Depleted Cats’ backcourt runs off Rebels

By James Penningto

Freshman guard Amber Smith sat at the end of UK’s bench all night. Junior guard Carly Ormerod wasn’t too many seats down from her, sandwiched between teammates. Smith wore street clothes. Ormerod wore her warm-ups, but she still didn’t see any time on the floor.

Both were inactive with two more injuries in what has turned out to be a season full of nicks and bruises for the Cats.

Still, UK (12-11, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) pushed its way to a 59-54 victory at Rupp Arena over Ole Miss, even with a depleted backcourt.

Last night’s victory was the Cats’ first game since Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. The injury is one of many that have plagued the Cats this season, but the players and coaches have tackled the challenge by coming together as a team.

“It was going to have to be a group effort, and it certainly was tonight,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “This is a really, really special group right now, I’m proud that we won this game.”

The Cats’ group effort was highlighted by senior center Sarah Elliott, who tallied her 12th career double-double yesterday by scoring 14 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.

“I know I can have these nights,” Elliott said, “but some nights I can’t do it and I get frustrated. This was one of those nights where I could do it. But everybody knocked down open shots, and crashed the boards hard tonight.”

In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Cats and the Rebels (9-12, 3-5 SEC) traded blows. Although the Cats opened up with a quick 11-4 lead with 14:07 remaining, the Rebels fought back by running off seven consecutive points and pulled even at 11-11 with 12:34 left on the clock.

The two squads stayed even for the next few minutes, with two ties and one lead change in the next four and a half minutes. With 7:56 on the clock, the Cats took the lead with a three-pointer from senior guard Chelsea Chowning. The score was 18-17 in the Cats’ favor.

After Chowning’s three, the Cats scored 13 straight points over a three-minute span, expanding their lead to 26-17 with 4:31 remaining. UK maintained its lead and took an eight-point advantage into halftime, 32-24.

After the intermission, UK held onto its eight-point lead for the next five minutes, but the Rebels did not concede. Ole Miss’ Liz Robertson, a sophomore forward, drained a three-pointer with 14:52 on the clock. The shot — Robertson’s only three points of the game — ignited the Rebels toward a 7-0 run, pulling them to within one point of the Cats at 40-39 with 12:54 left in the game.

The Rebels’ call was soon matched by a Cats response. Before the Rebels could take the lead, freshman forward Victoria Dunlap netted four straight points for the Cats. The Rebels fought back, and senior forward Dee Forrest brought her squad within one possession of a tie, 46-43 with 9:56 remaining.

However, Ole Miss’ run was doused by two consecutive Chowning three-pointers.

“What I love about Chelsea is that she had far more failure than success from the three-point line tonight,” Mitchell said, “but you could not tell by how she shot the ball. Whenever she shot the ball, she felt like it was going in. Those two shots were at such a critical point in the game since we were struggling to score.”

The Rebels came within two points, 55-53, with 93 seconds until the final buzzer. However, each team went more than a minute without scoring and by the time UK senior guard Samantha Mahoney sank a high-arching floater from the lane — her only two points of the second half — the Cats had expanded their lead to 57-53 with just 20.6 seconds remaining.

“We thought as if we had a chance, but Kentucky did a very good job of making the big play at all the right times,” Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner said. “We just couldn’t make the big play when we needed it.”