The No. 6 Kentucky women's basketball team outlasted No. 20 Texas A&M to claim its 31st consecutive home win, which sets a new school record.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Dire as it looked for Kentucky at halftime Thursday night against Texas A&M, A'dia Mathies knew the second half offered the sixth-ranked Wildcats a great chance to recover.
In Mathies' case, that meant getting open on the perimeter.
The senior guard hit three of her four 3-pointers in the second half for 11 of her team-high 23 points, and Kentucky overcame a sluggish first half to rally past No. 20 Texas A&M 65-62 in a tense Southeastern Conference showdown.
"We knew it wasn't a 20-minute game. We said that at halftime," said Mathies, who finished 4 of 7 from 3-point range and 9 for 20 overall. "It was a 40-minute game, and every 40 minutes we go out and try and go out and play as aggressively on offense and defense as we can."
Kentucky responded big defensively against Texas A&M, which shot 59 percent (17 of 29) in the first half behind a slew of layups from Kelsey Bone and Kristi Bellock for a 37-31 halftime lead. The Wildcats clamped down to wear down the Aggies on the perimeter and inside, forcing 11 second-half turnovers and 21 overall while holding Texas A&M to just 32-percent shooting in the second half.
Jennifer O'Neill contributed 15 points with three from beyond the arc to help Kentucky (15-1, 3-0) finish nine of 17 from long range, with her and Mathies combining to hit 7 of 14. The Wildcats' outside shooting was a bright spot on a night they finished just 39 percent (24 of 62) from the field and eight of 19 from the foul line.
Texas A&M had a chance to force overtime at the end as a result but Peyton Little's 3-point attempt at the horn bounced off the rim, allowing Kentucky to extend school-record winning streaks of 14 games overall and 31 in a row at home.
The Aggies (12-5, 2-1) lost for the fifth time to a top-10 team this season.
"I knew conditioning would be a factor in this game," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Our kids are in great shape. They are tough, and they had to be to win this one tonight."
Bone's game-highs of 27 points and 15 rebounds led Texas A&M, which lost for just the second time in 14 games. Bellock added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Adrienne Pratcher had 10.
DeNesha Stallworth added 12 points and six rebounds, Samarie Walker grabbed 11 rebounds to offset a quiet shooting night and Bria Goss added seven points for Kentucky, facing its toughest and tallest opponent since losing 85-51 to No. 1 Baylor in November.
The Aggies entered the game having won 12 of their last 13 and in search of their second win against a ranked team in a week after beating then-No. 23 Arkansas last Saturday. Texas A&M also came in leading the SEC in several offensive categories including 46 percent shooting and 17.8 assists per game.
Bone stood out as the SEC's top rebounder (10.0) and shooter (61 percent) and its second-best scorer (17.8), comprising a solid post tandem with Bellock.
Kentucky countered with one of the nation's best defenses, boasting the best turnover margin (plus-10.5) while holding opponents to 36 percent shooting. Stallworth and Walker meanwhile had formed a formidable post presence as well, combining for averages of 23 points and seven rebounds.
For the first 20 minutes, the Aggies' inside duo had the advantage.
Bone scored two quick layups over Walker while Bellock added two more baskets in helping Texas A&M take an 11-7 lead. Kentucky couldn't get its trademark pressure defense going consistently and the Aggies widened their lead to nine points with Bone and Bellock setting the tempo: the pair combined for 24 points and 11 rebounds and got help from Pratcher (nine) and Courtney Walker (four) as Texas A&M shot 59 percent to lead 37-31 at the break.
Three-pointers by Stallworth and Mathies started the Wildcats on a 10-3 run for its first lead at 41-40, and the defense picked up the pace as well. Stallworth and Walker took turns defending the 6-foot-4 Bone but were better at it in the second half, closing easy paths to the basket for her and Bellock, who had two points after halftime.
