Kentucky women crush Georgia, advance to SEC finals

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2013 

SEC Georgia Kentucky Basketball

Kentucky guard Janee Thompson (3) reacts after sinking a basket as the clock runs down against Georgia during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference tournament on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Duluth, Ga. Kentucky won 60-38. (AP Photo/John Amis)

JOHN AMIS — AP

  • Sunday

    SEC finals: Kentucky vs. Texas A&M

    When: 6 p.m.

    TV: ESPN2

DULUTH, Ga. — There it was, literally in black and white: 12-3.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell wrote the numbers on the dry erase board at halftime Saturday. It wasn't the score. It wasn't the foul totals.

The numbers 12 and 3 were Georgia's offensive rebounds versus Kentucky's offensive rebounds.

But it wasn't just about the numbers, it was about what they represented.

"Georgia played with so much more intensity and desire in the first half," Mitchell said. "I was just livid about that."

His message was intense and it was clear. It was written in black and white.

"They looked like they wanted it more than we did," senior A'dia Mathies said. "They were out there playing with more heart and hustle."

Turns out seventh-ranked Kentucky had a little bit of both left.

The Cats overcame one of their worst halves of the season to top the No. 12 Bulldogs 60-38 and advance to their third Southeastern Conference championship game in four seasons.

For the first time in that span, UK (27-4) won't be meeting Tennessee. The Lady Vols were upended by Texas A&M in the first semifinal at the Gwinnett Center.

The Cats, who managed just 19 points in the first half and trailed by five, scored 22 in the first eight minutes of the second half as a part of a 22-3 tear that ultimately put the game out of reach.

Forward Jasmine Hassell hit a shot in the lane to give the Bulldogs their largest lead 26-19 to open the second half before UK scored 15 unanswered, including eight from Jennifer O'Neill, who finished with nine points. In that span, Georgia went nearly six minutes without scoring.

That scoring spree ballooned to 22-3 and Kentucky grabbed a 41-29 advantage that Georgia never could overcome.

"We strayed from where we wanted to be defensively," Georgia Coach Andy Landers said. "We strayed from where we were in the first half defensively and we paid for it. From that point on, it wasn't a lot of fun."

Landers pointed to three turnovers early in the second half.

"The instant offense that those turnovers led to affected us," he said. "We weren't very mature at that point; we weren't very poised at that point."

Kentucky held the Bulldogs to 20.7 percent shooting in the second half, including an 0-for-8 mark from three-point range. For the game, Georgia shot 22.2 percent and had a season-low two assists on 14 baskets.

UK shot 55.2 percent in the second half, making four of five three-point tries. It helped balance out the 25.9 percent the Cats managed in their first half of horrors.

It's a half the Cats want to erase like the numbers on Mitchell's dry erase board.

"Georgia just seemed like they wanted it more in the first half," said junior forward DeNesha Stallworth, who had 18 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots. "They wanted to be in the championship."

Seeing the numbers on the board — the ones that represented heart and hustle as much as they represented offensive rebounding differential — was a wake-up call for Kentucky's players.

"We didn't come here to lose in the second round, we came here to cut down the nets," said Mathies, who added 11 points, three rebounds and two steals. With her second steal, the senior guard became Kentucky's all-time leader with 310.

Hassell led the Bulldogs (25-6) with 17 points and nine rebounds, but she was held to just four points in the second half. Georgia was held to 14 points.

For Kentucky, which still got outrebounded 48-38, heart and hustle were the difference.

"We took it personal," Stallworth said in the locker room afterward. "We all dug down deep and stuck together and pulled it out."


Sunday

SEC finals: Kentucky vs. Texas A&M

When: 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

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

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