Cats stumble in final exhibition tune-up

For most exhibition games, the home team is looking to work out any weaknesses against an inferior opponent before the regular season starts.

But nobody told that to the Ohio Legends, who dominated the UK women’s basketball team last night, handing the Cats an ugly 88-79 loss in their final exhibition game in front of 1,271 fans at Memorial Colisuem.

“We are obviously disappointed,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We knew it was a test because they had already beat a couple of teams.”

The Cats seemingly decided to have their opponent live up to the their nickname — the Legends — by being outscored, out-rebounded and outplayed against a team that is made up of former collegiate and high school basketball players from the state of Ohio.

“I told the team that this was just an exhibition and we needed to learn from it,” Mitchell said. “But we can’t play this way and win during the season.”

Everything seemed to go against the Cats in the first half, when they were troubled by the Legends’ defense. UK’s only lead of the game came on freshman forward Victoria Dunlap’s layup with just under 15 minutes left. But the Legends made sure the Cats’ lead did not last behind a suffocating full court press.

“We played lifeless in the first half,” Mitchell said. “Our group didn’t respond well.”

Breaking the Legends’ defensive pressure was not the only problem for the Cats in the first half.

The team shot a dismal 12-of-33 from the floor before halftime. Sophomore forward Lydia Watkins led UK with eight points off the bench, but the rest of the UK offense struggled to penetrate the Legends’ full-court press.

Senior guard Samantha Mahoney started the half 0-for-6 from the field and did not score her first points until 8:26 left in the first half.

“We had some good shots,” Mitchell said. “But it takes a while for the offense to catch up. It’s hard to coach on making shots.”

UK’s depth in the frontcourt was tested early and often because of the absence of senior center Sarah Elliott, who missed her second-straight game with a hip flexor injury, and junior forward Eleia Roddy, who is still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury she suffered last year.

When junior forward Jenn’e Jackson picked up her second foul four minutes into the game, Mitchell was forced to go to his young bench.

Without the Cats’ three eldest frontcourt players on the floor, the Legends exploited UK’s inexperienced post players for 32 points in the paint.

“We played some young, inexperienced players in the post,” Mitchell said. “(We had) too many defense breakdowns and they got easy shots. And we fouled entirely too much.”

The Legends opened the second half with a 9-2 run but the Cats did not give up, forcing 18 second half turnovers from increased defensive pressure.

Still, the pressure was not enough to overcome the double-digit deficit they faced for most of the second half. While the Cats made multiple runs at the Legends behind 14 second half points from sophomore forward Brittany Edelen, Ohio had an answer for everything UK put in the basket.

“I put Brittany in the game because I knew she would give energy and intensity,” Mitchell said. “I’m looking for players to play that way and she produced tonight.

Down the stretch UK kept trying to chip away Ohio’s lead behind Mahoney and Edelen’s play, but seven missed free throws down the stretch doomed UK.

The Cats tried to look at the positives to ready themselves for their first regular season game Saturday.

“(Ohio) had some good post players,” Mahoney said. “It was a good test, but this gives us a chance to look at film and just fine-tune some things.”

And while the loss may look ugly, the Cats are ready to put a game that does not affect the win-loss column behind them.

“It’s just preseason,” Edelen said. “It’s a time to get ready, we can’t let this game get us down.”