Natalie Novosel, bottom, shoots under pressure from Victoria Dunlap

No. 12 Irish Fall Just Short to No. 9 Kentucky, 81-76

Nov. 21, 2010

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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 the 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 non-conference 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.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame was facing back-to-back opponents ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll during the regular season for the first time since the 2004 Preseason WNIT, when the Fighting Irish defeated #6 Duke (76-65 on Nov. 17) and #10/9 Ohio State (66-62 on Nov. 20) … Notre Dame sees its 18-game winning streak against first-time opponents snapped, falling to a new foe for the first time since Nov. 21, 2001, when Colorado State shaded the Fighting Irish, 72-66, in Fort Collins, Colo. … Notre Dame is 23-2 against first-time opponents since the start of the 2000-01 season and 43-6 against new teams since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96 … Kentucky was the third of seven first-time opponents on this year’s Fighting Irish schedule, and third in four games following home wins over New Hampshire (99-48) and Morehead State (91-28) during the opening weekend of the season … Notre Dame basketball teams fall to 0-5 all-time at Memorial Coliseum, with Sunday’s game being the first time a Fighting Irish hoops squad played in the historic venue since 1961, when the UK men’s team defeated its Notre Dame counterpart, 100-53 … Notre Dame also had its four-game winning streak against Southeastern Conference opponents come to an end, falling to an SEC school for the first time since March 30, 2008, when Tennessee rallied past the Fighting Irish, 74-64 in the NCAA Oklahoma City Regional semifinals at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. … for the second time this season, Notre Dame posted a rebound margin of +16 or better, having notched a season-high +18 margin on the backboards (47-29) against Morehead State on Nov. 15 at Purcell Pavilion … Notre Dame grabbed a season-high 51 rebounds, its best total on the glass since Dec. 31, 2009, when the Fighting Irish nabbed 56 caroms in a 74-69 win over #18/16 Vanderbilt, also at Purcell Pavilion … in her homecoming game, Lexington, Ky., native (and junior guard) Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 21 points, two more than her previous best set twice before (most recently this past Thursday in the double-overtime loss to #15 UCLA at Purcell Pavilion) … Novosel also tied her career high with eight rebounds, having reached that mark twice before (most recently on Dec. 2, 2009, against Eastern Michigan), and she set new personal bests with eight field goals (previous: seven, three times, including Thursday vs. UCLA), 24 attempts (previous was 12 against UCLA), seven three-point attempts (previous was four against UCLA), and two blocks (previous: one on 10 occasions, the last against Oklahoma on March 28, 2010 in the NCAA regional semifinals) … freshman forward Natalie Achonwa grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds, also tying senior forward Becca Bruszewski for the most boards by a Fighting Irish player this season (Bruszewski had a baker’s dozen against UCLA).