Saturday, March 19, 2011

NCAA: Kentucky survives Hampton in OT

Jericka Jenkins
They damn near pulled it off.

But fourth-seeded Kentucky was able to squeeze out just enough points - and make just enough key stops - to hold off No. 13 Hampton 66-62 in overtime Saturday in the Spokane Region first round at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

"They showed up," Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap, the SEC Player of the Year, said of the Lady Pirates. "They came ready to play and they fought until the end."

Despite the vast difference in Division I pedigree between the two teams, the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers installed Kentucky as "only" a 9-point favorite indicated they were expecting a relatively close game. The Lady Pirates then replaced "relatively" with "extremely", and actually were tied at 56 with the ball and less than a minute left. But Victoria Dunlap blocked Quanneisha Perry's jumper with 31 seconds left, and when the Wildcats couldn't convert at the other end, the game went to overtime.

In the extra period, Kentucky forged ahead by 7 points with less than a minute to play. But Choicetta McMillian sandwiched 3-pointers around a pair of Wildcats free throws. And after a Jericka Jenkins steal, the Lady Pirates were in position to tie things again with a 3-pointer. Kentucky's defense rose up again, though, as they denied passes to HU's preferred shooters Jenkins and McMillian. The ball wound up in the hands of husky 6-3 center Sherena Abercrumbia, whose contested heave from beyond the arc fell short.

"Tremendous, tremendous basketball game. If you're a basketball fan you saw everything," Hampton coach David Six said. "You saw two great teams going at each other. And, unfortunately we came out on the short end of that. I'm proud of my kids. We didn't come here to be a bump on someone's schedule. We came here to play at a high level and I thought that we did that today."

The Lady Pirates (25-7) hung in there by sticking to Six's three-pronged blueprint for success - limiting turnovers (17), attacking the boards - they outrebounded Kentucky 45-40 - and applying smothering defense. The Wildcats shot just 34 percent, a couple of ticks lower than Hampton's 36 percent.

The loss snapped Hampton's 13-game winning streak - 14 if you count the forfeit to Bethune-Cookman - and dropped the Lady Pirates to 0-5 in Division I NCAA Tournament games. But in their four prior postseason appearances, their closest margin of defeat was 35 points.

This time, they damn near pulled it off.

Hampton's near-miss was a fitting punctuation to a day in which lower seeds gave higher seeds fits, typically the rule in the men's tournament but a refreshing development in this year's women's event. Tenth-seeded Temple, No. 10 Marist and No. 11 Gonzaga were all "upset" winners, and No. 14 Navy stood up to No. 3 DePaul while No. 14 Montana fell by just 8 to No. 3 UCLA.

On Sunday, No. 11 James Madison will begin its NCAA quest in first-round action against No. 6 Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. at Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will be at Loyola's Reitz Arena in Baltimore for a 4 p.m. game against the Greyhounds in the second round of the WNIT.

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