UK Hoops falls in SEC Tournament


Freshman guard Bria Goss drives to the basket during the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament game UK Hoops vs. LSU at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, Mar. 3, 2012. Photo by Tessa Lighty

By: Les Johns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A final-second 3-pointer missed the mark, sending the 2011 Texas A&M women’s basketball team to its third loss of the season to Baylor — this time in the Big 12 Conference Championship game.

Despite the loss, three weeks later the Aggies were cutting down the nets as national champions.

UK Hoops suffered a disappointing SEC Tournament weekend, but history proves a deep run in March is still possible.

The Cats battled back from a 14-point first-half deficit Friday in the second-round game against the Florida Gators.

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell changed the direction of the game early in the second half when he inserted senior guard Amber Smith into the lineup.

“We just told her she needed to go in and make some plays,” Mitchell said of Smith. “I thought she played probably her best game of the year.”

Smith, along with senior Keyla Snowden and junior guard A’dia Mathies fueled a 71-67 comeback victory.

“I’m not sure exactly how we won the game,” Mitchell said. “For us to overcome poor shooting and find a way to win is something I’m proud of the players for doing.”

The Cats had another slow start Saturday in the SEC Tournament semifinal against LSU, falling behind 10 points after allowing a 10-0 Tigers first-half spurt.

LSU dominated the glass, outrebounding the Cats by 15 for the game.

The Tigers confused UK with a zone defense and kept the lead in double-digits for most of the second-half.

“We wasn’t able to get the ball inside, attacking the gap,” Mathies said. “It was mostly our fault. We wasn’t attacking when we should have.”

LSU outscored the Cats by 28 points at the free-throw line, taking advantage of the 30 team fouls called on UK, and won the game 72-61.

“You lose by 11, get outscored by 28 at the free-throw line. We clearly fouled too much. You’d like to see the free throws a little bit more even,” Mitchell said. “We had a chance to win today — just couldn’t get it done.”

Mitchell said he was disappointed with the team’s performance but pleased with what they had accomplished thus far.

“I think we have a really good team. For whatever reason we didn’t play very well,” Mitchell said. “To win the tournament, you have to play well for three days, and we didn’t do that.”

Mitchell recognized his team for winning the first regular-season conference championship since 1982.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment to play the best over a 16-game schedule,” Mitchell said. “I’m real proud of the team for being the champions of the regular season. It’s something we should draw some confidence from.”

The Cats can also gain confidence from recent history. Last year’s Final Four in Indianapolis featured two teams that lost in their conference tournaments, including national champion Texas A&M.

Additionally, SEC regular-season champions tend to fare well in the Big Dance.

Seven out of the past 10 years, the SEC regular-season champion has advanced to the Final Four.

Mitchell said he believes the strength of the SEC will help his team be ready for the tests it will face in the NCAA tournament

“I think we will be very much battle-tested going into the tournament,” Mitchell said. “It makes you even prouder to be the champions of the regular season when the conference is so strong.”

The Cats (25-6) will next play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament March 17 or 18. Their seeding, opponent, region and location will be decided and announced March 12.

The latest ESPN “Bracketology” has UK penciled in as a No. 3 seed, playing the Des Moines Region, with first and second-round games taking place in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Cats will not idly wait for the announcement. They plan on taking advantage of the off time to regain some lost confidence from a less-than-stellar performance in Nashville.

“We need to get in the gym and get some shots up and get confidence back,” Snowden said. “I think a lot of people are lacking confidence in their shots ­­— their abilities right now. The main thing is we just got to play together.”

Mitchell agreed with Snowden’s assessment.

“I think Keyla put it well there. We at times this season had a real dedicated group getting into the gym,” he said. “They’ll have a lot of time this week as we await and see where our destination is in the tournament.”

Mitchell said he is pleased with what the team has done but believes it can achieve more.

“We’re already a special team. We’ve done something that hasn’t been done in 30 years,” Mitchell said. “We have to decide how special we want to be. We have a lot left to accomplish.”