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.