"It's hard to simulate the pressure when you play Kentucky," Aggies coach Gary Blair said. "We walked through Alabama's pressure, but until you experience Kentucky's, it's tough to play against."
Kentucky built the lead to 63-57 on Walker's tip-in with three minutes remaining but gave Texas A&M many openings in the final minutes with missed free throws. The Aggies failed to take advantage behind their own struggles near the basket, including one stretch with a minute left where they missed at least three layups.
While the ending says a lot about Kentucky's inside defense, the Wildcats' guards were the difference in beating a tough Aggies squad. Especially Mathies, who's expected to be their clutch player.
"I wanted A'dia to take the most shots," Mitchell said. "She's really hard to guard the way she's shooting the ball right now. She was huge in the finish of this game and I'm really proud of her."
UK Women's Basketball Postgame Notes
Team Records and Series Notes:
Kentucky improves to 15-1, 3-0 SEC, while Texas A&M falls to 12-5, 2-1 SEC.
UK begins conference play at 3-0 for the second straight season.
UK returns to action at Missouri on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 12:30 CST/1:30 p.m. EST in Columbia, Mo. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Kentucky is in its 39th year of varsity play and owns an overall record of 671-472 (.587).
UK is 148-216 all-time in SEC play.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell is in his sixth year and ranks third on the all-time wins list (129-57) and first in winning percentage (.694).
Mitchell is now 51-28 in SEC games (regular season only).
UK has set the school record for consecutive home wins with 31. The previous record was 30 set from Feb. 12, 1980 until Jan. 31, 82.
The Wildcats own a 367-140 (.724) mark in Memorial Coliseum, including a 77-12 (.865) mark under Mitchell.
The Cats are now 59-2 at home over the last three seasons.
UK is now 31-9 in SEC home games under Mitchell, including an impressive 24-2 mark in the last three seasons.
Kentucky has won a school-record 12 consecutive SEC home games.
Kentucky has extended its school-record winning streak to 14 games. The streak is tied with Duke for the longest current winning streak in the country.
UK is now 59-196 all-time in ranked games.
Mitchell improves his record against ranked foes to 18-29, including 2-1 this season.
This was the first ever meeting between the two schools.
UK's starting lineup featured A'dia Mathies, Bria Goss, Jennifer O'Neill, Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth for the 10th straight game. The Cats are now 12-0 with that lineup.
UK has had at least three players reach double-figures in 13 of 16 games this season.
Kentucky is now 52-30 in games decided by 10 points or less in six seasons under Mitchell, including 3-0 this season.
UK trailed at halftime at home for the first time since Dec. 8, 2011 when Duke led the Cats, 34-31 at the half. The game was played in Rupp Arena.
The last time UK trailed at halftime in Memorial Coliseum was against LSU, 23-22 on Feb. 13, 2011.
The six-point halftime deficit was the largest in SEC play since Tennessee trailing 18 in the opening stanza on Feb. 13, 2012.
Mathies, O’Neill and Stallworth combined to score 29 of the 31 first half points for the Wildcats, including the first 26.
Kentucky took its first lead of the game, 41-40 on an O’Neill layup at the 16:41 mark in the second half.
UK hit nine 3-pointers and have hit at least eight treys in all three SEC games.
The Wildcats extended their streak of consecutive games with a triple to 308.
UK won the turnover battle 21-14 and is 107-27 under Mitchell when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent.
Kentucky has forced double-digit miscues in 133 consecutive games.
The Cats are now 100-33 during that span.
SEC preseason Player of the Year and senior guard A'dia Mathies
Scored a season-high 23 points, recording her second 20-point game of the season and 21st of her career.
Marks the most points tallied by Mathies since she scored 24 vs. Florida (3/2/12).
Has hit at least four 3s in the last two games.
Has reached double figures in 14-of-16 games this season, including seven in a row.
Climbed one spot on several UK career lists:
Ties for third in career starts with Valerie Still (119, 1979-83).
Ties for third in steals with Leslie Nichols (278, 1982-86).
