UK Hoops closes out home season with win



UK gave seniors Amani Franklin and Lydia Watkins the perfect send-off on Senior Day against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

The No. 16 Cats (23-4, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) defeated the Gamecocks 71-50 (13-13, 6-7 SEC), in front of a season-high 7,742 fans to finish the regular season 17-0 at Memorial Coliseum.

The noise generated by the sixth-largest crowd in school history could easily have been mistaken for a capacity crowd at Rupp Arena, while the unblemished home record is the first since 1980-81, and only the second in school history.

“It was awesome, especially being that it was Senior Day, and that me and Lydia (Watkins) were able to finish the season at home undefeated,” said Franklin, the self–admitted “cry baby,” who couldn’t keep her emotions in check during the pregame ceremony honoring the seniors.

Watkins loved the atmosphere, too, but she said: “I’m not the type to cry like (Franklin), all my joys came out through a smile.”

On Friday, UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said his desire was to give his seniors a lasting memory of an incredibly special home season. The coaches, players and fans did their part, jumping all over the Gamecocks from the outset.

Appropriately, it was Watkins and Franklin who scored three of the first four field goals of the game for the Cats, who were up 9-1 in the first three minutes and 36-20 at halftime.

Despite a limited UK bench consisting of four players in uniform due to the injury to guard Crystal Riley  and an illness of Carly Morrow, the energy level never seemed to dip for UK.  The first half was filled with several outlet passes, a pass between a South Carolina defender’s legs and even an A’dia Mathies spin-o-rama and converted basket in what Mitchell called an incredible display of transition offense.

“They were playing with enthusiasm, energy and a lot of effort, and I think South Carolina knew we were serious about our business today right from the tip,” Mitchell said.

South Carolina freshman phenom, 6-foot-5 Kelsey Bone, who had 23 points and nine rebounds against the Cats in the team’s first matchup, was rendered virtually ineffective as she finished with 13 points and five rebounds in the loss. Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley said she was displeased with her team’s inability to feed Bone the ball in the first half.

But the day was all about the seniors from start to finish, as Franklin scored UK’s first and last two points of the game.

“I’ve had the good fortune of being a part of some wins over my career and none is more satisfying than today because of our two seniors,” said Mitchell, who praised his seniors during an address to the crowd after the game. “This victory is something they’ll have the rest of their life, an undefeated home season is just a really remarkable feat for them.”