No. 7 Kentucky Fends Off Navy in NCAA Tournament
March 24, 2013
QUEENS, N.Y. -- A game-closing 12-1 run allowed Kentucky to pull away from and defeat the Navy women's basketball team, 61-41, Sunday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena in Queens N.Y., in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Navy, which was seeded 15th in the Bridgeport Region, ends the year with a 21-12 record while Kentucky, ranked seventh nationally and the No. 2 seed in the region, will take a 28-5 record with it into a second round game Tuesday against Dayton.
"Credit Kentucky," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "They made shots when they needed to and they were fantastic from the free throw line. I think that was the difference in the game. We're disappointed that we lost. Our team just had a great humility and a hunger tonight. You saw that. I'm really proud of our team and I am disappointed for sure in the outcome."
"I would first like to express our respect for the team that the Naval Academy has," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. "Those young women have made a decision to serve our country and I couldn't be more impressed with the team they have and the way they play the game. And the way that they sacrifice for each other and the decision they made to serve our country is very impressive to me and we have total respect for them and their program. Coach Pemper has done a tremendous job there and they really competed hard today and we really commend that team for how hard they played today."
The Mids, who were making their third NCAA Tournament appearance in both as many years and in program history, scored the opening points of the game on their way to building leads of 8-3, 16-10 and 23-17. Three times in that span the Wildcats winnowed the margin down to one point, but each time Navy answered with a three-point field goal to maintain a little separation from Kentucky.
The Navy lead was soon be six points at 24-18 when Kentucky rattled off the next seven points to take its first lead of the game at 25-24 with 2:50 remaining in the first half. Neither team could score again until April Bernal hit a jumper for the Mids to give Navy a 26-25 lead with 26 seconds remaining. The Mids would carry that slight advantage with them into the locker room at halftime.
After the Mids tallied the opening points of the game, Navy held the lead for all but 2:14 of the remainder of the half, with Kentucky's advantage during that span being only one point. The score gave Navy a halftime lead for the first time in its three NCAA Tournament trips.
"It's a weird feeling right now (after the game) because we don't graduate anyone so there isn't the same type of emotion of saying goodbye to someone. This group has been here before so there is the proverbial `we expected more out of ourselves' but in a sense we did do more because we'd never been up at half. We were close with DePaul, we were close with Maryland, but we weren't up. So I guess that's a positive."
The Mids executed very well on both ends of the court in the first half. Navy was 5 of 16 (31.3%) from three-point land and made 38.5 percent of its overall shots from the floor. Defensively, the Mids limited Kentucky to a 31.3-percent effort from the field.
Kentucky also held advantages over Navy in rebounds (23-18) and in turnovers forced (13-11), but the Wildcats held just a slight 6-3 lead in second-chance points while the Mids held a 15-6 advantage in points scored after turnovers forced. Additionally, Navy's bench players tallied eight points in the half and limited the Kentucky reserves to just four points.
"I was really impressed with the Naval Academy and how sharp they were (in the first half)," said Mitchell. "What we are finding is that our players have done a good job and have earned the reputation of being a good team, a pressure team. If anything, I believe that it raises the level of the opponent; they come out and really do a good job. Those kids from the Naval Academy clearly have some experience handling pressure, just with their day-to-day life and what they have to go through. And then you see they won three conference championship games in a row. That's a lot of pressure there, so that's a tough group of kids and I was really impressed with how well they played."
The second half began with Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill connecting on a three-point field goal on the first possession of the frame. She then stole the ball and took it to the hoop herself to give the Wildcats a 30-26 lead. Navy answered immediately with a jumper by Jade Geif, but O'Neill hit a jumper of her own on the ensuing Kentucky trip down the floor to give the Wildcats a 32-28 lead. Kentucky would also score the next five points to build a 37-28 lead on the Mids.
