MURFREESBORO - Senior Jackie Pickel hit her biggest shot of the season-to-date, a 3-pointer with 32.3 seconds remaining, to break the game's third tie and give Middle Tennessee a thrilling 57-51 victory over previously unbeaten Kentucky Monday night in non-conference women's basketball action inside the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The Cleveland, Tenn., native's long-range bomb was part of a 6-0 Blue Raider run to close the game and put a cap on the team's non-conference slate.
The Wildcats, who were one of seven unbeatens across the country entering the contest, trailed for the majority of the game after two-time reigning Sun Belt Player of the Week and All-American Alysha Clark gave Middle Tennessee (6-4) a slim 5-4 advantage with 16:37 to play in the first half. It was the first time UK had trailed in nearly three-and-a-half games.
Clark's bucket was part of a 9-3 spurt and she capped the streak with an old-fashioned three-point play at 12:41. Carly Morrow answered right back with a 3-pointer to pull the Wildcats within two, but a pair of shots from Brandi Brown kept the distance at a half-dozen. The lead grew to 10, 22-12, on a Pickel steal and jumper by Brown at 8:01 just before the teams entered the under-eight media timeout.
Chelsia Lymon drove through the paint for a layup at 5:45, finishing a 5-0 run, and giving the Blue Raiders their largest advantage, 27-14, and forcing a Kentucky (11-1) timeout. The 'Cats clawed back into the game by netting seven of the next eight points, including six from Victoria Dunlap, to trim the deficit to seven with 3:47 remaining in the half.
Neither team scored over the next two minutes before Brown drained a triple with 1:33 to go. Dunlap and Clark traded a free throw apiece and Middle Tennessee entered the locker room with a 10-point, 32-22, cushion.
The Wildcats rushed out of the intermission with seven-straight points, featuring five by Amani Franklin, to cut into the lead at 32-29. Emily Queen halted the run with a layup at 17:27 and again the teams went cold for over two minutes. Brown then connected on her last 3-pointer with 15:05 remaining to push the lead back to eight.
Over the course of the next two minutes, Pickel swiped a pair of backcourt steals and converted layups to keep the double-digit lead, 43-33, for the Blue Raiders with 13:04 to go.
Dunlap and A'dia Mathies each hit old-fashioned three-point plays and Lydia Watkins registered a pair of charity tosses in just over three minutes to pull Kentucky back within two, 43-41. Watkins' two free throws came after Brown fouled out and she recorded an additional pair three minutes later after Queen fouled out for the game's first tie, 43-43, with 6:31 on the clock.
After two of its post players were disqualified, Middle Tennessee went on a 5-0 run, including another steal by Pickel. But the Wildcats did not quit and answered with their own 6-1 surge to tie the game once again, at 49-49, including three points each from Dunlap and Crystal Riley.
Clark put the Blue Raiders ahead with a steal and layup at 1:25 before Mathies countered with two free throws 23 seconds later. Neither team would score for the next 30 seconds before Pickel's dramatic 3-pointer, which sent the Middle Tennessee crowd into a frenzy.
Brown finished with a team-high 16 points, while Pickel and Clark chipped in 13 apiece. Clark added a team-high nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while Lymon equaled her career-best with eight boards.
Dunlap led all players with a double-double effort of 20 points and 16 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive glass. She was the only Kentucky player to reach double figures, as Mathies was next with eight points.
The Blue Raiders forced 29 turnovers, six fewer than they committed, against a Wildcat squad which ranked No. 1 nationally in turnover margin entering the contest.
The win is Middle Tennessee's fifth against an SEC opponent in the last four years.
The Blue Raiders will return to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday when they travel to New Orleans, La., to face the New Orleans Lady Privateers. UNO brings a 6-7 overall and 0-2 Sun Belt record into the matchup.