Third time a charm as Kentucky women beat Florida to reach SEC semis

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2014 

  • Saturday

    No. 12 Kentucky vs. No. 5 South Carolina

    What: SEC Tournament semifinals

    Where: Duluth, Ga.

    When: Noon

    TV: ESPNU

    Radio: WWTF-AM 1580

    Records: Kentucky 23-7, South Carolina 27-3

    Series: Kentucky leads 31-21

    This season: South Carolina swept Kentucky, winning 68-59 in Columbia on Jan. 9 and 81-58 in Lexington on Feb. 20.

  • Lineups

    NO. 12 KENTUCKY (23-7)

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (10.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (9.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (9.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (11.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (12.9 ppg, 2.3, 2.8 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-4, Jr., F (5.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (4.3 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (3.6 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    NO. 5 SOUTH CAROLINA (27-3)

    Starters: Khadijah Sessions, 5-8, So., G (7.5 ppg, 2.8 apg); Tiffany Mitchell, 5-9, So., G (15.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg); Asia Dozier, 6-0, So., G/F (6.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Aleighsa Welch, 6-0, Jr., F (13.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Elem Ibiam, 6-4, Jr., C (9.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg).

    Key reserves: Tiffany Davis, 5-7, Fr., G (2.6 ppg); Alaina Coates, 6-4, Fr., C (12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg); Olivia Gaines, 5-7, Jr., G (2.3 ppg); Tina Roy, 5-11, So., G (3.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg).

DULUTH, Ga. — Life doesn't always provide second chances.

But somehow, some way, for a second straight day, Kentucky is going to get a third chance.

Both Florida and South Carolina earned rare sweeps of No. 12 UK in the regular season this year.

The Cats got their payback over Florida in dramatic fashion in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference on Friday, 75-70.

"It sure is satisfying to get a tangible result of beating a team that's beaten you twice," Coach Matthew Mitchell said after the victory in which UK had to come back from nine down. "We certainly learned a lot from those games this year."

The Cats (23-7) will get a chance to see if that education includes ways to topple South Carolina, which won the league regular-season championship and handed UK its worst defeat of the season in front of its own home crowd on Feb 20.

"We're excited to play them," Kentucky senior Samarie Walker said after her seven points and 11 boards over Florida.

Why? Why would you be excited to play a team that beat you by 23 points in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament?

"To get them back," she said quietly.

So is this chance coupled with that other chance against the Gators on Friday a part of a revenge tour?

"That's how it looks like it is set up," said UK's DeNesha Stallworth, who had a team-best 13 points (all in the second half) on the first leg of the tour. "Everything happens for a reason, you know."

Florida (19-12) provided a real reminder of just how much intestinal fortitude will be required to advance in the SEC Tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The Gators ran out to a nine-point lead late in the first half as Kentucky went ice cold. With shooting stars Stallworth and Jennifer O'Neill in foul trouble, the Cats went the final 5:45 of the first half without a field goal.

They missed all five shots and turned the ball over eight times, five more than they had in the first 14 minutes of the game.

"We sort of stepped back from the challenge in the first half," Mitchell said. "We didn't have a lot of toughness in the post in the second half of the first half. ... Florida was much tougher in the first half."

And as a result, the Gators led 36-29 at the break.

Kentucky regrouped in the locker room and climbed back in it with a 9-4 run, evening it up 44-44 before the Gators hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend their lead again.

"We didn't get scared; we didn't feel pressure," Walker said. "We knew we were going to win. We stuck together."

With 2:15 to go, a Stallworth shot in the lane gave UK what looked like a healthy 70-64 lead.

But the Gators responded with back-to-back three-pointers from Cassie Peoples, who had 18 points for the Gators. Kayla Lewis also had 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

UK went up for good on a Janee Thompson shot at the top of the key with 1:14 remaining. Walker had a putback and Stallworth a made free throw to round out the scoring and send the revenge tour to the next round.

"I don't know if it's revenge," said Jennifer O'Neill, who added 11 points. "It's more of a redemption type thing."

It will be redemption for the loss in Lexington, the Cats' only defeat in the past seven games. But what a defeat it was, with South Carolina shooting 52.6 percent from the field and outrebounding UK 44-19 at Memorial Coliseum.

"It's more about wanting to redeem ourselves and play the best game we can play," Stallworth agreed.

Whatever the motivation is, Kentucky's going to need it against the Gamecocks, who destroyed Georgia 67-48 in the first quarterfinal game here on Friday.

"It's going to be a really tough game, and we just have to get our minds ready to battle for 40 minutes," Mitchell said of the upcoming matchup with South Carolina (27-3).

"Toughness is at a premium in this tournament. That's what we'll talk to our players about from now until whenever we tip off tomorrow (noon). We need to get ourselves ready to be the tougher team."

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

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