LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Azia Bishop characterized her week of practice leading up to Sunday’s game against LSU as “rough.” She wasn’t focused, she wasn’t exerting herself.
But Sunday was a different story. She scored a career-high 17 points, and No. 5 Kentucky pulled away late to top LSU 73-60.
“It was my day, I guess,” Bishop said.
Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell agreed with Bishop’s assessment of her week at practice but said Sunday was both vindication for a long week and a source for further frustration: If Bishop can play like she did Sunday, Mitchell asked rhetorically, why doesn’t she always?
“That is very accurate,” Mitchell said when asked if Bishop had a rough go of it during practices earlier in the week. “I don’t even know if I can expound on that any more. It just has been a disaster the last few days. Really happy that she played that way. That’s how we need her to play.”
Bishop, a 6-3 sophomore who was averaging 3.2 points and 2.9 rebounds before Sunday’s game, shot 7 of 10 from the floor in 20 minutes, and she stepped up at several key passages in which LSU threatened the Wildcats’ lead. She also had five rebounds.
The Lady Tigers traded the lead with Kentucky (19-2, 7-1) several times throughout the first half but could never gain a lead of more than one possession. With 26 seconds until halftime and the game tied at 26, Bishop hit a 3-pointer.
After an LSU turnover, Bishop put in a lay-up with 10 seconds to go to give the Wildcats a 31-26 halftime lead.
“I think she gave the team a big spark, especially because in their zone, the middle was open a lot,” Kentucky guard Jennifer O’Neill said. “She was able to flash and be a presence there. But then she turned around to shoot, too. I give credit to her that she’s a good shooter and a lot of people don’t know that. She showed it today.”
The Lady Tigers (12-8, 3-4) closed Kentucky’s lead to 49-45 with 8:40 to play, and Bishop scored her first basket of the second half on the next possession. When LSU got within five points in the second half on two occasions, Bishop answered both times with baskets on the next possession.
With 53 seconds to play and LSU trailing 66-60, Kentucky’s Samarie Walker drew a foul on a defensive rebound attempt. After the whistle, Walker jerked away from the scrum of LSU players and was assessed a technical foul. But Adrienne Webb, who had 18 points and is an 80-percent free-throw shooter this season, missed both technical free throws.
The Wildcats, whose 17-game win streak was snapped Thursday against No. 18 South Carolina, scored the last nine points of the game over its final two minutes to pull away late. The 13-point margin of victory was also the Wildcats’ largest lead of the game.
“The last two minutes of the game, you could see a level of intensity rise in their ability to push the ball 94 feet,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “You saw players making plays down the stretch. Defensively, we had opportunities, but then we broke down and they were able to pick us apart.”
Bishop broke the wrist on her non-shooting hand on Jan. 6 against Alabama, and she missed two games after that. She is still wearing a brace on her left wrist, but she said part of her breakout performance Sunday was that she’s finally starting to get used to playing with the brace and without apprehension.
Sunday was her fourth game back from the injury. In the first three games, she totaled two points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes. But Sunday was her day.
“I had a lot of fun, actually,” Bishop said. “It was great to come out and produce for my team knowing that I had a rough couple of weeks.”