DULUTH, Ga. — Pressure defense can make a game crazy.
University of Kentucky women”s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell doesn”t mind when things get crazy because that means his Wildcats are playing with energy and forcing mistakes.
But sometimes a helter skelter pace can affect the wrong player.
In the first 20 minutes Saturday, Mississippi State proved to be even better at forcing turnovers, as Kentucky committed 14 to MSU”s 13.
Junior point guard Amber Smith had six of those turnovers in 19 first-half minutes. Smith”s ability to re-focus in the second half played a key role in second-seeded Kentucky”s come-from behind 76-65 victory against third-seeded MSU on Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Smith had 11 of her 14 points and three of her seven assists in the second half to help Kentucky (25-6) rally from a 14-point deficit early in the second half.
“That is an athletic, talented, tough basketball team that has us 14 points and we looked dead in the water,” Mitchell said. “She was able to pull herself out of that, and she made some plays that were incredible.”
Smith had only one turnover in the final 20 minutes.
Kentucky entered the game third nationally in turnover margin (plus-7.5).
The Wildcats forced 28 more turnovers Saturday to add to their SEC-high total of 726. MSU”s showing marked the 23rd time this season a team has committed 20 or more turnovers against Kentucky.
“That was as good as we have pressed all year there in the second half,” Mitchell said. “That was outstanding.”
MSU”s previous high for turnovers in a game was 25 in an 81-60 loss to Xavier on Dec. 20.
The total was the most Kentucky forced in a SEC game this season.
“They”re tough and they keep playing,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “That”s their identity.
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs didn”t communicate as well as they needed to against the pressure, especially with Kentucky players coming from behind numerous times to tip balls away. The result was a 32-19 edge in points off turnovers for the Wildcats.
“We started off the second half OK, and then pretty much the difference in the game was we didn”t take care of the ball for 40 minutes,” MSU junior guard Mary Kathryn Govero said.
This and that
MSU had four players finish the game with four fouls, and 23 fouls as a team. The 40 fouls combined in the game tied for the third most in a MSU game this season. … Senior center Chanel Mokango was the third Lady Bulldog in double figures with 13 points. She also had six rebounds and four blocked shots. … The victory gave Kentucky an 18-17 edge in the all-time series. … MSU slipped to 5-6 this season against ranked teams. … Senior forward Tysheka Grimes (team-high 19 points) moved past Robin Porter (1,041 career points, 2005-09) into 16th place on the school”s all-time scoring list. She now has 1,058 points in 112 games. She is 29 points from passing Ann Lashley (1,086, 1985-88) and moving into 15th place.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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