Cats Down Mississippi State, Advance to SEC Tourney Finals
March 6, 2010
DULUTH, Ga. (AP) - Victoria Dunlap believes No. 19 Kentucky proved how good it is by rallying from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Mississippi State in the SEC tournament.
Now comes an even bigger challenge: No. 4 Tennessee in Sunday's title game.
Kentucky advanced to its first SEC final in 28 years by beating Mississippi State 76-65 on Saturday night. The Wildcats outscored the Lady Bulldogs 52-30 in the second half.
"I think we just showed a lot of people in the league that we're a good basketball team," said Dunlap, who had 22 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and five steals.
Coach Matthew Mitchell led an impromptu pep rally on the court in front of Kentucky fans after the win. There was little time to celebrate before the focus shifted to Tennessee.
"It's going to be a very tough task, but it should be tough in the finals of the Southeastern Conference championship," Mitchell said. "I think this is one of the greatest tournaments in the world."
A'dia Mathies scored 25 points, including 18 in the second half, as Kentucky (25-6) rallied from a 40-26 deficit early in the second half.
"Credit our players," Mitchell said. "It was incredible turnaround of attitude, great energy, great effort. I'm really proud that they found a way to win that basketball game and dug themselves out of a big hole."
Kentucky won the 1982 title in its only other appearance in the championship game, while regular-season champion Tennessee will play for its 14th tournament title.
"Our team needs to do and play as close to their identity as they can play to give themselves a chance to win this championship," Mitchell said. "I expect them to do that. I expect them to come out and play extremely hard and carry out assignments. We'll see if it's a good basketball game. It should be."
Mississippi State (19-12) led 35-24 at halftime before it was slowed by foul trouble and turnovers. Bulldogs coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said she knew Kentucky wouldn't quit.
"When you're playing a team like Kentucky, they're tough and they keep playing," she said. "I think that's their identity."
Tysheka Grimes led Mississippi State with 19 points. Armelie Lumanu had 18 and Chanel Mokango added 13.
Mississippi State had 28 turnovers, including 10 by Lumanu. Kentucky had a 32-19 advantage in points off turnovers and outscored the Lady Bulldogs 21-11 at the free-throw line. Mathies made 11 of 12 free throws.
Mississippi State's five starters each had four fouls at the end of the game.
"When we started turning the ball over and had some people with foul trouble, we had a lull right there and they were able to take advantage of it," said Mary Kathryn Govero.
Kentucky, which made only 8 of 28 shots (28.6 percent) from the field in the first half, made 17 of 33 shots (51.5 percent) in the final 20 minutes. Guard Amber Smith scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half.
Mitchell said Smith's frustrations showed in the first half.
"I just thought that she did a great job of pulling out of that, because it's hard to do," Mitchell said. "That is an athletic, talented, tough basketball team that has us 14 points, and we looked dead in the water. She was able to pull herself out of that, and she made some plays that were incredible."