UK women fight uphill battle in loss to Florida

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 8, 2014 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Just when things had started looking up for Kentucky, it fell in a hole.

A giant, 14-point hole.

The No. 15 Cats clawed their way to within a point multiple times in the final minutes, but could never quite make it all the way out, falling to Florida for a second time this season, this time 86-80 on Sunday at the O'Connell Center.

Kentucky had already erased one double-digit deficit by scoring nine in a row over two halves to tie it up 40-40, and then the wheels came off again.

"It was just a real, real tough stretch," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the slightly more than two minutes it took the Gators to roll off 14 straight points, including six to start the run from January Miller, who led them with 20 points.

It was the most consecutive points UK had given up to an opponent all season.

But when the coach says "tough stretch," he also could be talking about UK's road since it started Southeastern Conference play. The Cats (17-6, 5-5) have lost three of their past five games.

"When we got down 14, we kind of got discouraged instead of staying together and as a result, we had to dig ourselves out of a hole," said UK guard Jennifer O'Neill, who scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half.

After turning the ball over just five times in the first half, UK turned it over six times in the first four minutes of the second half as Florida turned up the heat.

"We just wanted to see guts on defense," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said. "We couldn't stop everything they were going to do ... but we had to make gutsy plays."

None was gutsier, Butler said, than a charge taken by Jaterra Bonds as Bria Goss was driving to the basket with 1:10 to go with the Cats trailing by three points.

"We were trying real, real hard at the end, but couldn't get it done," Mitchell said of his team, which cut the Florida lead to one point twice in the final five minutes and shot 56.3 percent from the field in the second half.

The final time UK cut it to a single point, Florida found Lily Svete for her fifth three-pointer of the game with 3:30 to go, to give the Gators the cushion they needed. UF's 45 percent long-range shooting was the best by a UK opponent this season.

Svete was one of four Florida players in double figures with 17 points and five rebounds. Kayla Lewis had 18 points, a whopping 17 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Cassie Peoples added 14 points.

"Just really, really proud of our heart, of our fight, our consistency and that we continued to believe in each other no matter what was going on," Butler said of Florida, whose 86 points were the most scored by any UK opponent this season in regulation.

The Gators (17-7, 7-4), a team Kentucky had beaten six straight times going into the season, hadn't beaten the Cats two straight times since doing it in 2004 and 2005.

"It's a demonstration that can't be argued of how good this team is," Butler said of sweeping UK. "To beat a great team and to do it twice in the same SEC season, it's just a demonstration of how good this team is."

UK got double-doubles from both of its starting forwards with 14 points and 13 rebounds from DeNesha Stallworth and 10 points and 12 boards from Samarie Walker.

Goss had 12 points and four rebounds. Reserve Linnae Harper added 10 points and five rebounds for the Cats, who host Ole Miss on Thursday.

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

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