Christmas came early for the Cats.
On Sunday the UK womenâ€™s basketball team (10-0) notched its 10th consecutive victory to start the season, which breaks the previous school record of 9-0 set in 1980-81, with a resounding 101-67 victory over the Louisville Cardinals (6-5). It was UK’s first win over the Cards since 2003.
The 7, 323 people in attendance, the eighth-largest crowd in history at Memorial Coliseum, witnessed the second-largest margin of victory in the UK/U of L series, and the intense style of play that has UK feeling confident with Southeastern Conference play quickly approaching.
â€œTheyâ€™re a real happy group of Wildcats in the locker room,â€ said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell, who wanted his team to ignore the losing streak against U of L heading into the game. â€œThey absolutely earned a big victory today with incredible enthusiasm, incredible energy and incredible effort.â€
Despite blowout victories all season, Mitchellâ€™s squad was largely thought to have been untested because of the lower-quality opponents his team had faced. Although U of L is not a carbon copy of their NCAA runner-up team from a season ago, the Cardinals could not find any Christmas magic and were confounded by the stellar defense the Cats played.
â€œWe were absolutely terrible today,â€ U of L head coach Jeff Walz said. â€œWe do two things very well right now: foul and turn the ball over.â€
In fact, foul trouble and turnovers, thanks to UKâ€™s up-tempo defense, were the main reasons why the Cardinals found themselves staring at a 49-26 deficit at halftime.
The Cardinals committed 22 fouls in the first half alone, and the Cats were in the bonus with 11:43 left. The Cards had four starters with three personal fouls or more at the break.
Only starting sophomore guard Becky Burke, who finished with a team-high 21 points for the Cardinals managed to stay out of foul trouble. But Burke, much like her teammates, couldnâ€™t stop turning the ball over. The Cardinals finished with 38 turnovers.Â Â
The Cats capitalized on the good defense by outscoring U of L 39-13 on points off turnovers and walked to the free-throw line a season-high 52 times.
â€œWe just got after it (on the defensive end) for 40 minutes,â€ said junior guard Amber Smith, who finished with 19 points.
Defensive intensity has been a key to success for the Cats this season, but Walz noticed another change in this yearâ€™s Cats.
â€œ(UK) is getting the ball to their best player,â€ Walz said. â€œNow (unlike previous seasons) Victoria Dunlap is demanding the ball and theyâ€™re throwing it to her, and it makes (playing) easier for everybody else.â€Â
Prior to the game, UK got a big boost when Dunlap, a junior forward, decided to play after missing the last game with a concussion and suffering from post-concussion syndrome during the week. Dunlap showed no signs of a concussion, as she finished one rebound shy of her fifth double-double of the season while collecting a team-high 27 points and eight steals.
Despite Mitchellâ€™s insistence that the record and the win over U of L donâ€™t garner UK any awards, the victory represented something special for the Cats.
â€œIt was very important (for us to win), especially for the seniors who havenâ€™t beaten them since theyâ€™ve been here,â€ Dunlap said. â€œWe play for this program, and show people that we can play basketball and how to play defense.â€