QUEENS, N.Y. — Jennifer O'Neill had just gotten back home. She wasn't ready to turn around and head back to Lexington so soon.
So Kentucky's sophomore point guard took matters into her own hands to start the second half of the Cats' first-round NCAA Tournament game.
O'Neill opened the half with a three-pointer and scored seven points of a 12-2 run that helped UK right the ship and down Navy 61-41 on Sunday.
"She was all over the place," Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the guard from nearby Bronx. "She was very dynamic."
But it wasn't O'Neill's points and assists (she had four of those) that got Kentucky going, the coach argued.
It was her defense. O'Neill had four of her career-high five steals in the second half and led a UK charge that held the Midshipmen to 15 points in the second half and 23.8-percent shooting.
"The run was all about defense there in the second half and we were finally able to frustrate the Naval Academy a little bit with our pressure," Mitchell said of his Cats, who advanced to face Dayton in the second round Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Kentucky held Navy (21-12) to 41 points, the fewest given up by the Cats in an NCAA Tournament game. The Cats' 16 steals tied a school record in this tournament.
"We've never been pressured so hard for 40 minutes," said Navy junior forward Jade Geif, who along with guard Alix Membreno led the Mids with nine points.
Kentucky, which had won its past three first-round NCAA Tournament games by no more than six points, had to overcome yet another slow start. On Sunday, the Cats missed all but one of their first 11 shots and trailed Navy 23-16.
"We were a bit frantic around the goal, just rushing shots," Mitchell said of his team, which missed 13 shots near the basket in the first half. "We were really off balance and rushing around the rim."
But UK's players said that when all else fails, defense can change the game.
"We knew if we relied on our defense and just got stops and kept pushing the ball, then things would eventually fall for us," said forward DeNesha Stallworth, who had game highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
For the first time in her Kentucky career, two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies didn't score a basket, but UK had enough firepower to get by, including 14 points from Samarie Walker.
The junior forward also added six rebounds for UK, which outrebounded Navy 43-30.
Stallworth said Kentucky (28-5) seemed rusty after having a two-week break between its loss in the SEC Tournament title game and this first-round game.
Any rust mostly showed in UK's three-point defense, which allowed Navy to hit five shots in the game's first 13 minutes. But the Mids managed only one more the rest of the game.
In fact, in the final six minutes of the first half, UK held the Midshipmen to just three points and used a 9-1 run to get back in the game, including seven in a row by Stallworth, who also had three steals and two assists for the game.
Navy was held to 5-for-21 shooting in the second half.
"They definitely came out a lot stronger in the second half," Membreno said. "I definitely think fatigue might have had a little something to do with it. It was just such a fast-paced game."
It was just the pace O'Neill wanted. It's the pace of her city, of her hometown, which she wanted to spend some extra time in and show off to her teammates.
When asked if the win was special because she had so many family and friends in the stands, O'Neill shook her head.
"The game wasn't big because my family was here," she said. "It was big because it's the NCAA Tournament and we have a goal of making it to New Orleans. That's what made this game big."
Kentucky vs. Dayton
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Queens, N.Y.
Online: Go to Kentucky.com for more photos from Sunday's game.
The largest margin of victory for Kentucky in an NCAATournament game.
The fewest points given up by UK in an NCAA tourney game. Cats allowed 15 in second half.
Jennifer O'Neill had a career-high five steals, tying Cats' single-game tournament record.
UK's 16 steals tied the school record for an NCAA Tournament game.
The Cats forced 25 turnovers and are 11-1 this season when forcing 25 or more miscues.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com