Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill had 12 of her 17 points in the second half to help UK win its SEC opener over Florida.
By GARY GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A'dia Mathies scored 20 points and Jennifer O'Neill had 12 of her 17 in the second half and No. 6 Kentucky topped Florida 76-69 Thursday night in the teams' Southeastern Conference opener.
DeNesha Stallworth added 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Wildcats (13-1) won their school-record 12th straight game.
Last season's regular-season conference champions had to work hard and often for their sixth straight win over Florida.
Kentucky trailed just once, but had to withstand several rallies from Florida.
O'Neill helped with consecutive 3-pointers and eight straight points overall to give Kentucky its biggest second-half lead at 58-49. Her layup with 1:59 remaining provided a 70-62 lead.
Florida got within 72-68 with 21 seconds remaining, but Kentucky sealed it with four free throws, the final one by O'Neill in the final second.
Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 21 points for Florida (11-4), which had its six-game winning streak end.
UK Hoops Postgame Notes
Jan. 3, 2013
Final Score: No. 6/6 Kentucky 76 – Florida 69
Team Records and Series Notes
• Kentucky improves to 13-1, 1-0 SEC, while Florida falls to 11-4, 0-1 SEC.
• UK returns to action Sunday, Jan. 6 at 3 p.m. EST in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against conference foe Alabama.
• Kentucky is in its 39th year of varsity play and owns an overall record of 669-472 (.586).
• Head coach Matthew Mitchell is in his sixth year and ranks third on the all-time wins list (127-57) and first in winning percentage (.690).
• Mitchell is now 49-28 in SEC games (regular season only).
• The Wildcats own a 366-140 (.723) mark in Memorial Coliseum, including a 76-12 (.864) mark under Mitchell.
o The Cats are now 58-2 at home over the last three seasons.
• UK has tied the school record for consecutive home wins with 30. The Cats also won 30 straight from Feb. 12, 1980 until Jan. 31, 82.
• UK is now 30-9 in SEC home games under Mitchell, including an impressive 23-2 mark in the last three seasons.
o Kentucky has won a school-record 11 consecutive SEC home games.
• The Wildcats are 16-16 all-time in SEC openers and 18-14 in SEC home openers, having won six of their last seven and two in a row.
• Kentucky set a school record with its 12th consecutive victory. UK previously won 11 in a row in 2009 and 1983.
• UK is now 25-22 all-time against Florida, including a 13-9 advantage in Lexington.
o UK extending its winning streak to six games vs. UF, including five straight wins in Lexington.
o Mitchell is 7-2 all-time vs. Florida.
• UK’s starting lineup featured A’dia Mathies, Bria Goss, Jennifer O’Neill, Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth for the fourth straight game. The Cats are now 10-0 with that lineup.
o Stallworth scored the first basket of the game on a jump shot from the right elbow at the 19:45 mark.
o Kastine Evans was the first sub of the game for UK.
• UK improves to 51-30 all-time in games decided by 10 points or less, including 2-0 this season.
o Tonight’s game marks the fifth straight contest decided by seven points or less between UK and UF.
• UK combined to take a season-best seven charges on the evening (Mathies – 4, Goss – 3).
• Kentucky is now 74-6 when scoring 70 or more points under Mitchell.
• At least four Wildcats reached double-figures for the eighth time this season.
• The Wildcats extended their streak of consecutive games with a triple to 306.
• UK won the turnover battle 19-16 and is 106-27 under Mitchell when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent.
• Kentucky has forced double-digit miscues in 131 consecutive games.
o The Cats are now 98-33 during that span.
• Senior A’dia Mathies scored a season-high 20 points, marking the 20th time she has reached the 20-point mark in her career and the fifth time a Wildcat has reached the mark this season.
o Mathies has started in 117 career games, tying her for fourth UK’s all-time starts list with Tiffany Wait (1995-2000).
o With seven made field goals, Mathies climbs into No. 7 UK’s all-time list with 574, passing Belitta Croley (569, 1984-88) and Jodie Whitaker (571, 1985-89).
o The preseason SEC Player of the Year has reached double figures in 12 of 14 games this season.
