Seniors’ careers come to a close in Cats’ WNIT loss

With 10 seconds left and Marquette’s Erin Monfre headed to the free-throw line to shoot the front end of a 1-and-1, UK’s fate had been all but sealed.

The Cats’ season was coming to an end.

Yet, despite the emotions and realization that yesterday’s 69-64 loss to the Golden Eagles would the last in blue and white for four UK seniors, the Cats held their heads high and marched to the free-throw line for the remaining moments of an up-and-down season.

There were no heads buried in towels on the bench, no tears spilling down the cheeks of the seniors.

Instead, the Cats stared straight ahead knowing that they did their best to continue the seniors’ careers in the quarterfinal of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

“We were not going to give up,” senior guard Chelsea Chowning said. “I thought we had it in us to finish strong and pull it out.”

The Cats used a 12-0 run midway through the second half to battle back from a 15-point deficit, but ultimately UK’s season came to an end yesterday to the same school that ended the men’s basketball team’s year.

“The season was going to end at some point, we just hoped it wasn’t until the finals of this tournament,” said first-year UK head coach Matthew Mitchell. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t seem focused or energized throughout the game today, and as the coach, I have to take responsibility for that.”

Marquette junior guard Krystal Ellis led her team’s quest for a WNIT championship yesterday. A two-time All-Big East First Team honoree, Ellis netted a career-high 40 points, including 21 in the second half.

“I guess you could say I was in a shooter’s zone,” Ellis said. “My teammates kept getting me open, so I knew I had to hit shots to help our team win and keep going in the WNIT.”

The Cats (17-16, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) controlled the first 10 minutes of the first half, leading by as much as six points. However, Ellis and the Golden Eagles reversed the deficit with a swift 18-6 run that lasted only six minutes. With 4:06 remaining until the intermission, Marquette held the lead at 29-23.

UK tried to squash the Golden Eagles momentum early in the second half on a pivotal steal from Chowning and ensuing layup from senior guard Samantha Mahoney, but Marquette fired right back.

After UK came within four points on the Mahoney lay-in, Ellis silenced the 2,102 fans at Memorial Coliseum with a contested 3-point dagger. The nothing-but-net shot ignited a 13-2 Golden Eagles’ run to put Marquette on top 53-38 with 11:43 left in the game.

“This is a game of runs, and we knew they were going to make runs because they’re a good team at home,” Marquette head coach Terri Mitchell said. “We just had to get our players to somehow refocus, and it was Krystal’s day to do that today.”

Although the run seemed to deflate the Cats’ chances at extending their season, UK clawed back with a 12-0 run of its own. Seniors Mahoney and Chowning, and juniors Eleia Roddy and Carly Ormerod all chipped in on the spree.

The Cats soon found themselves down by three points with 8:21 left on the clock, but they never pulled any closer. Marquette freshman Angel Robinson scored six straight points for her team to ultimately seal the game’s fate.

Several times in the second half, the Cats were within one possession of tying the game or taking the lead, despite Ellis’ hot hand and Marquette’s streaky play. Although they never came closer than three points in the second half, the Cats did not doubt themselves.

“A lot of people may have given up on us when we were down by 15, but we knew we had it in us,” Chowning said. “That may be why this loss hurts a bit more than usual.”

Mitchell said saying goodbye to his four seniors — Mahoney, Chowning, center Sarah Elliott and guard Chante Bowman — is tough but the senior class will leave a lasting impression on the program.

“We’re all sad to see them go,” Mitchell said. “They have all helped this program take a lot of steps forward in building a national power here. They have left a very positive mark on Kentucky basketball.”