By Justin Sokeland
LOUISVILLE – The disappointment, bordering on anger after her first taste of the Border War, flashed in Jorie Allen’s eyes, registered in her voice. As the reigning Miss Basketball, the face of the Indiana All-Stars, losing had not entered her thought process.
Kentucky had ideas of its own. Defending the home court in the series opener, the Bluegrass bombed its way to a 79-74 win over Indiana on Friday night at Bellarmine’s Knights Hall.
Kentucky snipers Maaliya Owens and Miss Basketball Savannah Wheeler combined to hit 9 3-pointers, including four during the decisive run in the fourth quarter. And Indiana missed enough free throws to build another bridge across the Ohio River. No tolls necessary.
Wheeler scored 19 points and Owens totaled 18 as Kentucky erased a 12-point deficit in the first half, wiped out Indiana’s 4-point advantage in the fourth quarter and sent the Hoosiers home to regroup for the rematch on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Allen, Bedford North Lawrence’s career scoring leader, led Indiana with 12 points (a total matched by Emma Nolan), but that was no consolation.
“We’re disappointed,” Allen said. “It felt like a lot of things didn’t go right, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It felt like we had to work hard for baskets, and sometimes there’s a lid on the bucket.
“What’d we lose by? Six? I think I missed that many free throws. They shot it well and we did not. The ball going in the basket is the name of the game.”
That pretty much summed it up. Allen was ready to shoulder responsibility after going 6-of-14 from the line, but Indiana shot only 39 percent and got buried by the long ball. Chicks dig the long ball – especially those Kentucky guards that did so much damage.
“They hit a lot of shots,” Indiana coach Debbie Guckenberger said. “They got hot for a while, and we weren’t hitting from the field. We were getting good shots but we had a hard time finishing.”
Kentucky ripped to an 8-0 lead, prompting Allen to urge calmness with both hands, signaling a settle-down mode. And Indiana did that, battling in front with a 17-2 burst to start the second quarter. Allen had hands on that with two fast-break layups, and treys from Amaya Hamilton and Cameron Taber powered Indiana to its largest lead at 38-26.
Kentucky, fueled by revenge after this class lost twice to Indiana last year during the Junior All-Star series, opened the second half with a flash blast of 15-5 to a 47-45 advantage, and from that point the lead changed hands six times.
The key moments came late. Owens swished a trey, Cameron Browning scored over Allen in the post, and Wheeler rifled in a long-range bomb for a 70-65 lead. Owens had the final two daggers, both from deep as Kentucky took a 76-70 lead and frittered away the final 93 seconds.
“We knew they would come out with fire,” Allen said. “This rivalry is amazing. Basketball is a game of runs, and unfortunately Kentucky had the last run.”
Lauren Schwartz had 12 points, Joelle Johnson totaled 10 and Browning had a game-high 10 rebounds for Kentucky, which cut Indiana’s series lead to 49-38. Kentucky will now go for its first sweep since 2012.
“It’s a huge level of disappointment,” Guckenberger said. “We have to have a lot more energy than we did tonight. We would make a run but couldn’t sustain it. We just didn’t have the intensity.”
Allen added 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Sydney Freeman had 10 points while Hamilton grabbed 9 rebounds.
“But we have another game tomorrow,” Allen was quick to point out. “We know we didn’t give a good performance. We’re going to be confident because we know we can play better.”
In the boys game, Indiana crushed Kentucky 97-64. Brandon Newman had 18 points, Mr, Basketball Trayce Jackson-Davis totaled 16, and Isaiah Thompson added 17 for the Hoosiers.