UK Hoops suffers first defeat of season to No. 2 Duke

Duke forward Haley Peters (33) and center Elizabeth Williams (1) fight for the ball with UK forward Samarie Walker (23) during UK Hoops vs. Duke at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, December 22, 2013. Photo by Emily Wuetcher | Staff

Duke forward Haley Peters (33) and center Elizabeth Williams (1) fight for the ball with UK forward Samarie Walker (23) during UK Hoops vs. Duke at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, December 22, 2013. Photo by Emily Wuetcher | Staff

By Tyler Spanyer

sports@kykernel.com

UK Hoops could not overcome a 12-point halftime deficit in a 69-61 loss to Duke University on Sunday.

The official attendance was 23,706, the first-ever sellout for a women’s basketball game at Rupp Arena. The attendance total surpassed the previous program attendance record by more than 5,000 people.

It was the fifth-largest crowd for a women’s basketball game ever and the largest that did not involve the University of Connecticut or the University of Tennessee.

“(The crowd) was really remarkable today,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I don’t want to bash our team because we lost to a great team, but gosh I really wanted to win for that crowd tonight.”

In the first half the Cats came out jittery. UK started 0-for-5 from the field, including three missed layups. After settling down, UK used an 8-4 run to take a 13-11 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the half. The lead was UK’s last of the game as the Blue Devils ended the half on a 25-11 run to take a 36-24 lead at the break.

“They really just outworked us,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of rebounding in the first half.” 

In the second half the Cats clawed back in front of a raucous crowd, cutting the lead to four points with six minutes left. That was the closest UK would get to regaining the lead.

The main detriment to UK’s winning chances today, according to Mitchell, was missed free throws. The Cats were a combined 8-of-19 from the stripe, including 5-of-11 in the second half.

“You lose by eight, and you miss 11, so you had a chance there that you let get by,” Mitchell said.

The Cats got 12 second half points from sophomore guard Janee Thompson, who was scoreless in the first half. Thompson was the sole player in double figures on a team that had five players averaging double-figures coming in. Senior forward Samarie Walker added eight points and 12 boards in the loss.

“They had a very big starting lineup,” Walker said. “I think that definitely impacted the game in the paint, and personally my ability to post-up. Especially without DeNesha (Stallworth) out there.”

Duke senior guard Tricia Liston scored a game-high 28 points, one point off of her career high. She also played 39 minutes, the most of any player in the game.

“I just think we were not prepared enough for today’s game,” Mitchell said. “And that is 100 percent my fault. I am kicking myself for not having the team prepared today.”

The Cats dropped their first game of the year, ending their 11-game win streak. Duke’s win is a rebound from a 22-point loss against No. 1 Connecticut at home on Dec. 17.

UK will have Christmas off before returning to campus for their next home match-up against Grambling State University on Dec. 29.

PHOTOS: Hoops vs. Duke