There was bad news and good news from Reed Arena last night.
Obviously it's that we lost. This wasn't just a loss. It was a frustrating loss. Although this was a game that had you cheering wildly for our women and acknowledging some great plays by the Cats, it was also the kind of game where you want to scream "WHAT THE *%$#%# ARE YOU THINKING?!!!" over and over as the Ags showed new and creative hospitality in the form of turnovers. Now, 18 turnovers vs a team with the defensive mojo of Kentucky isn't necessarily an unusual number. In fact, it's less than three above our season average of 15.6 per game. But these turnovers were not like our run-of-the-mill turnovers. In the postgame, Coach Blair said we played like we were afraid to handle the ball against the press. In some cases it looked like our ladies didn't want to burden one of their teammates with the onerous task and so they simply handed the ball to a defender. Or threw it up for grabs from the backcourt. Or seemed to forget that catching the ball in the backcourt on an inbounds pass isn't a violation.
"WHAT THE *%$#%# ARE YOU THINKING?!!! PICK UP THE DAYUM BAWL"
(We don't actually scream this at Reed; it's a family-friendly venue. But we are thinking it).
We must give credit to Kentucky coach Matt Mitchell and the Kentucky defense. But maybe there's more to this than just hard-nosed pressing defense with a really deep bench of well-coached lightning quick players. There's a clue in the title of the pregame post at A Sea of Blue: All our Hexes Live in Texas. Perhaps Mitchell was sticking pins in a Gary Blair doll on the UK sideline and whispering to it: "to break the press, have your point guard throw the inbounds pass". He made Kelsey Bone think that ball in the backcourt was a snake. He used polyjuice potion to fool our players into handing the ball to defenders they thought were teammates. At least that's my theory.
- Money for breast cancer research
- The game was entertaining, even if we didn't like the result
- The student section wasn't empty. Special props to the Corps for their showing and loudness.
- The Ags didn't quit when they were down and showed a lot of heart in adversity in a rally that fell short at the end.
With around 13 minutes left in the game, A'dia Mathies crashed into a crowd for an offensive board. I expected a foul on Mathies, but I was at the other end of the court, across from the home bench. Bodies went to the floor and when things resumed, Kelsey Bone was limping off the court and Courtney Walker had been called for her fourth foul. By 8:31, the Wildcats had a 14 point lead and Bone was still in pain. Coach Blair decided he needed Walker on the floor even with 4 fouls, and went with a lineup of Karla Gilbert, Kristi Bellock, Peyton Little, Courtney Walker and Adrienne Pratcher. It only took 2:10 for that group to whittle the Kentucky lead down to 4 at 56-60 (6:21), and the lead was 4 at 60-64 (4:36) when Blair put Bone back in the game. Two buckets by CWalk around a basket by Mathies made it a 2 point lead with 1:03 remaining. Blair subs Jordan Jones for Courtney Williams to get on-ball pressure. This works well when Jones strips the ball and it goes out of bounds with only 1 tick left on the shot clock.
Timeout Kentucky. At this point, I think most of the crowd is thinking we get a stop and a chance to tie or take the lead on the next possession. We're jumping around, screaming, and waving the little pink towels that were placed on the seats. Instead, Matt Mitchell must have had one more bit of black magic left.
What happened next was hard to process in real time from the other end of the floor. But the highlight at ESPN lets us dissect the play. Stallworth takes the ball for the inbounds pass on the left baseline. Mathies and O'Neill are the obvious options on the left side. Jones and CWalk follow them out toward the Ky bench. Bone is on the inbounds pass. In the paint, Kristi Bellock is checking Bria Goss. On the right side of the key, Adrienne Pratcher has 6-1 Samarie Walker who isn't a threat from distance with only 1 on the shot clock.
Mathies sets a beautiful screen for O'Neill breaking for the left corner, taking out both Jones and CWalk as Stallworth lobs the ball to O'Neill. Bone instinctively (or by design?) goes at the shooter, leaving Kentucky with a 3-2 advantage in the paint. Bellock rotates to box out Stallworth. Pratcher does a textbook boxout on Samarie Walker. But all this leaves Bria Goss is wide open, and when Stallworth goes over Bellock to tip the ball into the paint, Goss lays it in.
The Ags had one more desperation chance requiring rebounding an intentionally missed free throw, but that was effectively the end of the rally.
Congrats to Kentucky. Lost in my writeup is how Denisha Stallworth played much, much better than I thought she would. I'll let Greg Allen Edwards praise the Cats in his post-mortem from the UK pov here. Courtney Walker played an amazing game down the stretch, playing with 4 fouls.
The refs were laughably bad, but are not to blame for the loss, as they had mysterious weird calls on both sides.