Maybe others thought her team would be among the also-rans in the Southeastern Conference again this year, but Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss always knew better. And do did her players.
Kentucky capped a superb regular season Sunday by beating Alabama 80-60 in Rupp Arena in front of a crowd of 9,120 fans. The victory not only was UK's 20th of the season, but it also gave Kentucky a fourth-place finish in the SEC and first round bye in the conference tournament. Not bad for a team the media picked to finish ninth in the league.
"We knew we had a lot of talent. We are young, but we are talented," said Kentucky junior guard Jenny Pfeiffer. "Coming into the season, we had high expectations for ourselves even if no one else did. We believed in ourselves. We knew a lot of people picked us to finish at the bottom of the SEC, but we thought we could do a lot better.
"Probably being picked so low motivated us more than anything else. We wanted to prove everyone wrong and be in the top five, not the bottom five, of the SEC."
Pfeiffer had a lot to do with Kentucky's win Sunday. She scored a career-high 29 points, including 19 in the second half, by going 8-for-16 from the field, 6-for-12 from 3-point range and 7-for-9 at the foul line. When she missed shots early, her confidence never wavered.
"Nobody is going to be perfect. Everybody is going to miss. There was a point I was shaky, but I just kept shooting," Pfeiffer said.
Center Sarah Elliott may have wondered if she was ever going to get a shot against Alabama's collapsing zone defense in the first half. She finally got her first shot 11 minutes into the game, but she finished with 20 points, including 12 in the second half, on 8-for-9 shooting from the field.
"Elliott had a great second half," Alabama coach Stephany Smith said. "She's really coming into her own. Not only can she score, but she is so much more mobile now. She's always a factor on defense with her size around the basket. She's just getting better and better."
DeMoss said her team "worked a little harder" after leading only 31-28 at halftime after she reminded the players they would "be sick" if they lost and let a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament slip away.
"I was very pleased with the way we responded the second half," DeMoss said. "This takes a little heat and pressure off (the SEC Tournament). We can just go and play our game. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would win 20 games and finish fourth (in the SEC), I would have thought we would really have to rev up our game. I'm very proud of this team. I'm just real pleased with the direction we are headed."
She should be because this team should get a good seeding in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to gain more national respect like it did when it beat Tennessee earlier this season if it wins games in the NCAA.
"Knock on wood, but if we do what we are capable of, it will be hard to stop us," said Pfeiffer. "It is a continuing battle for us to get respect, but if we play like we can the next few weeks, that opportunity is there for us to show a lot of people that Kentucky has a good women's team, too."
Kentucky women cap season with win over 'Bama
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