Mahoney’s 30 points fuel win; Elliott injured

The names on the front of the jerseys in a third-round game of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament last night were UK and James Madison University. But it was the names on the back of two particular jerseys on which last night’s game hinged: Mahoney and Young.

Despite the double-double performance of James Madison senior guard Tamera Young — 28 points and 17 rebounds — UK rode its senior guard Samantha Mahoney, who netted a career-high 30 points, to a victory over the Dukes 84-76. The win sends the Cats to the WNIT quarterfinals.

“Samantha played like a senior who didn’t want this to be her last game,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She had full understanding of tonight’s situation, and she was not going to be denied.”

Down by one point with 7:54 left in the game, senior center Sarah Elliott went down with a knee injury as she was battling for position underneath the basket. Elliott menaced in pain on the floor for several minutes before being helped to a seat on the bench.

The Cats rallied around their injured teammate. UK’s first points after Elliott’s injury came by way of a three-point play from junior center Eleia Roddy — Elliott’s backup. Roddy’s tough play ignited the emotion of her teammates, her coaches and the 1,703 fans at Memorial Coliseum, and the Cats rode the wave of energy and never looked back.

“I knew that I had to step up,” Roddy said. “But my mindset didn’t change when Sarah Elliott went out. Before she went out, I knew we had to win the game and when she went out, I knew we still had to win. I’m glad I could provide the spark for the team.”

Although the Cats emerged with an eight-point victory, the Dukes stayed close until the final buzzer. UK sealed the win by hitting 18-of-25 second-half free throws.

From the opening tip, the two teams fought hard. Young scored the first basket of the game, a jumper just 28 seconds after the opening tip. But the Cats buckled down and ran off eight straight points to give themselves an early advantage.

The Dukes fought to get back within striking distance. Once James Madison got within two points, the Cats’ interior defense and red-hot offense sparked a swift 12-2 run. With 8:39 left until intermission, UK held a 30-18 lead, their largest of the game.

However, the Dukes did not fade away. Freshman guard Dawn Evans hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut her team’s deficit in half, 30-24 with 5:57 remaining in the first half. The two squads traded blows until halftime, and the Cats hit the locker room with a five-point advantage, 37-32.

When the second half began, Young immediately put her team on her shoulders. In the first 20 seconds, she grabbed one of her game-high 17 rebounds, drew a foul and hit two free throws on the ensuing possession. Mahoney answered with consecutive baskets of her own, but James Madison rallied and scored 11 unanswered points to take a 45-42 lead with 15:42 left.

“Our players showed a lot of toughness tonight,” Mitchell said. “We knew this was a good team and when they took the lead, we just held it together.”

Facing a 52-46 deficit, Mitchell called a timeout with 13 minutes left to let his team regroup. Out of the timeout, the Cats quickly clawed their way back to within one point. It was at that point that Elliott suffered her knee injury.

The Cats sealed their victory by taking charge of the contest with a 15-6 run to get the game out of the Dukes’ reach.

The next round of the tournament will be another home game for the Cats, where they will play Marquette.

“There’s no substitute for tournament basketball,” Mitchell said. “It’s tremendous experience for all of our players.”