[SLIDESHOW]UK women fall 70-62 in SEC Championship


The UK women’s basketball team plays Tennessee for the SEC tournament at the Gwinnett Center on Sunday, March 7, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

DULUTH, Ga. – The Cats found themselves on the wrong side of tradition and the tale of the tape against No. 4 Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship game on Sunday, falling 70-62 to the Lady Volunteers.

UK’s starting lineup, which included only one player over 6 feet tall, gave up 26 total inches to the Volunteers’ starters. All five starters for Tennessee (30-2, 15-1 SEC) were over 6 feet tall, capped by 6-foot-6 sophomore Kelley Cain, a first team All-SEC selection.

“It was pretty physical out there,” junior forward Victoria Dunlap said. “I think mentally we weren’t ready to box them out and we weren’t ready as a team in the first half, so they got a lot of put backs and boards. But I thought we did a good job of turning that around in the second half.”

Tennessee used its size to their advantage early and often, and the Lady Vols scored 18 of their first 23 points in the paint, outrebounding the Cats 51-32. But when the No. 19 Cats (25-7, 11-5 SEC) could keep the ball from going inside, they were finally able to slow the Volunteers’ attack and took a 25-23 lead after being down by 10 points early in the game. UK took the lead when Dunlap made a layup in transition and was fouled, converting on the freebie.

The Volunteers knew how to respond.

The two teams traded the lead until UK junior guard Amber Smith picked up her third foul in the first half, sending her to the bench. Smith had a slow start on the night scoring, but paced UK offensively and defensively with five assists and three turnovers. With her sitting out, the Vols were able to close the half strong and took a 35-29 lead into the locker room.

“They’re a very good basketball team,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They have a lot of experience in this situation so I was not surprised by (Tennessee’s ability to respond after falling behind). I was more encouraged by how we responded. Things were not looking good at times in the first half and I thought we responded.”

But when Smith came back, so did the Cats.

Smith made a basket, assisted on a 3-pointer and made another layup to tie the game at 38 before picking up her fourth foul and going to the bench again. She would re-enter the game before too long, but once the Volunteers finally heated up, there was little any UK player could do to stop them. With UK up 48-46, Tennessee ripped off an 11-2 run and didn’t look back.

No Cat did more to lead the UK offense than Dunlap, particularly when Smith was out. Dunlap finished with 21 points and six rebounds, providing UK with most of its punch inside.

In the end, the Vols’ poise that comes with 14 SEC tournament championships and their 44 inside points  were too much for the Cats to overcome. UK missed out on the chance to win just its second-ever SEC tournament championship. The Cats’ only other such title came in 1982.

“We have made tremendous progress,” Mitchell said. “Tennessee has a great program and we have a lot of respect for their program. We talked today about what Kentucky is about and what we want to be about and I think you see out there players that play very aggressively, players that are willing to make some sacrifices for each other and play hard together, and I think we just need to continue to to do that … I’m really encouraged with what the team is doing right now.

“We have a long way to go this year, this season is not over, but the SEC portion is and it is time to look back and they performed well.”