No. 7 Kentucky women beat Middle Tennessee 84-72
The Kentucky Wildcats and coach Matthew Mitchell know only too well the challenge of playing Middle Tennessee in the Blue Raiders' home.
That makes a rare win in Murphy Center that much sweeter.
Bria Goss scored 16 points and Kastine Evans added 15 as the seventh-ranked Kentucky Wildcats beat Middle Tennessee 84-72 on Sunday. Kentucky (6-0) had lost in its last two visits to Murphy Center against Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell, but the big-scoring Wildcats left with the program's first win here since Jan. 8, 1989.
''I think that's what makes it for real fun, competitive games,'' Mitchell said. ''He's had more fun than us the last two times, so we're really going to enjoy this one riding back. So we're really proud of our team.''
The Wildcats opened by hitting their first five shots and took control with nine straight points capped by a steal by Goss and a layup for a 12-3 lead. They led by as much as 12 when Goss hit a 3-pointer midway through the half for a 27-15 lead and were up 41-34 at halftime.
Jennifer O'Neill also had 14 points for Kentucky, and Samarie Walker had 12. Kentucky now has won 16 straight against non-conference teams in the regular season, and the Wildcats improved to 11-4 all-time against Middle Tennessee.
''They really battle all the time,'' Evans said of the Blue Raiders. ''I mean I was here two years ago when we lost. You could see the atmosphere. Just like we are at home, they take pride in winning here, so they play like that, and they really play hard every game here.''
Ebony Rowe, a native of Lexington, Ky., scored 28 points for Middle Tennessee (1-3). The Blue Raiders' losses now are all to Southeastern Conference teams, including Tennessee and at Arkansas. It's a tough schedule against teams currently with a combined record of 19-2 as Middle Tennessee transitions into Conference USA this season.
''We hadn't got any gimmes on our schedule, and that's good because when we start up in January in our conference that's when we've got to know we've got it together,'' Insell said.
Kentucky came in leading the SEC in scoring with 97.2 points per game with the Wildcats cranking it up to 102.8 points over the past four games. They were coming off a 116-49 rout of Lipscomb in their last game, the most points scored under Mitchell.
The Wildcats didn't come close to that pace Sunday as they played through lots of foul trouble with 30 fouls compared to 19 for Middle Tennessee. But they also forced the Blue Raiders into 23 turnovers that they turned into 34 points and had a 35-34 edge on the boards. Kentucky also hit 50 percent (33 of 66) from the floor.
Mitchell said he never wants to be complacent and let his Wildcats think they've arrived. So he put them through some practices, while trying to take it easy to allow them to recover.
''We tried to be mentally focused. We tried to make sure we'd have our legs because we knew it'd be a tough test in here today,'' Mitchell said. ''Middle Tennessee is a really tough team. They're going to have a great season.''
Middle Tennessee only tied Kentucky once at 3 and got within five a few times early in the second half, the last at 47-42. Kentucky scored the next nine points to push the lead back to double digits with a layup by Harper capping the spurt with 14:05 to go and a 58-42 lead. The Wildcats pushed that to as much as 17 with 8:46 left before Middle Tennessee made one last push.
The Blue Raiders went on a 15-4 run capped by seven straight before Shanice Cason scored on a drive to pull them within 74-68 with 2:36 left.
But Cason missed the free throw for the three-point play, and that was as close as Middle Tennessee would get.
''They made some big-time baskets in that second half, let's be honest,'' Rowe said of Kentucky. ''Their big-time players stepped up and made big plays. I think the most proudest moment for me is the fact my team didn't give up.''