• Junior DeNesha Stallworth recorded her 16th career double-double and fourth at UK with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
o Stallworth has reached double figures in 12 of 14 games, including 11 in a row.
• Redshirt sophomore Jennifer O’Neill posted double figures for the fourth time this season with 17 points, including a season-high five rebounds.
o It was her third straight game with double digits.
• Sophomore Bria Goss charted double figures points for the eighth time this year with 10 points.
o She equaled a career-high four assists.
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening Statement …
“What a great win for us tonight. I am very, very proud of our team. That was a very difficult game and we had to earn a victory over a very tough opponent. We have a lot of respect for Florida. They never quit, never stopped. They are a tough group of players and are well coached. They have our respect and I am really, really excited about the victory and happy that our team was tough enough to win it because it sure was a tough one tonight.”
On Jennifer O’Neill’s performance …
“Great game for Jennifer. When we were really stagnant and struggling to score and Florida was playing such great defense, she just made some plays for us that I thought really lifted our team. I thought we were getting close to the point of discouragement on offense because of Florida’s really good play. We were able to shake her lose one time on a little play coming out of a timeout that was a little different look for Florida and I was really happy that one went in. Then she made a couple that were just contested and just a player making a play. Really proud of her, I think she wants to be a good player and I think she is working hard. I thought she still had one breakdown tonight with mental fatigue that led to some bad plays but she is getting much better. The good thing about Jennifer is I think she still has room for improvement. She was big in the game tonight and I am really proud of her.”
On Samarie Walker’s play …
“Tonight was the defense and Florida. Florida was really tough inside and our post players didn’t do a great job of posting on people and getting on bodies in the zone. They just sort of floated around and Florida had such a great defense going. They had their hands in passing lanes so there wasn’t any place to pass the ball and they kept trying to flash in open space instead of getting contact. I thought she had a much better second half and made some big buckets for us. I think Florida was really determined to take away our inside game and she is a big part of it. She did a lot to help us win tonight. She played a lot of defense and had nine rebounds so she had a really good game.”
On Florida …
“They really played great tonight. They have two really dynamic players in (Jaterra) Bonds and (Jennifer) George. And then those other kids are really solid players that play their tails off. I think they are going to be a very tough team in this conference and I am glad we don’t have to see them again and glad we got to play them in Memorial Coliseum because they were tough tonight.”
On what pushed Kentucky over the edge for the win tonight …
“Just our composure against that zone defense that was so good and so tough to score against. It was not always pretty, but it was just us hanging in there and grinding out the victory because Florida really made us earn it.”
On A’dia Mathies’ play …
“I thought she played liked the best player in the conference tonight because she was so solid in defense and offense and she stayed composed. I agree with you, she was our leading scorer. I thought that she really came out tonight and wanted to set the tone for SEC play and help us get that victory. She was outstanding and a terrific player and we are glad she is on our team. Again, Florida was terrific and a really, really good team. Great basketball game tonight, we were fortunate to win and I am proud of our team.
#0,Jennifer O’Neill, R-So., PG
On knocking down second-half shots after sitting on the bench…
“Sitting on the sideline, I was anxious to go back in. I told Coach (Danielle) Santos ‘I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.’ Then Coach (Matthew) Mitchell called my name and I did what he asked me to do. It gave us a big spark. When I was knocking down shots it gave us a little run and I think the team fed off of that really well. ”
On taking on the point guard role this year after not playing last season…
“Last year I had a chance to sit back and watch everything and see what we needed. This year Coach Mitchell has really been on me to push the ball and set the tempo and that’s really what I’ve been trying to do. I met with him at 8:30 this morning and he told me what he wanted me to do and that this was a big game and we needed to win. I really did just try to go out there and do everything he told me to do.”
#1, A’dia Mathies, Sr., G
On Jennifer O’Neill’s second half spark…
“I think it was what we needed. She is a great shooter. For her to come off the bench for such a long time and knock down three big shots, it was much needed. We needed that little run even though they answered pretty much all of our runs with a run of their own, but we really needed that one.”
