By The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — A’Dia Mathies and Bernisha Pinkett scored 13 points each to lead No. 13 Kentucky to a 76-40 victory Sunday over Mississippi State and clinch the Wildcats’ first regular season Southeastern Conference title in 30 years.
It was a school-record 13th conference win for the Wildcats, despite losing three in a row earlier this month.
“It’s been a long, long process and journey for them,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Starting 10-0, you feel like you’re doing good things, and then comes the 3-game losing streak. Battling through that, it’s made the end of the season sweeter.”
Kentucky (24-5, 13-3 SEC) opened the game on a 19-7 run and led 41-17 at the half. The Wildcats shot 40.3 percent (27-of-67) from the floor and hit 15-of-22 free throws.
Pinkett was 5 of 7 from the field with two 3-pointers, and Samarie Walker added 9 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Mathies was 5 of 12 from the field and had 4 steals to lead the UK defense.
Kentucky will return home and celebrate its first title since 1982 later Sunday night on campus.
MSU (14-15, 4-12) shot 26.4 percent (14 of 53) from the field in the loss and turned the ball over a season-high 33 times.
“They play baseline to baseline on offense and defense,” MSU coach Sharron Fanning-Otis said. “I think what happened to them over the last few weeks was a wakeup call for what you have to do to compete.”
UK forces an average of 28.4 turnovers per game and leads the NCAA in turnover margin.
“You’ve just got to be mentally tough, and focused, and know that you’ve got each other’s back,” Mathies said. “The pressure that we bring to people is, I think, something that they can’t experience anywhere else.”
Kendra Grant led MSU with 9 points.
The Bulldogs finished the season on a four-game losing streak. The loss also marked retiring Fanning-Otis’s last regular season game.
Fanning-Otis won 218 games and took MSU to 11 postseason berths (6 NCAA, 5 NIT) in her 17 seasons in Starkville and will retire after the SEC Tournament.