Florida's zone defense derails UK women's home winning streak

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 5, 2014 

Kentucky guard Bernisha Pinkett, left, and forward Samarie Walker pressured Florida guard Jaterra Bonds during the first half Sunday.

PHOTO BY AMY WALLOT — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • NEXT GAME

    Women: Kentucky at South Carolina

    When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Lots of players leave Memorial Coliseum shaking their heads, questioning their own poise and their team's toughness.

Rarely are those players wearing Kentucky blue.

But that was the case on Sunday night after No. 6 UK was upended 83-73 by Florida at the home venue where it's gone 71-4 over the past five seasons and hasn't lost a game to an unranked opponent in two years.

"It was really evident who played with more passion," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell. "I'm just so disappointed that that happened and we were outplayed from an energy standpoint.

"It looked like it meant a lot more to them than it did to us."

In a second half that was reminiscent of UK's other loss to No. 2 Duke in late December, Kentucky struggled to score against a physical, aggressive two-three zone defense.

In the final 13 minutes of the game, Kentucky (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) managed to score just one field goal. In that final 13 minutes, UK saw its nine-point advantage turn into a 10-point deficit.

In that final 13 minutes, the Cats missed nearly as many free throws (eight) as they made (10). In that final 13 minutes, UK turned the ball over seven times and missed five layups.

Florida was doing to Kentucky what Kentucky tries to do to opponents. UK lacked poise, senior guard Kastine Evans said after the Cats' first loss to Florida in seven games.

"Florida was playing at such a high pace, they were pushing us to do things we weren't comfortable doing, so we need to slow down and finish," Evans said. "That's really a lack of composure the last 13 minutes."

Poise was a word Mitchell used as well, mainly in its absence late in the game.

"They just stopped moving the basketball, we lost our poise and Florida played a really tough defense," he said. "It was our inability to get the ball reversed and then we just missed a lot of layups you need to make in a game like this."

Florida (12-3, 2-0), which did a collective team "chomp" on the interlocking UK at midcourt after the victory, won its eighth straight behind 23 points from Jaterra Bonds and 19 points from Ronni Williams.

"It felt good to beat them on their home court," Bonds said. "They're one of the best teams in the country. ... This is a big win for us."

As one coach discussed a lack of poise, the other couldn't say enough about it.

"We showed a lot of toughness, a lot of guts, that the team was just willing to do whatever they had to do to win," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said.

The Gators seemed to want it more from the start, leading by as many as 11 points, 21-10, midway through the first half on Williams' drive through the lane.

"They started the game with energy and they just never let up," Mitchell said of UF. "They were outstanding, worked hard, played together and played together as a team and showed a lot of toughness."

Back-to-back three-pointers from UK reserve Bernisha Pinkett helped get the Cats and the crowd of 7,039 back in it.

A few minutes later, UK was jersey deep in a 16-4 run, grabbing its first lead of the game on a Bria Goss three-pointer.

But Florida kept coming and had a 45-44 lead at the half behind Bonds' 14 points and Williams' 13 points.

Kentucky took control early in the second half with a 12-2 run, including nine straight to grab a nine-point advantage.

"I felt like we had momentum," said Jennifer O'Neill, who led UK with 15 points, but also turned the ball over six times. "There was a letdown and a lack of focus. We had a lot of unforced turnovers and forced shots."

When UK made that big run and grabbed its largest lead of the game is when Florida became the fiercest.

"Really, really proud of the way we didn't hang our heads," Butler said. "That's the moment in the ball game when a team like that typically runs away from you if you let them."

Instead, she saw her team, which had just eight players available, pull together.

"This team's just got an extra measure of chemistry, an extra amount of oomph to them that they just want to do things for each other," she said of Florida, which shot 49.1 percent for the game and 77.4 percent from the free throw line.

The Cats were held to 35.2 percent from the field, their second-lowest percentage of the season behind only the Duke loss, and they didn't hit a three-pointer in the second half. From the free-throw line, UK made just 56.7 percent.


Thursday

Kentucky at South Carolina

When: 7 p.m.

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

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