Sweet victory: Cats make history with 70-52 win over Spartans


The Kentucky Women’s basketball team celebrates their NCAA second round victory over Michigan State at Freedom Hall on Monday. The cats defeated the Spartans 70-52. Photo by Scott Hannigan

LOUISVILLE—The key matchup entering the Cats’ second round game was Michigan State’s size vs. UK’s speed.

Quickness won out this time, as the fourth-seeded Cats (27-7) defeated the fifth-seeded Spartans 70-52 to advance to the Sweet 16 in the Kansas City Regional.

This is UK’s first trip to the regional semifinals since 1982, when the inaugural NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was competed among a field of 32 teams and UK head coach Matthew Mitchell was 11 years old. The win also extended the school record for wins in a season.

“Before the game, I told them I was afraid that this could be the last game we play together,” Mitchell said. “We couldn’t play with any fear, we had to put that behind us, and I thought they played remarkably confident tonight for this situation. I didn’t think any fear crept in at all.”

A UK win was anything but a certainty coming into the game, especially considering UK’s history of troubles with teams with solid size and rebounding skills. Mitchell said following UK’s first-round win that rebounding needed to be a point of emphasis.

The Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap was in for a challenge in the paint against Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Allyssa DeHaan, a 6-foot-9 senior with more than 500 career blocks.

“I think the big girl (DeHaan) was trying really hard just to try and keep me in front of her,” Dunlap said.

In the postgame news conference, the Spartan players said it felt as if Dunlap stood 6-foot-8 the way she was attacking the boards.

Dunlap wasn’t the only one attacking the basket, however. A collective effort in rebounding prevented the Spartans from advancing to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

The Cats held a 39-35 rebounding edge to make sure this postseason would not end like their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, when the Cats bowed out to MSU in the second round.

Following an evenly matched first half between the teams, as anticipated in this No. 4 vs. No. 5-seed matchup, the second half was entirely different thanks to UK’s swarming defense.

The Cats used a 17-8 run in the first 7:42 of the second half to keep the crowd’s interest in the game and built a margin the Spartans could never fully chip away at, scoring 21 second-half points.

At the start of the game, the Cats jumped out to a 5-0 lead one minute into the game exciting the partisan UK crowd. Save for a small pocket of green, the rest of Freedom Hall was uncharacteristically dominated by a sea of blue.

However, with the score 13-8 in favor of UK, the Spartans used a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the game.

The Cats’ offense and the crowd were reignited by an 8-0 run when they were trailing 28-24. The run included two fast break layups by senior forward Lydia Watkins, who along with senior Amani Franklin, are looking to extend their careers one game at a time.

UK, one of the NCAA’s most unlikely success stories this season, will most likely face No. 1 seed and one-loss Nebraska in its next game.

“I think the danger for us right now is to feel like the Sweet 16 is a place of arrival,” Mitchell said. “We need to resist that as much as we can. This team has a good chance to advance in the next round.”