Hoops Falls at Middle Tennessee State

Dec. 28, 2011

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell tried a lineup tweak starting Samantha Drake and Samarie Walker to go bigger inside, hoping to get a jump early on Middle Tennessee and prep for the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference schedule.

Blame the weeklong holiday break or credit Middle Tennessee, the change didn't work out Wednesday night. The 6-foot-3 Drake went without a rebound and scored only a point as the Blue Raiders upset sixth-ranked Kentucky 70-58, handing the Wildcats their second loss in three games.

"Good learning lesson for us," Mitchell said.

The Wildcats (11-2) at least lost on the road to then-No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 18. This loss hurts a bit more, coming three days after Kentucky moved up two spots to match its highest ranking since the 1982-83 season against an unranked opponent.

Middle Tennessee (9-5) also plays in the Sun Belt Conference and improved to 4-39 all-time against ranked teams, two of those wins coming under coach Rick Insell.

"It's a big win for our program," Insell said. "It's something that could possibly help us at the end of the season."

The Wildcats shot a season-low 32.8 percent from the floor and were just 2 of 18 from 3-point range. A'dia Mathies, the Wildcats' leading scorer averaging 16.1 points per game, scored eight. Bria Goss led Kentucky with 12.

"I thought our effort was not up to the level of Middle Tennessee's over the 40-minute period," Mitchell said. "Clearly, we had some very good moments of effort out there when we were causing trouble in our full-court press. I told the team you don't get any credit for past results. You have to do it every night."

Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" defense couldn't overcome the Wildcats' own problems. They turned the ball over 18 times in the first 20 minutes alone. They shot only 28 percent (7 of 25) from the floor and missed eight of nine attempts beyond the arc. Goss said the Wildcats can't get down when they start slow.

"We got to keep moving forward and looking at the positives. They weren't scoring either," Goss said.

Middle Tennessee missed its first seven shots. The Blue Raiders nearly matched Kentucky with 16 turnovers in the first half, but they managed to outscore the Wildcats 15-7 off the turnovers in leading 37-22 at halftime.

Kentucky led only twice, the last at 4-3 on a bucket by Goss, and tied it at 9-all on a 3-pointer by Keyla Snowden from the top of the key.

Elie put Middle Tennessee ahead for good with a layup at 10:42 left. Shanice Cason started a 19-5 run with a pair of free throws with Cason and Jones each hitting 3-pointers before Jones capped the spurt with a three-point play that put Middle Tennessee up 37-20 with 29.3 seconds left.

Kentucky got within five twice, the last on a jumper by Azia Bishop at 53-48 with 5:42 left. Rowe scored on a layup, then hit a pair of free throws. Middle Tennessee put the game away when Rowe hit a free throw, then missed the second with 4:28 left. Cason go the rebound, tossed it to Jones, who immediately sank a 3 to push it back to double digits for good.

It didn't help that a Lexington, Ky., native had a double-double for Middle Tennessee. Ebony Rowe scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds and said calling this a nice win was an understatement.

"I wanted it not just for me because it's my hometown but my team because we've worked so hard," Rowe said. "We've had some frustrating losses this year and people were down on us a little bit. We stuck together. We know we have a good team. This win, we can only go further from here. We can build on it. I'm excited to see what we do next."

Icelyn Elie scored 23 points, and Kortni Jones added 15 points for Middle Tennessee, which overcame 28 turnovers with a 39-38 rebounding edge.