Nov. 21, 2010

Courtesy of Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - 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.