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By Les Johns
KINGSTON, R.I. – For the second consecutive game, a double-digit lead was lost.
Monday night against Green Bay, the Cats squandered a 17-point lead. Sunday evening, the Cats held a 21-point lead, but a 14-1 Gonzaga run had slashed it to eight.
Senior guard Keyla Snowden delivered in the clutch for the second-straight game for the Cats, hitting two quick three pointers to extend the Cats lead to 14 en route to a 79-62 victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in Kingston, R.I. – advancing the Cats to the Elite Eight for the third time in school history.
The Cats fueled their victory with hot shooting from behind the arc. UK hit its first three 3-pointers and connected on 12-for-21 for the game.
The Bulldogs hit 1-for-6 from long range, earning the Cats a 33 point differential in 3-point scoring.
“I think we put up a lot of shots in the practice and shoot around, just getting used to the gym,” junior guard A’dia Mathies said. “We did a good job of making shots in general, so I’m proud of that.”
The Cats ended the first half with a 19-7 run that gave them a 43-28 halftime lead.
A Snowden 3-pointer at the 13:54 mark extended the UK lead to 21 at 58-37.
The Cats went without a field goal for the next seven minutes during a 14-1 Bulldog run that pulled them to within eight points at 59-51 with 9:03 left.
“I kept telling them to hang in there and at some point if they just kept defending, a shot would go down,” Mitchell said. “It was a tough run to absorb.”
Just like Monday night against Green Bay, Snowden responded for the Cats with two big 3-pointers.
“I’m very confident in our team, and I thought we hung in there real tough,” Snowden said. “We knew Gonzaga was going to make a run at some point. I thought we did a good job of bouncing back, staying together and keeping our energy positive.”
Snowden led the Cats with 17 points, hitting 5-for-9 behind the arc.
“Keyla has been playing with a sense of purpose like you would like to see a senior playing with,” Mitchell said. “She’s a supremely talented shooter and has been competing on both ends of the floor like a person who is on a mission and wants to get to a Final Four.”
The Cats ended the game on a 17-9 run to secure a 79-62 win and a Elite Eight contest against perennial women’s basketball powerhouse UConn.
UConn transfer sophomore forward Samarie Walker earned a double-double for the Cats, with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Junior guard A’dia Mathies scored 15 points and freshman Bria Goss chipped in 10 points.
Mitchell was happy with the defensive intensity of the team, despite forcing a season-low ten turnovers.
“When you get down to the final eight or final 16 teams, you’re not as worried about the final turnover stats as you are about the intensity your team is able to bring,” Mitchell said.
The Cats (28-6) move on to face the University of Connecticut Huskies (32-4) in the Elite Eight. UConn advanced with a 77-59 win over Penn State in the earlier game at the Kingston Regional Sunday.
This is the third Elite Eight appearance for the Cats. The program has never made it to the Final Four.
“It means a lot for our program,” Snowden said. “We are excited to be here and we know we can make history.”