On setting the tone early in the first half…
“I just knew I wanted to come out very aggressive. For whatever reason, Florida has been a great game for us ever since I have been here. I just knew I wanted to come out aggressive and play as hard as I could for the team.”
On Florida always coming back after Kentucky’s runs…
“They are a great team and great teams make runs, just like we make runs. All I care is that we got a victory, whether it be by 27 points or one point, as long as we got the win.”
On what Kentucky did well in the game …
“I thought (we) knocked down key shots and made free throws at the end of the game. If we would have missed those free throws, it could have easily gone the other way. So, just knocking down shots, free throws and playing pressure defense. ”
On what makes this team different from last year’s team…
“We can score from pretty much any position. We aren’t a one-dimensional team. Obviously, Jen (O’Neill) can score at the point guard position and we have good perimeter and post players. That makes us difficult to stop.”
#11, DeNesha Stallworth, Jr., F
On what it was about Florida’s zone defense that made it tough to score…
“I think they contested our shots more so we had to move the ball. When we were stagnant, things didn’t go to well. Once we started moving the ball and Samarie (Walker) and I started flashing and sealing, shots started opening up for our perimeter players and they were knocking them down.”
Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler
“I think it was a great game today, great representation of how good our league is. We have a lot to look forward to in this SEC season. We got beat by a very good team, no question about it. We made some plays down the stretch, but got off to a slow start and that was unfortunate. I love how we took care of the ball in the second half, I love how we fought. We won the rebounding battle and that was something that was real important to us. I thought we played with a lot of toughness and heart, but we are not satisfied by any means. We just have to regroup, go back home, and get ready for a really good LSU team.”
On if this Florida team played like a top 25 team tonight...
“Yeah, no question. I think that this team knows how good they are, and that's what is most important to us is what we think of ourselves. I think that we've had a good non-conference season to prepare us for what lies ahead. I think that if a few things had gone differently then maybe we would be having a different press conference, but no question, we are a top 25 team.”
On Jennifer O'Neill's offensive play and what that did in the game...
“One of the things that we talked about before the game that we had to pay attention to their game trends. She's a great (O'Neill) player. I think she gives them a really great advantage at point guard this year, her speed, quickness, and ability to score and do just that. Where we fell short was allowing her to score the consecutive baskets. When someone gets in the zone like that it's really tough to keep them from scoring, but the consecutive baskets really gave them momentum. That's just an area where we have to grow up and get better at recognizing what's going on and countering it better before it gets to eight points or 10 points, whatever exactly the run was that she took them on.”
On the difference in Kentucky from last year and what it's like to play Kentucky in their first SEC game this year...
“How they are different from last year is their post presence. What DeNesha brings them is vastly different than the way they were playing last year because basically they were playing with four guards on the floor a lot. I think that's an obvious bonus for them this year. We have a bunch of fighters and a bunch of really tough kids on this team and so we were excited for the opportunity to not just play last years regular season champion, but the preseason predicted champion, and to do it right here. We are a program that is really on the rise and is going somewhere good. Kentucky is the top right now, and you don't get to the top until you go through the best and so we were excited about the challenge.”
On the close games recently in this series...
“I'm kind of tired of it to be honest with you. I don't really enjoy it that much because we have been on the losing end. Great matchups, you know Matthew (Mitchell) does a fantastic job and it always does seem to be a one possession ball game that you look back and go "if this, than this" or one bounce here, or two different things, but I think again, it is a great indication of how good our league is, how good they are. And how good we are, and that we have a lot to look forward to.”
On Sydney Moss...
“Syd's incredible. She had a tough night tonight. I know she was really fired up and wanted to do well and was probably pushing a little bit too hard, but our team talks about it all the time the different plays that we want to make and who we want to make those plays and she is someone that her teammates have a tremendous amount of confidence in, coaches as well. She has an incredible future ahead of her and I'm real happy she's a Gator.”
#32, Jennifer George, F
On guarding Kentucky in the paint...
“I felt like sometimes we got lazy on defense and let them catch inside easily. I think that they are very good in the post and that hurt us. We could have boxed out a little more. They had a lot of easy offensive rebounds and put backs that we can learn from when we get back to Gainesville.”