Cats Edge Middle Tennessee; Advance in WNIT
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore Lydia Watkins (Hopkinsville, Ky.) charted her first career double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds, senior Chelsea Chowning (Lexington, Ky.) added 13 points and freshman Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) grabbed 14 rebounds and career high-tying four blocks to help lead the Kentucky women’s basketball team past Middle Tennessee in overtime 68-66 Friday in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament in Memorial Coliseum.
“This win means a whole lot because we certainly didn’t want this to be our last game of the season,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our seniors have accomplished a whole lot. I know they didn’t want this to be our last game. And our team has worked real hard and overcome a lot this year, so we want to try and do something special down the stretch and this means we live to fight another day, and that’s just real good for our team.”
Despite 28 turnovers, the Wildcats (16-15, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) battled back from an 11-point deficit to pull within one, 29-28, at the half. Watkins, who had just three points and three rebounds in the opening stanza, dominated the paint in the second half and overtime period, grabbing 13 of her career-high points and rebounds during that span. Her efforts helped give UK an eight-point lead (49-41) with 8:47 to go in regulation. But the Blue Raiders, (22-12, 14-4 Sun Belt Conference), led by the nation’s leading scorer in Amber Holt, would not give up.
Trailing five points with 49 seconds to go in the game, Holt hit a layup with 22 seconds left to shrink UK’s lead to three (61-58). On their next possession, the Wildcats committed a turnover on the inbound pass, giving the ball back to MTSU with 18 ticks remaining. MTSU’s Brandi Brown went on to nail a clutch three-pointer at the top of the key with 14 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 61. Kentucky would miss two chances in the final seconds to win in regulation and the game went into overtime.
In the extra minutes, senior Samantha Mahoney (Detroit) put the Cats on the board first, 63-61, with a driving layup. Neither team scored again until Watkins grabbed her own miss and laid it in to give UK a four-point lead 65-61 with 1:22 on the clock. Holt responded with another layup with 1:12 left but Chowning answered with 12 seconds to go. With time ticking down, Holt nailed a wide-open three-pointer with five seconds remaining in the game, cutting the Cats’ lead to just one, 67-66. However, MTSU fouled Chowning just two seconds in the game and she hit one of her two attempts to give UK the 68-66 win.
“I thought that was going to be a really good game against two teams that are pretty good and that is what it turned out to be,” Mitchell said. “Middle Tennessee has a fantastic team. Amber Holt is as good as anyone we’ve seen this year. I’m really proud of our kids for bouncing back after that near disaster at the last few seconds. We’re real glad to move on and win a game in this tournament. We’re going to try and win one more next time we play.”
Holt led all scorers with 32 points on 12-of-28 shooting while Georgetown, Ky., native Chelsia Lymon followed with 11 points for the Blue Raiders.
Kentucky shot an impressive 50 percent (11-of-22) from the floor in the opening period, but was hampered by excessive turnovers. The Cats, who entered the contest averaging 17.4 turnovers per game, committed 16 miscues in the first half that resulted in 17 points by the Blue Raiders. The tale of the tape was in the rebounding category. UK outrebounded Middle Tennessee by 24, its largest rebounding margin of the season. UK’s 53 caroms also were a season high.
“You can’t win a game when you are outrebounded 53 to 29,” MTSU Coach Rick Insell said. “At the same time our kids played their hearts out tonight. We could only run eight players out there and they were sending waves at us. Kentucky did a great job. They went to the boards hard and got some good put-backs. When that happens in games like this you are going to get beat.”
The Wildcats are now 11-3 record all-time in the postseason event and advance to the third round for the second consecutive season. They now face the winner of James Madison and Indiana with that game being played Saturday, March 22 at 7:05 p.m. ET in Bloomington, Ind. The scenario goes like this: if Indiana wins, the UK game will be played Wednesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. ET. If James Madison wins, the game will be played Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. ET. Either way, the game will be played in Memorial Coliseum.
Reserved seats for the WNIT are only $10 each (all ages). General admission seats are $10 for adults and $4 for youth/seniors (18 & under, 65+). Tickets for UK Students are $4 each with a valid student identification card and must be purchased at the ticket office.