Tigers deal Cats worst loss of season in romp at Rupp

As the women’s basketball team took the Rupp Arena floor yesterday afternoon, the Cats hoped to continue their midseason surge by upsetting No. 9 Louisiana State.

The Lady Tigers, however, had other plans.

LSU senior center Sylvia Fowles shot 9-of-11 from the field, and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Tigers downed the Cats 72-46 in front of 8,335 fans.

“Fowles is very difficult to play against because of not only what she can do physically, but also because of the doubt she can put in your mind,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We need to get mentally stronger and step up and meet these challenges a little better.”

The Tigers (16-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) wasted no time and took early command of the contest. LSU senior forward Ashley Thomas scored just 14 seconds after the opening tip, and the Tigers never looked back. LSU put 12 points on the board before the Cats’ first strike, a layup by freshman guard Amber Smith.

After the Tigers’ initial run, the Cats (10-10, 4-2 SEC) mounted a 10-4 run and came within six points. With 12:18 remaining in the first half, LSU led 16-10. The six-point margin was the closest the Cats would get for the rest of the game.

The Tigers fought off the Cats’ first run and expanded their lead to 25-10 with 8:57 left before halftime. However, the Cats did not fold. UK tallied 10 quick points and only allowed one LSU basket for the next 3 1/2 minutes.

As UK tried to claw its way back into the game, LSU head coach Van Chancellor kept his team calm by calling a timeout with 6:15 until halftime, a rare first-half move for the Hall of Fame coach.

“I try to save timeouts in the first half,” Chancellor said, “but when they made the one run, I called a timeout because I was afraid the crowd might energize them.”

After the timeout, LSU exploded and put the game out of the Cats’ reach. The Tigers closed the first half on a 14-6 run and controlled a 41-23 lead at halftime.

In the second half, the Cats continued to struggle on offense. Despite senior center Sarah Elliott’s 17-point outing, the team shot 26.8 percent from the field and allowed the Tigers to shoot 48.4 percent.

“We needed to get some baskets to fall early, and they just didn’t fall,” Mitchell said. “A lot of it is that LSU is very good, so we don’t need to blame it all on us.”

Offensive woes are nothing out of the ordinary for Mitchell’s team. Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Cats ranked last in the SEC in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, and 11th out of 12 teams in points per game.

“To our credit, we have found a way to sit here at 4-2 in conference play,” Mitchell said. “But we are a very poor offensive team.”

Although the Cats have shot only 38.4 percent from the field this season, they continue to address their performance.

“We just have to go back and practice,” Elliott said. “That’s all we can do. We know it’s in us, but this is why LSU is one of the top teams in the nation.”

After winning four of their first five conference matchups, the Tigers handed the Cats their worst defeat of the season. Although the loss may seem bad, Chancellor put himself in Mitchell’s shoes and provided a bit of perspective for the first-year UK coach.

“Coming into today, you were 4-1 in the SEC, and now you’re 4-2, so you aren’t much worse off than you were yesterday,” Chancellor said. “They’ll hang in there and play hard.”