Before a raucous crowd of 3452 crazy fans, including the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia, the women's basketball programs of West Virginia University and UK took the floor at Memorial Coliseum in a WNIT semi-final match-up tonight. WVU was lead by Meg Bulger, the little sister of St. Louis Rams QB, Mark Bulger. Unlike other programs that UK has faced in the WNIT, WVU comes out of the Big East and wasn't intimidated by noisy Memorial Coliseum after having played at national powers UConn, Notre Dame, and Rutgers.
In what UK head coach Mickie DeMoss deemed as one of the most physical games she has ever been a part of, West Virginia jumped out quickly on UK and stretched the lead to 13-2 by the 15:00 minute mark. UK would battle back to cut the lead to 13-8, but WVU would stretch the lead out again. At the 8:22 mark in the first half, DeMoss found her Wildcats down 28-13. The physical play of WVU had hampered sharp-shooting Sara Potts and seemingly thrown all-SEC frosh Samantha Mahoney off her game. With her team struggling, DeMoss turned to sparkplug sophomore transfer Nastassia Alcius. Known for her tough defense and Ramel Bradley-like offense, Alcius went work, scoring 5 quick points and cutting the lead to 28-18. However, WVU would go on another run and the half would end with the Mountaineers leading 38-24.
The second half started out similar to the first. WVU jumped out on UK and by the 16:44 mark had stretched their lead to 49-27. It seemed hopeless for UK but if there is one thing that Mickie DeMoss' UK teams have become known for during her short tenure is their grittiness. DeMoss turned on her press and switched up her defense. Over the next 10 minutes, UK would disrupt West Virginia's offense and chip away at their lead. At the 5:36 mark, Sara Potts would hit a jumper to cut the WVU lead to 49-43. WVU would finally score again at the 5:10 mark. However, UK did not quit. All-SEC frosh Sarah Elliott went to work at the free throw line and on the boards. At the 3:12 mark, Elliott kicked the ball out from the post to Potts in the corner for a three. This would cut the WVU lead to 52-51. At the other end of the floor, Elliott blocked a shot by WVU guard Chakhia Cole. Senior Danyelle Payne picked up the loose ball and rewarded Elliott on the other end of the floor by finding her in the post. Elliott scored to give UK its first lead of the game at the 2:31 mark, 53-52. Over the remaining two minutes, the teams would exchange leads, with WVU taking a 58-56 lead with 16 seconds remaining. Elliot would then grab the rebound on a missed free throw by WVU and UK would call timeout. As they have done so many times this season, the Cats would turn to Sara Potts. With 8 seconds remaining, Potts would drive the line and hit a jumper that would lead the game to overtime.
In the first overtime, WVU jumped out quickly to a 4-point lead. UK would return the favor and go on a mini scoring flurry of its own, with seniors Potts and Payne quickly tossing in 5 points and giving UK a 63-62 lead with 1:39 remaining in the first overtime. WVU would retake the lead and again find itself with a 2-point lead with 16 seconds remaining. Bulger would foul Potts with an over-the-back on a rebound at that moment. Potts would make both free throws and UK clamped down on WVU to send the game to a second overtime.
In the second OT, UK simply ran out of gas. With their legs gone, UK missed a series of free throws that would have allowed them to stay in and possibly win the game. UK was never able to take the lead in the second overtime, though they did cut the lead to 72-68 with 1:54 remaining. Meg Bulger would prove too much for UK during the period, scoring 8 points in the final 1:54. Sara Potts was able to bring UK within 3 after hitting a trey from the wing with 8 seconds remaining. However, UK was left with no choice but to foul and WVU was successful at the free throw line. WVU won 80-75.
As the horn sounded, the crowd rose to its feet and gave this scrappy bunch a standing ovation. The Cats gathered at center court and waved goodbye to the crowd. Seniors Danyelle Payne and Sara Potts were the last to leave the floor with Payne pulling her jersey over her face and weeping. Potts put her arm around her classmate and consoled her as they left the floor.
Sarah Elliott would toss in 14 points and pull down 12 boards for a double-double. Seniors Danyelle Payne and Keiko Tate would finish their careers by contributing 4 points and 10 rebounds and 6 points and 3 rebounds respectively. Potts finished the game with 29 points and 8 rebounds. Potts would finish her career at #4 on the all-time scoring list with 1563 career points at UK. She also finished with the most 3-point shots made with 271 and second on the 3-point percentage list with a career percentage of 37.7%. Potts also finished 5th for most 3-point goals made in the SEC for a career.
After the game, Coach DeMoss commented on the physical play, "I thought West Virginia came out and was very physical with us. Obviously, the officials were calling the game that way. I thought it took us a while for us to adjust to that physical play." When discussing the second half comeback, DeMoss credited the offense for giving the defense some energy. "You hate to say it, but I think your offense, sometimes, can give you a little bit more energy on the defensive end. I like to say it was the other way around, but it isn't always the case. I thought when we started knocking some shots down, it generated some energy on the defensive end. Our intensity picked up."
With this loss, UK finished its season, 18-16. This is the program's first winning season since the 99-00 season when the team finished 15-14. Next year UK returns 4 out 5 freshman from its #5 recruiting class, with Samantha Mahoney and Sarah Elliott being selected to the all-SEC freshmen team. The Cats lose 3 seniors, but only one starter in Potts. In addition, Coach DeMoss is bringing in a class that is considered a top 25 class and has 3 of the top 15 players in the state of Kentucky with Carly Omerud from Sacred Heart Academy, Kasi Galloway from Knott Co. Central, and Jenne Jackson from North Hardin. Also joining them will be Shana Andrus from Ohio who is considered one of the top players in the state. In commenting on the program's future, DeMoss said "We played with a lot of young players all season. The thing that I was really proud of was the way our seniors stepped up in this postseason action. I thought (Danyelle) Payne and Keiko Tate and (Sara) Potts took on more of a leadership role in this postseason. But, the future looks good. I want those freshmen to hurry up and become sophomores. They got a lot of playing time this year. They'll be a little bit older next year, a little bit more seasoned. I think (Sam) Mahoney was a little tentative tonight for whatever reason. I like the future, and I like the way it looks."
I like the way it looks too, Coach.