Moves up to sixth in field goals made with 589, passing Elisabeth Lukschu (586, 1977-81).
Moves up to fifth in field goals attempted with 1,407, passing Sara Potts (1,389, 2001-05).
Moves to sixth in 3-point attempts with 392, passing Christina Jansen (388, 1992-96).
Junior center DeNesha Stallworth
Posted double figures for the 14th time this season with 12 points.
Becomes the second Wildcat to hit the 200-point mark for the season (210).
Has reached double figures in 14-of-16 games, including 13 in a row.
Junior forward Samarie Walker
Grabbed double-digit rebounds for the seventh time this year and second straight game with 11 boards on the evening.
Redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill
Posted double-figures for the fifth straight game, scoring 15 points, while dishing out a career-high eight assists.
Becomes the first player to post eight assists since Crystal Riley had eight against Florida (2/18/10).
Averaging 15.4 points in her last five games.
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement …
“Well that was a terrific victory for us. I am so proud of our players. We just beat a very, very strong basketball team and I just can’t say enough about the effort in the second half. It was a tremendous, tremendous effort. I thought our crown gave us tremendous energy, and we needed every bit of it tonight. That was a real, real good battle against two real good teams and we are so excited to get this victory.”
On the problems Texas A&M presented in the first half …
“I thought we were just very tentative defensively, especially our two post players. I just didn’t think that they played with a lot of tenacity, so I talked to (Samarie) Walker at halftime and she said we got discouraged because (Kelsey) Bone scored on the first three possessions and those are not solely on the post players. She is just so dynamic and so tough and such a great post presence, and we figured she was going to get some points, so I just told her let that go and we needed great energy from everybody and we just turned it up, found another gear, and found another level we could take our defense to. You could see it was really a tale of two halves. They shot 58 percent that first half and 32 percent the second half and that was more like a Kentucky defense.”
On the defense Bria Goss played tonight …
“Our game plan was to make Texas A&M handle pressure for 40 minutes. We didn’t do a lot of trapping tonight in the second half, but we really believed that if we could just play real tough and persevere for 40 minutes, we could win the game. That is exactly what she did. She was very tenacious on the basketball, made it very difficult for Texas A&M to make plays and you saw how dynamic they are (when they were) fresh and early in the game when we were down eight points. I knew they could make some plays, we just had to hang in there and stay with it. We were eventually able to turn the tide and she was fantastic defensively and we would not have won without her.”
On keeping the home-court winning streak alive …
“I said this before the game. The celebration tonight will be that this particular team prepared well and executed well enough to beat a really good basketball team so that is what we are celebrating tonight. I just can’t tell you how much respect I have for Texas A&M and how tough I knew they were going to be and how tough I knew we were going to have to be to win. To be sitting here victorious tonight makes me a very proud coach. We had some tough, tough plays that our players were willing to make tonight.”
On not having the normal bench 100 percent healthy …
“Well, I told our strength coach tonight when I saw her coming down the stairs before the game tonight,; I said ‘Steph (Tracey-Simmons), you are going to be the reason we win this one tonight,’ because I knew we were not going to have maybe as deep of a bench as we normally do and some of our bench might not be ready for this game. I mean, this was a high, high-level game and so I knew our conditioning was going to be a factor and I was just very happy to tell her I was right when I saw her in the hallway after the game. We are in tremendous shape. Our kids are very tough and we had to be to win this game tonight.”
On the performance of A’dia Mathies …
“I just want her to take the most shots. I just want her to be the person with the most shot attempts every night. It is a good formula for us, because if she is aggressive, she is going to find a way. She is deadly from the 3-point line right now and you have to guard that. And then you saw her mid-range game and you saw that shot fake where she can put it on the floor, so she is really, really hard to guard when she is shooting the ball the way she is now. She was huge in this game, I am really proud of her.”
Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair
Opening statement …
“Folks, you just saw a great basketball game. Give a lot of credit to Kentucky for coming back. Give a lot of credit to Kentucky for opening the game up when we turned the ball over a couple of times, but it’s hard to simulate pressure like that against your own team. We are in break period and you have no men’s practice team. With no men’s practice team, it is hard to simulate the pressure when you play Kentucky. We walked through Alabama’s pressure, but until you have experienced this, this is tough. This is basically how we used to play back in the day when I was not so post orientated. But, right now I have to do what’s best for my personnel and I like my post game and the difference in the ball game was (Jennifer O’Neill). She had a tremendous ballgame. She could handle anything that was out there and I think it really showed with my freshman point guard and then (Adrienne) Pratcher subbing in and out had her hands full. She had been averaging about seven assists per game, and between the two of them, they had two assists.
“I thought this kid right here (Kelsey Bone) played like an All-American the whole ball game just like (A’dia) Mathies did for you. That’s why the WNBA scouts were here. They were here to watch Mathies and now they are going to go away knowing who the hell Kelsey Bone is because both of them are All-Americans and I hope they get their justice. I thought this kid right here (Kristi Bellok) kept us in the ballgame in the first half. She made some good decisions. When you have that much pressure and you have that many scorers in transition, we did score in transition in the first half, got the easy baskets because it was hard running our set offense. He made some adjustments at the half and they started building a fire around her. She was not being protected very well, that’s why I basically went out there and got a technical. It was my first one in three and a half years, but she was not being protected. You protect your All-Americans just like you protect your All-Americans on the men’s team. But, I had two Final Four officials, so I can’t gripe at the officiating. But, what (Kelsey Bone) has to learn is that she has got to finish her own stuff. She has to be strong enough to finish it. We can’t dunk like men, okay. She’s got to go in knowing she is not going to get the calls because all of the sudden she is being guarded by people this size and she is a little bit larger. She has to learn how to finish. She has been finishing all season. She leads the SEC in field goal percentage, and I thought she had a hell of a game. So, I’m sorry I had to go get a technical, but, I had to do something to protect my kids. But it was a great basketball game. You’ve got a team that has a great chance of making it to the Final Four and hopefully this is going to be the year. You exploited a lot of my freshmen mistakes out there. My seven freshmen were really nervous. But, it’s basketball and we’re getting better because we play the schedule and we don’t run from competition. When you’ve won a national championship, you schedule up. Just like your men’s team does, we schedule up and they’re going to make us better because of the experiences we get. And, that is five Top-10 teams that we played and we’re 0-5. But they know that they’re for real. Sorry for the ramble, but that’s who I am.”
On Kentucky’s potential in the NCAA tournament…
“I can’t wait for Auburn on Saturday, much less Kentucky. I’m sorry, I can’t wait for Auburn. But I encourage you all to come down on Big Monday, February 15, get your newspaper and your TV station and your radio. It isn’t all about men’s basketball and whatever. I walked around Lexington today and I saw all the shops and everything. Isn’t it great to not have to see a football in every store window, but isn’t it great to see how you embrace basketball? There’s nothing wrong with football because we definitely have to embrace football there but you’ve got a team. Now, I remember back because I was coaching [Louisiana Tech] when UK had Lee Wise and Patty Joe Hedges, and all that. You be ready as media in case you do make it to the Final Four. And, follow your team on the road because there are going to be some great road games and I promise you this will be the same type of game that you have when you come to our place. It’ll be on national TV. This game should have been on national TV, too. I know it was regional and that’s great for your third tier. They should put this game on TV, too. But I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
On whether Texas A&M was tired out by Kentucky by the end of the game…
“The key basket of the game was two points down, we’re going down on a fast break. (Kristi) Bellock gets the ball up the middle and she’s stumbling with the ball and she passes over to my freshman and my freshman is trying to get it to her and then throws it out of bounds. That’s the whole key of the game. Because, I think if we would have tied them there, we would have had a chance and sometimes when you’re ahead you play not to lose. That was the whole key play of the game and we’ll get better on that. One reason we didn’t execute, you wore us out. I’ve seen a lot of horse races that that horse leads all the way to the end and here comes Silky Sullivan or somebody at the end to pass us up and that’s what happened here.”
