No. 9 Kentucky 81, No. 12 Notre Dame 76

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw glanced at the stat sheet at

halftime, saw No. 9 Kentucky was struggling from 3-point range and

told her team to let the Wildcats keep shooting.

Bad idea.

Kentucky guard Keyla Snowden got hot, redshirt freshman Bernisha

Pinkett did too and Victoria Dunlap did the rest as Kentucky held

off the 12th-ranked Irish 81-76 on Sunday.

”Great coaching on my part,” McGraw said. ”(Snowden), I don’t

know if she had any in the first half, it was really just poor on

our part that we didn’t identify where she was.”

For a couple of spectacular minutes, Snowden was everywhere,

knocking down a series of deep jumpers in the second half to blunt

a Notre Dame comeback. The junior finished with 17 points as

Kentucky (3-0) won its 20th straight game at Memorial Coliseum.

”It felt good to get hot for once because I’m a shooter and

that’s what I bring to the team,” Snowden said.

The Wildcats needed it after Notre Dame (2-2) cut a 12-point

deficit to 59-58 on a tip-in by Natalie Novosel. Snowden drilled a

3-pointer from several feet behind the line to push the lead back

to four.

The Irish pulled within 66-65 a minute later on a conventional

three-point play by Becca Bruszewski when Pinkett one-upped her

teammate, banking in a 3-pointer from the corner to put Kentucky up

69-65 with 5:16 left. The Irish would get no closer the rest of the

way.

Pinkett just laughed when asked if she called the bank, while

coach Matthew Mitchell jokingly tried to take credit.

”That’s a special play that we run, clearly we were

executing,” said Mitchell, who signed a contract extension on

Thursday.

Dunlap made sure it was enough. The defending Southeastern

Conference Player of the Year had 24 points, 14 rebounds, four

assists, three blocks and two steals in 38 grueling minutes.

”I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone work as hard as she did,”

McGraw said. ”It was probably a normal day at the office for

her.”

Novosel led Notre Dame with 21 points and Skylar Diggins had 18

points but the Irish came undone in the first half after forward

Devereaux Peters went to the bench with foul trouble. The Wildcats

ripped off a 19-2 run to take a lead they would never

surrender.

”We were having to work to get open every time,” Diggins said.

”They have great on-ball defenders. We did a good job handling

pressure except for stupid turnovers.”

Notre Dame gave it away 17 times and made just 2 of 15

3-pointers, allowing the undersized Wildcats to overcome a distinct

size disadvantage. The Irish dominated glass, outrebounding

Kentucky 51-35 and scoring 52 points in the paint.

Yet Kentucky’s aggressiveness attacking Notre Dame’s zone

allowed the Wildcats to get to the free throw line with regularity.

The Wildcats outscored the Irish 21-10 at the line despite an

uncharacteristically sloppy day from sophomore star A’Dia Mathies,

who had just six points and four rebounds, including a 2-for-8

performance at the line.

Still, Mathies made a couple of huge defensive plays, none

bigger than a strip of Diggins with 15 seconds remaining and the

Wildcats nursing a four-point lead. She made one of two to preserve

the win and perhaps send a message that the Wildcats are for

real.

Kentucky won 28 games and reached the NCAA regional finals a

year ago and earned the highest preseason ranking in team history.

The Wildcats backed it up with their first win over a ranked

nonconference opponent at home since beating Western Kentucky in

1997.

”It just shows that last year wasn’t a fluke,” Dunlap

said.

The loss spoiled a homecoming for Novosel, who starred at

Lexington Catholic. She didn’t appear nervous, scoring Notre Dame’s

first seven points.