Wildcats knock off Lady Vols 66-56

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior Carly Ormerod and sophomore Amber Smith embraced at half court, junior Amani Franklin pounded the basketball to the floor, while senior Eleia Roddy and sophomore Victoria Dunlap slapped high fives as Kentucky fans stood with a rousing ovation. Celebrate, ladies. It's been a long time coming.

For the first time since 1986, the UK women's basketball team (14-12, 4-7 Southeastern Conference) defeated the No. 13/19 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (18-8, 7-4 SEC) in Memorial Coliseum. After 23 years of agonizing defeats, the Wildcats toppled the Lady Vols 66-56 on Thursday night in front of a season-high crowd of 6,868. It was UK's third-highest margin of victory over UT in 51 meetings.

"I really think that our players played with a lot of fight and energy tonight, and it was a great, great effort for us," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Probably the thing that I am most proud of is how we attacked the basket all night long, which was a big emphasis for us. It is a tremendous win for Kentucky and give all the credit to the players because they did a tremendous job tonight."

It wasn't the first time UK had upset Tennessee in recent years – the Wildcats knocked off No. 1 Lady Vols in Rupp Arena in 2006 – but this one might have been just as impressive. After all it's not often that a team outplays and outhustles college basketball's all-time winningest coach.

"They beat us off the dribble-drive over and over and over and they did a great job of getting the ball inside," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "They're a small team but they play big. They defended well. … They were a lot tougher than us – they were tougher mentally. They beat us to a lot of loose balls and that's all about heart and desire."

Few times in Summitt's 1,001 career-win history has she been so befuddled and confused at her team's effort. She said they played with a lack of passion, heart and energy. It might have seemed unlikely before the game, but maybe they can take a page out the Wildcats' playbook.

"Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) was 7-of-9, Dunlap isn't shooting the ball well but she had 15 boards. She found a way to make good things happen when she wasn't shooting well," Summitt said. "We can take a lesson from watching that."

But even Summitt would agree that it was more than just Roddy and Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) on Thursday night. Just about all the Wildcats had a hand in the historic upset in Memorial Coliseum.

Roddy and Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.) led the scoring (each tallied a game-high 18 points), Dunlap brought the toughness (career high-tying 15 rebounds), Carly Morrow (Chattanooga, Tenn.) nailed the clutch shots (three 3-pointers) and Ormerod (Louisville, Ky.) dished out the assists (game- and season-high six assists).

All brought the passion.

"It means so much," Smith said. "Beating Tennessee makes it mean so much more. We are going to build on this. This is a big win for us. We are going to celebrate until practice tomorrow."

Her stat sheet wasn't flawless, but Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) might have epitomized the Wildcats' heart on Thursday night. The emotional Smith took charges, pushed the Wildcats in transition and finished with 10 points and three assists.

"She was terrific," said Mitchell, who defeated his former mentor for the first time. "I thought she was the key to the game. She is the person that is driving our engine right now and making us go."

Early on, it looked as if it was going to be another Tennessee runaway. The Lady Vols ripped off the game's first 10 points and held UK without a point for more than five minutes.

Most teams would have folded at that point. Not UK.

Behind the interior play of Roddy and the jumpers from Franklin, the Wildcats went on a 17-7 run and knotted the game at 17 apiece. Roddy finished the half with 12 points and Franklin chipped in with 10 in the first period, but neither team could gain control and went to the locker room with a 29-29 tie.

When Roddy picked up her third foul just minutes into the second half, things appeared to be bleak for UK. But when Roddy went out of the game, UK somehow turned it up a notch. With a smaller lineup, the Wildcats spread out the Lady Vols, turned up the defensive pressure and reeled off a 22-7 run to take commanding control of the game.

"I thought the defense was the main thing," said Mitchell, whose team forced 19 turnovers and held Tennessee to 39.3 percent shooting. "Balanced scoring is great but I thought being able to hold them to 56 points was the key and I thought our players gave maximum effort."

By the time Morrow swished a 3-pointer with just under 12 minutes to go, Summitt was forced to call a timeout and quiet the UK crowd, most of which were clad in pink for the WBCA Pink Zone game.

The Wildcats stretched the lead to as many as many as 17 points late in the second half, but the Lady Vols didn't go down without a fight. Tennessee's Kelley Cain scored a team- and career-high 16 points inside the paint to get the Lady Vols as close as seven, but there was no denying the upset bid.

In arguably his biggest win as UK's head coach, Mitchell was actually quite reserved after the game. Mitchell took his congratulations from the remaining UK faithful when he walked back out onto the floor following his post-game interview, and he let his players celebrate the win following the game.

"He has the confidence of a lot of people at this university," Morrow said. "We see how he comes in every day and puts in 110 percent. He cares about us off the court, too. That's rare in a lot of coaches to care as much off the court as on the court. He puts a lot into this program and so do the assistant coaches. We want him to see the benefits of his efforts and we got the win."

But with three games to go and the postseason still dimly in the picture, Mitchell knows the Wildcats still have more work to do.

"It's a great start and a significant win but we know we have a long way to go," Mitchell said.

The Wildcats next step is on Sunday at Louisiana State for a 3 p.m. EST game. The game will be carried live on the Big Blue Radio Sports Network with Neil Price.

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