UK Hoops advances to Sweet 16 with 65-62 win over Green Bay



By Les Johns

AMES, Iowa — It likely wasn’t much fun to coach in, but the UK Hoops vs. Green Bay Phoenix game sure was fun to watch.

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell billed the matchup as the “best game in the country Monday night,” and it did not disappoint.

UK senior guard scored four points in the final 16 seconds to earn a 65-62 victory and a trip to the  NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the Cats.

It certainly did not look like this would be a game that would be decided in the final seconds.

The Cats jumped on the Phoenix early, using a 16-4 first-half run to take a 23-8 lead.

Mitchell’s Cats were crisp offensively in the first half, penetrating the Phoenix zone and getting frequent open looks.  The Cats shot 15-for-27, for 55.6 percent from the field in the half.

Defensively, the Cats forced 12 Green Bay turnovers and held the Phoenix to 8-for-30 shooting, for 26.7 percent.

The impressive performance on both sides of the ball gave UK a 42-25 lead at the half.

“It was a beautiful half of basketball,” UK head coach Mitchell said. “It really was one of our best performances, and you needed that tonight against such a well-coached team.”

The second half was completely opposite, however.  Green Bay’s extended zone defense baffled the Cats.

“As a coach, there is not much you can do.  There is no play you can run against that defense,” Mitchell said.  “You just have to trust your players that they can make enough plays to win a game like this.”

Kentucky turned the ball over 20 times in the second half, leading to 17 Green Bay points-off-turnovers.

“In the second half, they (Green Bay) were playing the same defense, but we just got rattled,” UK senior guard Amber Smith said.

Green Bay was also more deliberate on the offensive end, opting to make the extra pass which many times led to better, more open looks.  The Phoenix shot 13-for-30, for 43.3 percent in the second half.

Green Bay climbed all the way back to take their first lead of the game at 62-61 with 1:57 left in the game.

The second half slide had crumbled what looked at one time to be an insurmountable UK lead.

“We had a big lead, but every great team is going to make a run,” Mathies said.

Senior guard Keyla Snowden made the plays down the stretch to keep the Cats tournament drive alive.

Junior guard A’dia Mathies, who scored all 10 of her points in the first half, missed a jumper that went out of bounds to Green Bay with 1:35 left in the game.

Up one, the Phoenix lobbed the ball over the UK pressure defense to junior forward Sarah Eichler, who was streaking down the court, several steps ahead of the closest UK defender.

Snowden closed the gap on Eichler as she neared the basket and slapped the ball away before Eichler got a shot away, preventing a potential three-point late-game deficit.

“The biggest play of the game was when we got up to press and they had a run out and Keyla Snowden sprinted that kid down and knocked the ball out of bounds,” Mitchell said.  “A one-point deficit we maybe could handle, but there was no way we could overcome a three-point deficit at that point.”

Moments later, freshman Bria Goss drew a charge, giving the Cats the ball back with a chance to regain the lead.

The Cats, who had been stymied by the Green Bay zone defense the entire half, finally found a seam in the final possession.

Mathies found Snowden cutting through the zone around the free-throw line, where Snowden rose and floated a 16-foot jumper towards the basket.

“We were trying to spread their defense out and that left open flashes in the middle,” Snowden said. “A’dia found me open.”

After a couple of bounces on the rim, the shot fell in, giving the Cats the lead once again at 63-62 with 16 seconds left in the game.

“Keyla is very capable of making big shots,” Mathies said.

Green Bay got a couple looks at the basket, but the Cats were able to regain possession with five seconds left and the Phoenix were forced to foul Snowden, who sank two free throws to give the Cats a three point lead at 65-62.

Green Bay got a relatively clean look from behind the arc for junior guard Adrian Ritchie, but it clanked off the rim and the Cats held on to the win.

“We were fortunate that she missed that.  That was a really, really good play that they executed there,” Mitchell said. “An undisciplined team doesn’t lose a 17-point lead and then come back and win the game.”

Snowden scored the last four points of the game, and 13 for the game.

“Keyla has been tremendous for us this year and we wouldn’t be nearly the team we are without her,” Mitchell said.

Sophomore forward Samarie Walker had a double-double, scoring 15 points and gathering 13 rebounds.

“The post players worked hard for two weeks,” Mitchell said.  “To see her rewarded with an outstanding game really makes me happy.”

Sophomore guard Kastine Evans and junior A’dia Mathies chipped in 10 points each.

Green Bay was led by Horizon League Player of the Year Julie Wojta, who scored 16 points, had eight rebounds and 10 steals.

Eichler also had 16 points for the Phoenix, who end the season with a 31-2 record.

The Cats’ tough win advances them to face the Gonzaga Zags (28-5, 14-2 WCC) Sunday in the Sweet Sixteen in Kingston, R.I.

“They won’t ask me to do a coaching DVD on how to break the 2-1-2 half-court zone press.  That was not fun and Green Bay made it that way,” Mitchell said.  “Our kids are probably not a lot of fun to go against either.”

“It was two real tough teams just going after it and I’m proud we got the victory.”