Hoops downs Vanderbilt 69-56, faces familiar foe in finals (with VIDEO)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The third time was a charm for the UK women’s basketball team when it faced Vanderbilt this season. Then again, so were the first two times.

The Cats clobbered the Commodores 69-56 in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament, a game that was only close a handful of times, to advance to the tournament championship.

Vanderbilt scored the first two pints of the game, and then it had a 22-0 UK run thrown in its face. It was a lead the Cats never gave up.

Unlike Friday’s poor start against Louisiana State, UK came out with the mindset to play “Kentucky ball,” a tough, physical defense, senior Victoria Dunlap said.

“Our players turned in unbelievable defense today against a really good Vanderbilt team,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “To be in the finals for the second year in a row and to be right where we intended, I am really proud of that.”

The ‘Dores turned the ball over 25 times, most of which came in the first half during UK’s big run. The team believes its full-court pressure has been effective against Vanderbilt this season, as it forced the team to commit 69 turnovers in just three meetings with UK.

“That’s our gameplan; to come in with a lot of pressure, a lot of intensity,” Dunlap said. “We were expecting that. Last time we played Vandy, we had the same mentality and the same effort on the court.”

Dunlap, who had 21 points and seven rebounds Friday, finished with a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds against Vanderbilt. It was her eighth double-double of the season.

“Now we’re in the place we expected to be,” she said.

But Mitchell credited much of his team’s success to a career-high 18 rebounds from sophomore Brittany Henderson.

“We knew it was going to be aggressive,” Henderson said. “(Senior Hannah) Tuomi and (sophomore Tiffany) Clarke are great physical players. We knew it was going to be tough on the boards today.”

UK will face the Lady Vols of Tennessee Sunday at 4:30 CT, a repeat championship game from last season. In fact, UK had only advanced to the conference championship once before that, when it played the Vols in 1982. UK lost both games by final scores of 70-62 and 80-74, respectively.

“We need to focus in our fundamentals, what our principles are,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to be a very, very simple gameplan tomorrow.”

Though the Cats have been the fan-favorites for their first two games in the SEC tournament, they will be far from that Sunday. They will try to complete a three-round fight of a different kind against UT, one that hasn’t been so kind as this season’s romping of Vanderbilt.

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Matthew Mitchell, Victoria Dunlap & Brittany Henderson opening remarks

Matthew Mitchell (Pt. I)

Matthew Mitchell (Pt. II)

Matthew Mitchell (Pt. III)

Brittany Henderson & Victoria Dunlap