Paige Love, UNC Asheville senior guard on the women’s basketball team, played her last game as a Bulldog when the Kentucky Wildcats defeated UNCA 85-31. The Wildcats dominated in every category on the stat sheet, but despite the outcome of the game, Love won in the category of poise.
“The game didn’t go as planned, obviously,” Love said. “This was my last game, but honestly the last game in Kimmel Arena when we beat Liberty in double overtime to win the conference tournament championship, that felt like my last game because that’s what I wanted.”
The Kentucky Wildcats played the game on their home floor in Memorial Coliseum, a cavernous arena decorated with 40-foot banners listing the accomplishments of previous basketball teams and filled with a few thousand fans wearing the wrong color blue. Even the press-room buzzed with reporters and camera people only interested in following the Wildcats, but after the game, Love took a seat next to Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, UNCA head coach, who told the story of the underdogs.
“What these kids here, especially this senior here to my right, Paige Love, have done in their past four years to take this program from winning zero Division I games in 2012 and ‘13, to being the regular season and the Big South tournament conference champions says a lot about the work ethic they put in,” Kirkpatrick said. “Today was a little down for us.”
Regardless of falling behind early, the Bulldogs played every minute as though they were only a possession away and Love made no excuses for the loss.
“This opportunity was great and we would’ve had to play phenomenal and not shoot 20 percent to beat Kentucky,” Love said. “Hats off to them; they played great.”
Love said she was proud of her legacy with UNCA and offered an explanation that revealed her poise.
“When you lose, take it in, but at the same time, understand and value how hard it is to win. I think our freshmen and our sophomores understand that,” Love said. “To understand the discipline and accountability, all of that goes into it.”
Love credited the team’s juniors who led the team in scoring for the season. Both Chatori Major and Tianna Knuckles underperformed against the Wildcats, but Love said she passed on her wisdom to the team.
“I know this team, and this team is going to continue to grow. I looked at all of the freshmen and I told them, ‘Get back here. This is what you want. You want this every year,’ “ Love said. “I wish I would have had it every year, but getting it my senior year after all the hard work coach Mock talked about, it’s very, very rewarding.”
UNCA finished the season 26-7 and amassed the Big South Conference tournament and regular season championships, Big South Player of the Year, two members of the Big South All-Tournament team and Big South awards including multiple Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week awards.
“Really, this was the icing on the cake, cherry on top,” Love said. “Asheville’s on the map now.”