Close to a comeback



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Neither head coach Matthew Mitchell nor senior Victoria Dunlap wanted her final game in a UK uniform coming in the fashion it did.

Though she and her teammates battled until the final buzzer, No. 5 seed North Carolina was too much for the Cats, as they fell 86-74 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday night.

“It was a real uncharacteristic game for us,” Mitchell said. “There is no in between for us; we, for whatever reason, just weren’t in tune tonight. Our style of play is feast or famine … we looked really bad tonight.”

UNC mounted a 14-5 run in the final 3:46 of the first half, in which it hit its first two threes of the game. UK’s only points in those minutes came from free throws.

And though the scoreboard showed a bleak 40-30 halftime score in favor of the Tar Heels, things didn’t clear up much for UK after the break. UNC led the full 20 minutes after halftime, but at the 10-minute mark, things changed. UK came roaring back.

The Cats cut the lead to one possession three different times in the second half, but each time the Tar Heels responded. When it seemed UK had the comeback completed, it fizzled again, letting UNC slip further away, eventually losing by 12.

Mitchell said he couldn’t have been more disappointed with UK’s “uninspired play,” as well as his inability to prepare the team for the matchup against the Tar Heels.

“It was one of the most disappointing performances I’ve ever seen from our team here at Kentucky,” he said. “I just feel terrible that somehow I couldn’t get us more inspired to play in the NCAA Tournament, I feel really bad about that.”

It was the battle of the boards that told the story, showing 55-31 in favor of UNC’s lengthy lineup, which also posted eight blocks against UK. But neither the players nor coaches wanted to credit the loss to UNC’s height.

“I don’t think their size had anything to do with it,” Dunlap said. “We’re used to playing teams that size. It was just a matter of us not coming into the game and playing the way we needed to … We just didn’t pull through.”

The Cats cap their season 25-9 overall and 11-5 in the Southeastern Conference. For Dunlap, along with fellow seniors Carly Morrow and Amber Smith, the loss concludes the third-winningest senior class in UK history. It’s a class Mitchell described less as athletes and more as “family who will always have a home in Lexington.”

“Thinking about where I started from, it means a lot (playing for UK),” Dunlap said. “Just being the player I am now, I’ll never forget it. I love this program, love this school. I’m gonna miss it.”

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