against her former school, and give the Wildcats another opportunity for a marquee win in their program's ever-growing history.
"We are excited to be here and we know we can make history," Snowden said. "The game plan is going to be the same. It is all about what we do and bringing our energy and making sure we are focused on what UConn is going to bring to the game. We are ready."