UK Hoops Advances in WNIT; Tops Chattanooga in OT

March 19, 2009

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Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

LEXINGTON, Ky. -  It might not be the NCAA Tournament, but Thursday night's game in Memorial Coliseum certainly had no shortage of March Madness.

The Kentucky Wildcats (16-15) survived a furious second-half rally from the Chattanooga Lady Mocs (22-10) to advance to the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

Despite a sloppy, turnover-filled first half - UK gave the ball up 10 times before halftime - and blowing a 12-point second-half lead, all that matters at this point in the year is winning and advancing. UTC's Erin Ogan gave UK a scare when she tied the game at 66-66 on a step-back 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in the second half, but the Wildcats lived to fight another day with an overtime victory.

Sophomore guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) - who tied a career high with17 points - sank eight free throws in the overtime period and sophomore Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) scored a career-high 24 points to lead UK to an 81-76 overtime victory in front of 1,037 rowdy fans at Memorial Coliseum.

"I was so proud of our team," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We really weren't feeling very good about ourselves when Chattanooga stormed back. Everybody tonight contributed and that's what makes this a special victory."

"Coming into this game I knew it was going to be tough and my hat goes off to Chattanooga because they never quit and played right until the final seconds," Mitchell said. "It was a tough game but you are always happy for a win and any postseason win is special."

At times, it looked like the game could go either way. In one of the more dramatic seesaw battles of the year, neither team could take control of the game for good.

Whether it was the rustiness of a two-week layoff or a smaller than usual crowd at Memorial Coliseum, UK didn't look like the same team early on that put itself into the postseason for the fifth straight season.

After taking a 22-18 lead with 8:09 left in the first half, UK's offense went cold. Back-to-back steals by UTC's Andrea Neil led a pair of layups and a 7-0 Lady Mocs' run to put them up 25-22.

It was only a three-point deficit, but UTC appeared to have control and momentum. Forward Shanara Hollinquest was hurting UK in the paint - she had 12 first-half points - and Ogan was continually stepping outside for open mid-range jumpers.

Then UK, specifically Dunlap, took over.

Eight straight points to end the half gave UK a 33-31 lead going into halftime. Following the break, Dunlap took control of the paint and the game. The sophomore scored eight of UK's first 10 points to give the Wildcats a 43-37 lead.

The Wildcats stretched the lead to as many as 12 points following five straight points from Smith - including a 10-foot off-balance jumper as she was getting fouled - but UTC didn't go quietly.

Back-to-back treys from guard Jenaya Wade-Fray cut UK's lead to 55-51 with 7:45 to go.

That's when things really got interesting.

UK took the lead by as many as five points with under a minute to go, but Ogan who finished with 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the 3-point line, nailed a game-tying trey with 13 seconds left.

The Wildcats had a chance to win it in the final seconds, but advancing in the postseason is never that easy.

"You just have to regroup after that," Mitchell said. "You can't get frustrated or down because the loser is going home. We started to talk about what we were going to do in overtime and didn't talk about anything that had just transpired. We had five minutes for our basketball lives."

In UK's first overtime game of the year, UK outscored the Lady Mocs 15-10 after regulation to seal the win and advance to the second round. Dunlap's tip-in and ensuing free throw with 1:53 to go in the game finally gave UK control with a 73-67 lead.

"Dunlap was tremendous tonight; just unbelievable," Mitchell said. "That offensive put-back there towards the end was an unreal play because we were struggling mightily on offense at that point. That is what big-time players do in crucial situations - they make big-time plays."

Hollinquest finished with a game-high 28 points for the Lady Mocs and Ogan chipped in with 16.

With senior center Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) having an unusually quiet game (eight points, five rebounds), junior guard Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.) joined Dunlap and Smith in double figures with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Her marked her fourth career and second double-double of the season.

UK will continue its run in the WNIT on Sunday, March 22 at Wisconsin. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET in Madison, Wis., and the game will be carried live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.