Walker leads UK Hoops to 70-61 win over Vandy

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Sophomore forward Samarie Walker led UK Hoops to a 70-61 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores Monday night at Memorial Coliseum moving the Cats to a tie for the SEC lead and ending a three-game skid.

Walker recorded her first career double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 35 minutes of play.

“It’s definitely exciting. Coach has always told me about rebounding and that is the first thing that was on my mind. The scoring just comes,” said Walker.  “I haven’t expected to play this much since I got here, but I had to step up and do it tonight.”

After falling behind 2-4, the Cats reeled off a 12-0 run – holding Vandy scoreless for more than five minutes.

The Cats held a double-digit lead for most of the game, with the largest lead coming with 14:56 left in the game at 49-29.

Vandy went on a late-game 11-0 run to trim the Cat lead to 61-55 with 1:21 remaining.

“I felt like we got it within striking distance, and then we turned it over too. We did such a poor job of getting too far down. We ran out of time,” said Vandy head coach Melanie Balcomb. “When we did have the opportunities, I think, to cut it a little tighter in big plays, we turned it over, which we did all game.”

Guards Kastine Evans and Bria Goss combined for 6-for-6 free throw shooting in the final minute to help the Cats hold on for the win.

“Fantastic victory tonight for our team over a very good opponent and I just loved the way that we started the game with tremendous defensive intensity and great aggressive play on the offensive end,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell.  “It was clearly a game that we wanted to win and we played like we wanted to win. We played really, really hard and hustled tonight. I am really proud of our team.”

The Cats forced 24 Vanderbilt turnovers and outrebounded the Commodores by 11 (40-29), leading to 19 more field-goal attempts.

The win snapped the Cats three-game losing streak and moved them into a tie with the Tennessee Lady Vols for first-place in the SEC.

“I am just so happy for our players because you get off to such a great start at 10-0 and then you lose some tough games and there has to be a point for them where their confidence is down. There is no question about it. I am so happy for them,” said Mitchell.  “Really proud of our coaching staff because we just tried to stay behind them and believed that we had a good team. I think we can continue to get better. This was a tough game for us to win tonight and I was proud we were able to get it.”

Both the Vols and the Cats are 11-3 in the SEC with two games remaining.

“I think we can get better. As far as our position, we are in better position than we probably have ever been in a SEC season in the history of the school. As far as how they award the championship is based on a 16-game schedule and I love the position we are in,” said Mitchell. “We are still striving to win the championship and we are still in position to do that. I am happy with that, but I still think we can play better.”

The Cats return to action Thursday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum for the final home game of the season.  UK will be recognizing seniors Crystal Riley, Amber Smith and Keyla Snowden.