No. 6 Kentucky women match best start in historyBy COLIN FLY, AP Sports Writer Thursday, Feb 2, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—One of Kentucky’s goals at the start of the season was to win a Southeastern Conference championship. The Wildcats are off to their best start in history along the way.
Freshman Bria Goss scored 19 points and No. 6 Kentucky matched the 1982-83 team at 21-2 with an 82-41 victory over Mississippi on Thursday night.
“If we do all this and come out with nothing, we’re going to be disappointed,” Goss said. “We’re here to make a statement.”
It’s never been clearer.
The Wildcats are 10-0 in the SEC and looking to do something that team 29 years ago couldn’t—win an SEC championship to join the school’s only other title team from the 1981-82 season.
“We’re not going to let up. This is the time we need to push harder,” Goss said. “We don’t want this opportunity to slip away. We’re just going to continue to focus on Kentucky.”
Whether Kentucky captures its second conference title in school history will likely be determined over the next three games. Kentucky heads on the road for games at LSU on Sunday, at No. 8 Tennessee on Feb. 13 and at Alabama on Feb. 16.
The Wildcats already have a win over the Lady Volunteers, who are two games back in the loss column after falling to South Carolina 64-60 on Thursday night.
“I just think when you have an effort like tonight and you play Kentucky basketball, that’s the most encouraging thing,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “If we will just do that, we believe we can be SEC championship. As the standings go, you hope you get as much separation as you can. You’d love to see a huge lead in the standings.”
Kentucky forced Mississippi (12-11, 2-8) into 36 turnovers, the most in a conference game this season, and didn’t skip a beat even though leading scorer A’dia Mathies had an off night.
Mathies, averaging 15.4 points, went 2 of 14 from the field and finished with 11 points. Kastine Evans scored 12 points and had a career-high seven steals.
“We have a very balanced team,” said Samarie Walker, who added 11 points.
Courtney Marbra scored seven points to lead Mississippi, which never got within single digits in the second half. Up 40-29, the Wildcats used a 15-3 run to put the game out of the reach that included five different scorers.
Crystal Riley hit a 3-pointer in the right corner, Walker cleaned up a miss from Mathies, Evans hit a jumper and after Bernisha Pinkett’s strip and missed layup, the Wildcats grabbed three offensive rebounds before Walker finally scored to give Kentucky a 55-32 lead with 13:53 left.
Kentucky would make it 30 with just over 8 minutes left and take its first 40-point lead in the final 1:27 as Mississippi shot 27.3 percent in the second half.
“I was particularly impressed with the way the players went about earning this one,” Mitchell said. “They really played with great energy.”
The Rebels were without inside presence Nikki Byrd, who was averaging 13.1 points and 9.5 rebounds but was hurt late in the Rebels’ loss on Sunday to Auburn. Leading scorer Valencia McFarland was held to six points, well-short of her average of 13.6 per game.
“Their team is on a mission. Their style of play affects everyone obviously in this league and tonight we got bit by the same bug—turnovers, pressure,” Mississippi coach Renee Ladner said. “They’re definitely the hardest team to play against because of their relentless pressure and their ability to sub.”
Kentucky was actually a player short.
Freshman Azia Bishop didn’t dress because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
No matter, the Wildcats kept on rolling after an early hiccup.
Kentucky jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but after Mathies’ layup the Wildcats went more than 6 1/2 minutes without a field goal before Brittany Henderson’s putback of a Mathies’ miss gave Kentucky an 18-16 lead.
Mississippi, which is beginning a stretch of five of its final seven regular-season games on the road, took its only lead, 14-12, after consecutive baskets by McFarland, but couldn’t extend it because the Rebels kept sending Kentucky to the foul line early.
Kentucky finally got going and Keyla Snowden hit a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave Kentucky its first double-digit lead, 29-18, with 6:05 left. The margin continued to get wider as the game went on, just like the SEC standings have for the Wildcats.
“We’re getting closer and closer,” Goss said. “We just want to take advantage of this opportunity that we have.”