|Kentucky's Maegan Conwright (20) shoots under pressure from Alabama's Celiscia Farmer (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/James Crisp)|
No. 6 Kentucky women top Alabama 82-68
LEXINGTON, Ky.—Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell had high hopes that his sixth-ranked Wildcats would put on a show in front of the only team in school history to win a conference title. By the end, he was just happy for a win.
"It's almost as if we thought if we got a certain number of points ahead, Alabama was going to go away, that certainly never happened today," Mitchell said. "We're not going to paint a masterpiece every afternoon."
Keyla Snowden scored 14 points and A'dia Mathies added 13 as Kentucky jumped on Alabama with a big first-half run in an 82-68 victory Sunday to move the Wildcats within one game of matching the best start in school history.
The Wildcats honored the 1981-82 team at halftime, which included Valerie Still, the school's all-time leading scorer and the only woman with her number retired in the program's history.
Kentucky (20-2, 9-0) is vying for its first Southeastern Conference title since 1982 and looking to match the squad one year later that won 21 of its first 23 games on the way to the NCAA tournament.
"It's one of our goals," Snowden said of winning the conference. "That's what we're going to push for."
But Kentucky realizes it'll need a better sustained effort after jumping out to a 25-point lead but playing a lackluster second half.
Alabama (10-12, 0-8) held an early 13-10 lead before Kentucky used a 32-4 run where the Crimson Tide hit just 1 of 14 shots from the field and committed 10 turnovers in a span of just under 12 minutes.
"We feel like we did some things to ourselves," Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said. "We had 16 turnovers in the first half, cut those down to nine in the second."
Kentucky has won 17 straight at Memorial Coliseum, which was again sold out with 7,871 in attendance, and has won 45 of its last 47 at home over the last three seasons.
The Wildcats have been in the poll for 37 straight weeks and appear on a collision course for a game at Tennessee on Feb. 13 that will likely determine this year's SEC regular season champion.
"We want to win the SEC," Mathies said. "We think we've worked extremely hard to win it and that we've got the most talent to win it. I think if we just keep doing what we've been doing and get better then we'll be able to win it and it will be a great honor to win it."
SEC freshman of the week Bria Goss had 11 points for the Wildcats and Kentucky scored the first seven points of the second half before Alabama rallied with Mathies and Samarie Walker in foul trouble.
Meghan Perkins' layup cut it to 73-62 with 4:41 left and Alabama had a chance to get within single digits, but Jasmine Robinson missed a layup and Khristin Lee's putback attempt was no good with 4:05 left as Kentucky pulled away from there.
Robinson and Kyra Crosby scored 14 points apiece, while Lee finished with 12 for Alabama, which has lost seven straight in the series. Alabama finished with 25 turnovers, the 20th game this season Kentucky has forced at least 20 turnovers as the nation's leader in turnover margin.
"If we play together, have a common goal, we can beat anybody if we play for 40 minutes instead of 20 minutes," Crosby said.
Jessica Merritt hit two free throws to give Alabama a 13-10 lead with 14:34 left before the Wildcats' 32-4 run that started when Snowden hit a 3-pointer from the left side and followed up with another basket.
Mathies hit consecutive 3s for Kentucky that made it 33-17 and Walker finished the spurt with her jumper in the paint to give Kentucky a 42-17 lead.
Kentucky is keyed by the play of Snowden, Mathies and Goss, along with a frenetic style of defense known as the "40 minutes of dread" and had forced 16 turnovers by half -- just off Alabama's 16.8 average per game.
But it wasn't quite up to standards against the Crimson Tide.
"I just know that we had an uncharacteristic second half of defense and I didn't think we gave a Kentucky-type effort in the second half. That's disappointing," Mitchell said. "If they continue to do that, they'll get beat."
Alabama hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in nine years and doesn't have a senior on this squad after Ericka Russell's career ended due to multiple knee injuries.
"I think we probably played our two best SEC games," Hudson said after also losing against Tennessee on Thursday night. "We had a group together that was competing against the two best teams in the league. Hopefully that's going to prove something."