Scrappy Kentucky women hold off Texas A&M for record win

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 10, 2013 

Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone, left, grabs an offensive rebound in the first half of the game. The No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies played the sixth-ranked University of Kentucky women's basketball team Thursday, January 10, 2013 in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington.

JONATHAN PALMER

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Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell passed his strength coach on the stairs before the game and told her she'd be the reason the Cats topped Texas A&M.

"I was very happy to tell her I was right," Mitchell gloated later. "Our kids are very tough. They had to be to win this one tonight."

It took every ounce of everything sixth-ranked Kentucky had to come back from nine points down and pull out the 65-62 win over No. 20 Texas A&M on Thursday night.

With the victory, UK set a new record for consecutive wins at home with 31 in a row and the Cats ran their overall wins streak to 14 straight.

All of those milestones looked like they were in jeopardy for most of the game as the Aggies, behind star center Kelsey Bone's 27 points and 15 rebounds, raced out to a nine-point lead early.

They led by six at the half, 37-31, behind a huge first half from senior forward Kristi Bellock, who had 14 of her career-high 18 points before the break.

The deficit and Texas A&M's ridiculous 58.6 percent shooting percentage provided just the right motivation for Kentucky at the half.

They came out fast to start the second half with a 10-3 run, capped by a Jennifer O'Neill driving layup that gave the Cats their first lead of the game 41-40 with 16:40 to play.

"Give a lot of credit to Kentucky for coming back," Aggies Coach Gary Blair said. "Give a lot of credit for how they opened the second half."

And give a lot of credit to their pressure defense, he added.

During another run, this time 11-2 late in the game, UK's defense held the Aggies to just one bucket for nearly seven minutes.

"It's hard to simulate pressure like that against your own team," Blair said. "When you're on break and you have no men's practice team, it's hard to simulate the pressure of when you play Kentucky."

UK's pressure, which forced 21 turnovers and turned them into 17 points, surprised Mitchell a little bit, too.

"We just turned it up, found another gear, found another level we can take our defense to," the coach said.

Senior guard A'dia Mathies led Kentucky with a season-best 23 points and three rebounds.

"She's really, really hard to guard when she's shooting the ball the way she is now," Mitchell said of Mathies, who hit four three-pointers. "She was huge in this game. I'm really proud of her."

O'Neill added 15 points, including 12 in the first half when UK was sputtering offensively. She also had a career-high eight assists.

Junior forward DeNesha Stallworth had 12 points and six boards for Kentucky (15-1, 3-0 SEC).

The Cats led by as many as six points late, but missed key free throws and had to hold off a furious Aggies rally to win out. Bellock blocked an O'Neill shot in the lane with 20 seconds to play and had a chance to tie it with a transition bucket, but Bone fumbled the ball out of bounds.

The Aggies (12-5, 2-1) had a chance to send it to overtime with a Peyton Little three-pointer at the buzzer, but it clanked off the right side of the rim.

UK's players and coaches said they could sense Texas A&M slowing down at the end of the game.

"We felt like we could wear a team out," Mathies said. "We thought after 40 minutes of how hard we play, they'd eventually slow down and start missing those shots. We kept pushing and never let up."

Texas A&M's coach couldn't disagree. Blair saw his team fading down the stretch.

"One reason we didn't execute is you wore us out," he said of Kentucky. "I've seen a lot of horse races and that horse leads all the way to the end and here comes Silky Sullivan or someone at the end. That's what happened here."

And for that, Mitchell will thank his strength coach.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: UKwomen.bloginky.com.

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