UK sets record after thrashing rival Cardinals 101-67

Christmas came early for the Cats.

On Sunday the UK women’s basketball team (10-0) notched its 10th consecutive victory to start the season, which breaks the previous school record of 9-0 set in 1980-81, with a resounding 101-67 victory over the Louisville Cardinals (6-5). It was UK’s first win over the Cards since 2003.

The 7, 323 people in attendance, the eighth-largest crowd in history at Memorial Coliseum, witnessed the second-largest margin of victory in the UK/U of L series, and the intense style of play that has UK feeling confident with Southeastern Conference play quickly approaching.

“They’re a real happy group of Wildcats in the locker room,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell, who wanted his team to ignore the losing streak against U of L heading into the game. “They absolutely earned a big victory today with incredible enthusiasm, incredible energy and incredible effort.”

Despite blowout victories all season, Mitchell’s squad was largely thought to have been untested because of the lower-quality opponents his team had faced. Although U of L is not a carbon copy of their NCAA runner-up team from a season ago, the Cardinals could not find any Christmas magic and were confounded by the stellar defense the Cats played.

“We were absolutely terrible today,” U of L head coach Jeff Walz said. “We do two things very well right now: foul and turn the ball over.”

In fact, foul trouble and turnovers, thanks to UK’s up-tempo defense, were the main reasons why the Cardinals found themselves staring at a 49-26 deficit at halftime.

The Cardinals committed 22 fouls in the first half alone, and the Cats were in the bonus with 11:43 left. The Cards had four starters with three personal fouls or more at the break.

Only starting sophomore guard Becky Burke, who finished with a team-high 21 points for the Cardinals managed to stay out of foul trouble. But Burke, much like her teammates, couldn’t stop turning the ball over. The Cardinals finished with 38 turnovers.  

The Cats capitalized on the good defense by outscoring U of L 39-13 on points off turnovers and walked to the free-throw line a season-high 52 times.

“We just got after it (on the defensive end) for 40 minutes,” said junior guard Amber Smith, who finished with 19 points.

Defensive intensity has been a key to success for the Cats this season, but Walz noticed another change in this year’s Cats.

“(UK) is getting the ball to their best player,” Walz said. “Now (unlike previous seasons) Victoria Dunlap is demanding the ball and they’re throwing it to her, and it makes (playing) easier for everybody else.” 

Prior to the game, UK got a big boost when Dunlap, a junior forward, decided to play after missing the last game with a concussion and suffering from post-concussion syndrome during the week. Dunlap showed no signs of a concussion, as she finished one rebound shy of her fifth double-double of the season while collecting a team-high 27 points and eight steals.

Despite Mitchell’s insistence that the record and the win over U of L don’t garner UK any awards, the victory represented something special for the Cats.

“It was very important (for us to win), especially for the seniors who haven’t beaten them since they’ve been here,” Dunlap said. “We play for this program, and show people that we can play basketball and how to play defense.”