#1 Adia Mathies, Sr. G
On being down at half time…
“We knew it wasn’t a 20-minute game, especially at half time. We knew it was a 40-minute game and every four minutes we just tried to go out there and play as aggressively as we can on offense and defense. We felt like if we can keep doing that every four minutes, then we’ll eventually run them down. We eventually got that spark we needed in the second half and came up with the big three.”
On the SEC as a whole …
“I believe the SEC is the greatest conference. Every time you go out there to play, you can take a loss. There is no team that you can think ‘oh, we’re going to beat them.’ No, definitely not. Everybody has to prepare every night and stay focused everyday. I think it just goes to show how great of a league this is.”
On what changed in the second half …
“We just took it four minutes at a time. We just felt like eventually we could wear the team out. We feel like over the course of a game, after 40 minutes of how hard we played, they eventually start slowing down and start missing shots they were making. I think that’s what happened and we just kept pushing and never let up.”
On free throw shooting …
“I don’t think it’s a big concern, we have great free throw shooters. You just have to stay in the gym shooting free throw after free throw. It’s just one of those times. Sometimes we can make 10 in a row, sometimes we can’t buy a bucket so it’s not really a concern for us but we’re definitely going to work on it.”
#0 Jennifer O’Neill, Redshirt So., PG
On not having their normal depth due to injuries…
“I think the people who didn’t play, they did a good job of stepping up and doing what Coach (Mitchell) had asked of them.”
On playing like the point guard Coach Mitchell wants…
“I think it just happened because Coach (Mitchell) kept asking me about it, we kept meeting about it and talking about it. He was just saying the team is going to need me and I’m the one who sets the tempo, so I kind of just wanted to step up and show him, you can count on me and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
#11 DeNesha Stallworth, Jr., F
On improving in the second half…
“We just tried to push the ball every possession and Kelsey’s a really big girl so we knew that if she scored a layup, she had to run back on defense, so we just tried to take advantage of that.”
On her performance in the second half…
“Coach was getting on me with my ball pressure and I think that really helped the team. Definitely getting on the boards, I think that was really important. We did a great job with that and knocking down threes.”
On the home crowd giving them energy and how they can get that same energy on the road…
“I think on the road we just have to stay together. That’s our main focus. Just sticking together as a team and bringing energy, and just letting it carry over onto the court.”
Texas A&M Student-Athletes
#3 Kelsey Bone, Jr., C
On how it feels to return to playing in the SEC…
“It’s exciting. I played in the SEC my freshman year and had a good time. I decided to go home so it’s good to be back in the SEC and I felt like I’m in high school. The SEC was probably one of the top, most competitive women’s basketball leagues in the country which is why I made that decision so as fate would have it, I’m back. I’ve been having fun being back and I’m excited for my team to explore and have fun with it.”
On what changed in the second half from her perspective…
“They played like experienced team that they are. I think coach Blair made a very good point where teams know our roster. They know that we have we’re lacking a little bit of experience, and that we’re not really old, we’re a young team. But, I think for us, we can’t let that be an excuse on losing to Top-10 teams and we have not got a W there but I think it just goes to show that we are turning a corner. We’re just that close. I think we just have to; we’ve got to find a way to close out. I think because can’t emulate the style of play that Kentucky brings to the table, we lack a little bit of, but now that we’ve experienced here and hopefully it will help us in a couple of weeks.”
#5 Kristi Bellock, Sr., F
On whether she’s excited to play Kentucky again at home…
“I’m definitely excited to play them at College Station. It’s going to be a great environment in our house. It’s going to be a different game, still a good game but definitely a different game. I can’t wait.”