Cats pass Panthers with ease in season opener

With 2,119 fans in attendance at Memorial Coliseum, the women’s basketball team tipped off its season with a 83-61 win over Kentucky Wesleyan in an exhibition game last night.

The game was a display of a total team effort, with 11 players scoring at least one point.

“We don’t have any real superstars on this team, so we’re going to need everybody to step up and produce,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a great effort from everybody.”

Last night’s game marked the beginning of first-year coach Mitchell’s tenure at UK. Although this game won’t appear on the team’s record, Mitchell said he was happy with what he saw from the Cats.

“I was really pleased tonight because our players tried to play with the type of intensity that we’ve worked on in practice,” Mitchell said. “There were two or three things I was looking for tonight, and they all had to do with intensity and effort, and I was very pleased with that.”

UK senior guard Samantha Mahoney led the Cats to an early 6-0 game. Just 68 seconds into the game, Mahoney took a 3-point shot that lingered on the rim before falling through the net. Less than a minute later, Mahoney hit another 3-pointer in the same fashion. Mahoney said she had been putting in extra practice hours in an attempt to master that part of her game.

“Catching and shooting is something I’ve really been working on,” she said.

Mahoney, who was awarded preseason second team All-Southeastern Conference honors Thursday, led the Cats in scoring, finishing with 13 points while shooting

41 percent in 32 minutes.

The first 20 minutes of the game were characterized by the Cats’ ability to capitalize on the Panthers’ turnovers. UK scored 21 points off Wesleyan’s 18 first-half turnovers. The Cats’ aggressive play on defense carried over to the second half, finishing with 29 points off turnovers. The Panthers committed a total of 30 turnovers, including 11 steals by the Cats.

“Any time you force 30 turnovers, you are clearly playing with a type of aggressiveness that teams do not want to play against,” Mitchell said. “I think the players tried to play intensely, and I’m proud of that.”

Sarah Elliot, UK’s standout senior center, did not play due to injury. Despite Elliot’s absence under the basket, the Cats still scored 34 points in the paint.

While Elliot sat out with an injury, redshirt junior forward Eleia Roddy was bouncing back from one.

Roddy saw her first action in over a year, playing nine minutes against the Panthers and finishing with four points and three rebounds. She missed all of last season after suffering an ACL injury on Oct. 17, 2006.

Her presence on the court gave reassurance to Mitchell from the bench.

“She hasn’t played hardly any basketball over the past year, but she has proven that she can play in the SEC,” Mitchell said. “She’s going to be fine.”

Possibly the biggest surprise of the night was the 10-point, 12-rebound performance from freshman forward Victoria Dunlap, who was in the starting lineup and played 23 minutes.

“It feels good because I’ve worked hard in practice,” Dunlap said. “Coach Mitchell said that if we work hard in practice, we would get an opportunity to start. It was really exciting.”

The Cats hit their home floor for their second and final exhibition game on Monday night against the Ohio Legends. Mitchell is confident that the two exhibitions will prepare the Cats for the long season ahead.

“We’re not a finished product yet but the intensity is there,” Mitchell said. “We’ll be ready.”