Cats down Bulldogs to advance to SEC final


UK guard A’dia Mathies goes for the layup against Bellarmine University at Memorial Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 9, 2009. Photo by Scott Hannigan

The No. 19 Cats (25-6, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) erased an 11-point halftime deficit and turned it into an 11-point margin of victory, with a 76-65 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (19-12, 9-7 SEC) to advance to the SEC final for just the second time in school history.

In recent seasons, the Cats had been close to returning to their first SEC final since 1982, as they were making their third semifinal appearance in five years and first since 2006.

A poor first half saw the No. 2 seed Cats struggle offensively en route to 24 points. However, UK’s defense picked up the second half and this led to easy buckets as the Cats scored 52 second-half points.

The award-winning duo of SEC Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap and SEC Freshman of the Year A’dia Mathies were the catalysts behind the Cats’ resurgent second-half offense. Mathies finished with a game-high 25 points and Dunlap finished with 22 points.

Trailing 40-26 early in the second half, UK went on an 18-5 run, which included a streak of eight straight points by Dunlap, to bring the Cats back to within a point of the Bulldogs.

The two teams battled back and forth until UK’s Lydia Watkins hit a jumper with less than seven minutes remaining to spearhead a 9-2 run for the Cats, who took a 69-59 lead and deflated the Bulldogs’ hopes of advancing.

Though UK’s swing in offensive fortune seemed an unlikely scenario with the third-seeded Bulldogs’ strong first-half play.

MSU’s senior guard and leading scorer Alexis Rack picked up her third foul just past the midway point of the first half with the score at 17-15 in favor of the Bulldogs. However, MSU, which starts four seniors and one junior, leaned on the experience of its players and went on a 9-2 run.

UK called a timeout after the aforementioned Bulldogs’ run and responded with the next five points of the game before going on an offensive dry spell. The Bulldogs closed the first stanza on another 9-2 run for a 35-24 lead.

However, UK’s defense forced the Bulldogs into 27 turnovers and limited Rack to four points.

The No. 4 and top-seeded Tennessee Lady Vols (29-2, 15-1 SEC) advanced to Sunday’s final with a 68-49 win over Vanderbilt and will meet the Cats for the second time this season. The Cats lost to the Lady Vols, 81-65, on Feb. 25 in Knoxville, Tenn.