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Kentucky Outlasts Liberty in 1st Round, 83-77

March 20, 2010  Louisville, Ky.  RSS
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Avery Warley scored 17 points and pulled down 14 rebounds versus Kentucky, the most boards ever by a Lady Flame in the NCAA Tournament.

Avery Warley scored 17 points and pulled down 14 rebounds versus Kentucky, the most boards ever by a Lady Flame in the NCAA Tournament.

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Watch Liberty's players postgame press conference (Kylee Beecher, Devon Brown & Avery Warley)

Watch Carey Green's postgame press conference

Quotes from Postgame Press Conference (Liberty & Kentucky)

No. 13 seed Liberty gave No. 4 seed Kentucky a major battle throughout the teams' NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship first round matchup, Saturday afternoon at Freedom Hall. However, the Wildcats pulled out an 83-77 victory, keyed by freshman A'dia Mathies' career-high 32 points and a 26-11 advantage from the foul line.

The Lady Flames' 10-game winning streak and their 2009-10 season came to an end, despite Liberty's 50 percent field goal shooting, 38-26 rebounding edge and 57 combined points by the trio of Devon Brown, Avery Warley and Kylee Beecher. Liberty closes the year at 27-6.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats (26-7) advance to face No. 5 seed Michigan State, Monday at 7 p.m., with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line. Kentucky set a new program record for victories in a season, in the team's first NCAA Tournament contest since 2006.

It took only 92 seconds for Liberty to jump out to a 6-0 lead, with Warley's bank shot closing out the game-opening burst.

The Lady Flames' advantage reached 13-4, when Beecher split a pair of free throws at the 16:15 mark.

Kentucky then turned on its trademark defensive pressure, sparking a 17-0 run. SEC Freshman of the Year Mathies scored eight points during the surge, but Amani Franklin finished off the extended run with five straight tallies. Her jump shot 10:58 before halftime gave the Wildcats a 21-13 advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Liberty crafted a 15-2 run, capped off by Dymond Morgan's left-handed layup. Her conversion put the Lady Flames in front, 30-25, 3:24 before the break. During the surge, Warley completed her double-double with a transition layup. It only took the redshirt sophomore 13:29 to get into double digits in both points and rebounds.

Mathies helped the Wildcats respond, accounting for the first four points of Kentucky's ensuing 8-2 surge. Victoria Dunlap hit two free throws at the 1:11 mark, reclaiming the advantage for the No. 4 seed, 33-32.

Beecher then provided Liberty a halftime lead when she turned her second-chance hoop into an old-fashioned three-point play with 46.3 seconds showing on the clock. Her charity toss made the Lady Flames' halftime lead 35-33.

Liberty owned the advantage in most first-half statistical categories, including field goal percentage. The Lady Flames made 46.9 percent (15-of-32) of their attempts from the floor, while Kentucky checked in at 38.7 percent (12-of-31).

The Lady Flames also held the upper hand in rebounds (23-14), points in the paint (24-14) and second-chance points (9-2). Kentucky was successful with its pressure, forcing 13 turnovers and scoring 14 points off Liberty miscues.

Individually, Warley was the story of the half, pacing the Lady Flames in both points (12) and rebounds (11). Brown chipped in nine points.

Mathies scored nearly half of the Wildcats' points during the first 20 minutes, finishing with 14 markers. Franklin added nine points, while Dunlap contributed eight points and five steals.

Beecher opened the second-half scoring with another second-chance layup, 20 seconds in. But Kentucky notched a 7-0 run to go back on top, 40-37, when Mathies made a basket at 17:43.

Brown evened the score at 40-40 on a contested triple on Liberty's next trip to the offensive end. Neither team could gain any breathing room over the next several minutes, until Kentucky went on a 10-2 run. Mathies scored eight of the points, including a three-point play at 11:48 which gave the Wildcats a 55-50 lead.

Keyla Snowden's NBA-range three-pointer 1:42 later put Kentucky in front by double digits for the first time, 63-53.

Back-to-back layups by Warley and Beecher trimmed Liberty's deficit to 63-57 with 9:18 to play. However, the Wildcats halted the Lady Flames' potential run with two Dunlap free throws on their trip down the floor.

That was a continual theme down the stretch, as Liberty pulled to within six three more times, only to see Kentucky answer within 30 seconds each time, usually from the line. The Wildcats got to the free throw line 28 times during the final 20 minutes, connecting on 19 of their attempts for 67.9 percent.

Liberty did not quite competing until the final buzzer, and Jelena Antic's running three-pointer as the horn sounded made the final score 83-77, in favor of Kentucky, the SEC Tournament runner-up.

The Lady Flames lost their first game when shooting 50 percent or higher in Carey Green's 11 seasons as head coach. Liberty had won 73 straight contests under Green's direction, when making more than half of its field goal attempts.

Another lengthy Liberty streak came to an end on Saturday. Kentucky became the first Lady Flames opponent since No. 24 Boston College on Dec. 6, 2003 to defeat a Liberty team which scored 70 or more points. The Lady Flames had prevailed each of the last 94 times they reached the 70-point plateau.

The Wildcats withstood every Liberty second-half rally attempt with a proficient offensive attack. Kentucky shot 72.2 percent (13-of-18) from the field after the break, including 83.3 percent (5-of-6) from beyond the three-point arc.

As a result, the Wildcats closed the game shooting 51 percent (25-of-49) on field goals, becoming only the second team in the last 117 games to sink half of its shots versus the Lady Flames. Kentucky made seven of its 11 triples, for 63.6 percent.

Liberty's +12 rebound margin on the afternoon gives the Lady Flames a nation-leading and school record-setting +13.9 rebound margin for the season. Barring complete domination on the glass by either Connecticut or Stanford during the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, Liberty will end up as the national leader in rebound margin for the third time in program history.

A couple other stats highlight the contrast in styles between the Lady Flames and Wildcats. Liberty scored 54 points in the paint to Kentucky's 30 and tallied 19 second-chance points to just five for the Wildcats. On the other side of the court, Kentucky came up with 16 steals and notched 22 points off of Liberty's 22 turnovers.

Individually, Brown scored 15 of her 24 points after halftime, leading the Lady Flames in the scoring column for the 19th time during her freshman campaign.

Warley ended up with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season, before fouling out with 3:07 left. Her 14 boards are the most ever collected by a Lady Flame in the NCAA Tournament.

Beecher stepped up with a season-high 16 points and seven caroms, tallying 10 of her points during the second half. Antic made it four Lady Flames in double figures, ending up with 10 points and seven boards.

Amber Mays, Liberty's lone senior, finished out her career with four points, a team-high four assists and a pair of steals. She finishes the year with 77 steals, the most by a Liberty player since 1999-2000, when Sharon Wilkerson came up with 84 thefts.

Mathies, who scored the most points by any opposing player against the Lady Flames this season, did a lot of her work from the foul line. She took 17 free throws, one more than Liberty's entire team, and canned a dozen of them.

Dunlap added 15 points, a team-high eight boards and a game-high five steals. Snowden scored 15 points of her own, featuring four second-half three-pointers. Amber Smith paced all players with her seven assists for the Wildcats.