Navy was able to slice the margin down to six points at both 37-31 and 41-35. Kentucky answered the latter situation by going on an 8-0 run to take a 49-35 lead. Navy again climbed back into the game as a 5-0 run was capped by a three-point shot by M.L. Morrison. Her triple brought the deficit back down to single digits at 49-40 with 5:39 left to play. However, Kentucky outscored Navy 12-1 over the remainder of the game to secure the decision.
Kentucky outshot Navy, 46.6%-23.8%, from the field in the second half. These marks included the Mids making just 1 of 6 three-points shots and the Wildcats sinking 1 of 5 attempts from outside of the arc. For the game, Kentucky shot 38.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent (3-11) from three-point range, while Navy shot 31.9 percent from the floor and made 6 of its 22 (27.3%) three-point shots.
The Wildcats also were far more effective than the Mids were from the foul line. Kentucky made all nine of its free throw attempts after halftime on its way to a 12 of 15 (80.0%) night from the charity stripe, while Navy was just 4 of 9 (44.4%) from the foul line in the second half and ended the game shooting just 48.5 percent (5-13) in all from the stripe.
"It feels weird we are playing an SEC team in the NCAA Tournament and we lost the way that we lost many games this year, which is not making three pointers and not making free throws," said Pemper. "I liked the shots that we got and by and large, I like the way that we took care of the ball. Kentucky was an extremely different team than we saw at any point in the season. I cannot emphasize enough to you; I know you all watch a lot of basketball, that is an extremely different team than we have ever played.
"They were taller, more athletic, deeper, I think really well coached. In pre-game warm-ups they had 10 additional people on the court helping them warm-up. I was counting. Assistant coaches, managers, staff; they are well coached.. They ran good stuff, had talented players and shooters, they had a little bit of everything."
Additionally, Kentucky grabbed 43 rebounds to Navy's 30 for the afternoon, while the Wildcats also held a 17-4 advantage over the Mids in points tallied after turnovers in the second half. Those points were tallied after Navy turned the ball over 12 times in second half while forcing Kentucky into eight turnovers in the final 20 minutes of play.
"For them to have 19 turnovers," said Pemper, "we really don't force teams into turnovers a lot. I liked our scrappiness, some active hands, kind of getting to the ball, but I do think their (15) offensive rebounds affected us and our morale. We like to think we are a disciplined team and a scrappy team and won't give up offensive boards, and that's hard."
Kentucky entered the game averaging 76.4 points per game and had scored at least 80 points in 13 games on the season. The 61 points produced by the Wildcats was the fourth-lowest total accrued in a game by Kentucky this season. It also marked just the fourth time in 33 games this year in which Navy allowed a team to score at least 60 points in a game.
Geif and Alix Membreno both scored nine points for the Mids, with Morrison chipping in eight points. Geif also snared a team-high six caroms on the afternoon.
"Jade was terrific in terms of what we asked her to do tonight that was different," said Pemper. "She has never handled the ball so much in her life. Just really proud of her effort for sure."
Kentucky's DeNesha Stallworth led all players in the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. She was joined in double figures by teammates Samarie Walker with 14 points and by O'Neill with 12 points. Navy held two-time SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies without a field goal made (five attempts) for the first time in her career.
"We had noticed some teams they (Kentucky) played tried to keep the ball over of her (Mathies) hands," said Pemper. "We tried to do that a little bit. I think Alix was against her a lot of the game. Alix is a real competitor and has the tools -- the size the athleticism, the instincts -- to do that. To be honest, though, it is not as if they always went to her."
"We leave this game with a tremendous amount of respect for the Naval Academy and their basketball program," said Mitchell. "I'll just say one more time, I really respect those young women and what they have decided to do with their life, and what they are doing not only with the rigors of Annapolis and everything they have to do academically. Now you add in trying to perform at the highest level in college basketball, which I thought they performed well today. It is just so impressive to me, and anything we could do (joining the Navy players for the playing of the Navy Blue and Gold) to be a part of their tradition there, they invited us to do that, we were happy to do. We have a lot of respect for those young women."