Cats' Rally Falls Short Against Vanderbilt

Feb. 8, 2009

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Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Playing against nationally-ranked Vanderbilt was already a tall order for the Kentucky women's basketball team heading into Sunday. Doing so without one of the Wildcats' top scorers for most of the game proved to be a near impossible task.

Senior center Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) played a season-low 12 minutes, scored just five points and had zero rebounds for the first time in 38 games due mostly to foul trouble. Without her, the Wildcats were unable to contain the Vanderbilt interior duo of Christina Wirth and Hannah Tuomi.

Wirth scored a game-high 20 points and Tuomi chipped in with 13 points to lead No. 20/22 Vanderbilt (18-6, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) over the Wildcats 72-62 on Sunday afternoon. A season-high and 13th largest crowd of 6,051 fans in Memorial Coliseum witnessed the game. The victory marked the 13th straight win over UK (13-11, 3-6 SEC) for the Commodores.

“Vanderbilt is a very good team and they showed that today,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I want to compliment them on a well played game. We tried to create some turnovers and pressure them. To some extent, we had some success but they just shot the ball really well and made plays when they needed to. They answered every run we tried to muster up. They played well and my hat is off to them.”

Mitchell and his team won't take any consolation in losing, but UK gave Vanderbilt everything it could handle on National Girls and Women in Sports Day and Alumni Day.

As Roddy, who has recorded the most double-doubles in the SEC this season with 10, rode the bench with four fouls, a layup and foul shot from Vandy guard Jennifer Risper early in the second half appeared to knock the Wildcats on the ropes.

But UK wasn't down for the count yet.

Ignited by a pair of Carly Morrow (Chattanooga, Tenn.) three-pointers, the Wildcats got right back into the game with an 11-2 run. Morrow's trey from the right wing with 12:28 left to play knotted the game at 42-42, forcing Commodore Coach Melanie Balcomb to call a timeout and the Wildcat fans to their feet.

Sophomore guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) tied the game again at 44 apiece on a driving layup, and the Wildcats even had a chance to take the lead when sophomore Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) took a charge from VU's Jessica Mooney.

But a three-pointer from Wirth with 8:30 to go halted the UK rally at 49-46 and the Wildcats could never take the lead. UK got as close as six points in the waning minutes of the game, but without a deep roster, the Wildcats stumbled down the stretch.

“When we tied the game, everybody was pumped and we knew we were still in the game,” Franklin said. “We didn't want to let up but we got mentally unfocused for the last few minutes. We can't do that, especially with the players we have, we know we are going to be playing a lot of minutes so we can't let up on the game.”

But in reality, the number of minutes some of the Wildcats had to play down the stretch was definitely a factor in the game. With Roddy hampered in foul trouble, Dunlap played career high-tying 40 minutes, senior guard Carly Ormerod (Louisville, Ky.) logged 38 minutes and Smith tallied 37 minutes.

“I was tired, but that's part of the game,” Dunlap said. “Things happen and you might have to step up and play for one of your teammates. You have to be mentally prepared to play as many minutes as you can. You can't think about being tired or playing for 40 minutes.”

After the game, Mitchell was quick to turn the focus away from his team's foul trouble. A lot he said came down to the Wildcats' inability to grab the lead when they got back into the game.

“I didn't get a sense that we had run out of gas,” Mitchell said. “We have kids that play a lot of minutes in the game, and that is the reality of it. I'm sure there are periods in the game where they get tired. I don't know if being tired was a huge factor because that would take away from what Vanderbilt did today.”

And what Vanderbilt did was make clutch shot after clutch shot, especially late in the shot clock.

The Wildcats forced the 'Dores into 23 turnovers – a big reason why they stormed out to an early 12-10 lead – but for the first time all season, UK allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent. It was the first time since 2006 a team has shot over 60 percent against the Cats. Thanks in large part to the shooting of Wirth (7-of-9), Tuomi (6-of-9) and Louisville, Ky., native Risper (3-of-5), Vander hit 64.1 percent (25-of-39) from the floor, including 70.6 percent (12-of-17) in the second half.

Without Roddy in the lineup for much of the afternoon, UK got a huge lift from her fellow senior Jenn'e Jackson. The senior forward from Radcliff, Ky., gave the Wildcats 15 minutes off the bench, including a season high-tying six points. Dunlap led the team with 17 points and nine rebounds while Franklin added 14.

Add that to the 23 turnovers UK forced and there were definitely positive aspects to take away from Sunday's game.

“As you look at the positives, you have to look at the turnovers we were able to create and that's something that is important for us to continue to do,” Mitchell said. “We just have to find a way to get tougher mentally. We'll go back and look at the tape. We'll work hard and stay encouraged. We have a game on Thursday that we need to get ready for and go win.”

UK will return to action on Thursday when it hits the road for a conference showdown against No. 6/5 Auburn. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. EST and the game will be carried live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.