A mid-November game had the atmosphere, environment and play of an NCAA tournament game as the No. 10 UK women’s basketball team held on to defeat No. 12 Notre Dame 81-76.
Although UK (4-0) and Notre Dame (3-2) women’s basketball teams have never played each other before, the intensity surrounding the game made it seem like a bitter rivalry. Thanks to a hometown crowd of 6,794 and senior forward Victoria Dunlap the Cats ousted the Irish.
“It was a great crowd, great energy, the building was electric and it was Memorial,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Dunlap led the Cats in the victory.
The reigning Southeastern Conference Player of Year finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.
Dunlap’s leadership was an important contribution that won’t show up on the stat sheet. She played 38 minutes while stepping up for sophomore A’dia Mathies, who struggled from the field.
“(Mathies) had a rough time,” Dunlap said. “I tried to keep talking to her and keep confident, but when she got a steal right there, that’s A’dia. She still can make things happen.”
It was a steal that helped seal the victory.
“I put (Mathies) on (Skylar) Diggins at the end of the game because I was as confident in (Mathies) as anyone, and she made a big time play in the game,” Mitchell said.
Notre Dame appeared to be able to bully the much smaller UK inside to begin the game, but the Cats used a 21-4 run to pull ahead of the Irish 41-35 at halftime.
UK’s late three-point shooting also helped to seal the victory. Despite missing its first 11 threes to start the game, UK made three of five to finish the first half and it hit five more in the second half, most coming from junior guard Keyla Snowden.
Snowden finished 5 of 12 from beyond the arc, scoring 17 total on the day.
“We all contributed to this but it felt good to help my teammates in the second half and hit some shots,” Snowden said.
UK knows being undersized means it will have to find other ways to win.
“The equalizers were the free throw line, the three point line and we were plus five on turnovers and to win (a game) those statistics have to be good,” Matthews said.
Shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range in the second half was crucial for the Cats, but no three was bigger than freshman guard Bernisha Pinkett’s with less than five minutes to play in the game.
The Irish had just cut the lead to one when Pinkett received the ball on the corner and launched a three that banked off the backboard and through the hoop, pushing the UK lead back to four.
Mitchell joked it went according to the play he designed.
“I have to take all the credit on that one, it was good coaching,” Mitchell said.