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UK women play 'straight-up soccer,' topple No. 5 Florida

Seniors Stuart Pope, left, and Arin Gilliland celebrated Pope's goal in the 55th minute. The Kentucky women's soccer team outmatched Florida position for position.
Seniors Stuart Pope, left, and Arin Gilliland celebrated Pope's goal in the 55th minute. The Kentucky women's soccer team outmatched Florida position for position.

The Kentucky women's soccer team picked up its biggest win of the season on Sunday afternoon, as the Wildcats shut out the No. 5 Florida Gators 2-0. And they did it in front of a season-high 1,172 fans at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.

Goals from Zoe Swift (33rd minute) and Stuart Pope (50th minute) sealed the win for the Wildcats, who have now won three games running and sit on 15 points in the Southeastern Conference standings.

"I think we've had quite a few performances that I'm very proud of," UK Coach Jon Lipsitz said. "I felt like (today) was our most effective. We made a decision as a staff on Wednesday, what we were going to do. ...

"We decided — we knew that they were going to play a 3-5-2 if we didn't play three forwards. And so we said, 'Do we have the courage to play a 3-5-2 and match one shape against the other?' And our players were excited. Literally, we spent about 10 minutes on a board and 10 minutes on a practice field going over it and said, 'Just play.'"

Senior defender Arin Gilliland said the team bought in. "(The new formation) made it man-to-man, made you responsible individually, and made us play straight-up soccer with them — and it worked," Gilliland said.

Swift gave the Wildcats the lead just after the half-hour mark, hammering in her fourth goal of the season. Teammate Michaela Dooley got the ball from the left side and beat her defender, serving the ball across the mouth of the goal, setting it up.

Dooley's assist was her team-high tying eighth of the season.

Pope sealed the result. She knocked home a rebound off a strike from Courtney Raetzman. Raetzman's shot came after a two-touch control from a bouncing ball around the top of the box, and Florida's goalie made a diving save to her right. But that allowed a sizeable rebound for Pope.

Pope now has six points this season, one goal and four assists, to go along with 21 shots and nine on frame.

Kentucky (10-5-0, 5-3-0 SEC) more than held its own with one of the best possession-oriented and offensive teams in the nation. The Wildcats finished the match with 11 shots, six on goal, with the Gators rattling off 12 shots, with four on goal. Florida goaltender Taylor Burke made four saves, while Kentucky keeper Taylor Braun matched her.

The win for the Wildcats comes as Lipsitz's first-ever win over a top-5 team, and his third top-10 win all-time at Kentucky during his six-year tenure.

It was UK's third win in a row, and fifth in the last seven matches. In that time, the Wildcats have knocked off No. 24 South Carolina, No. 5 Florida and nationally ranked Auburn and Mississippi State, all at home. Kentucky, with one home match remaining this season, is 8-1-0 at The Bell.

But Lipsitz isn't going to let the Wildcats linger too long on the triumph.

"It means a win," Lipsitz said. "It means three points in the conference standings. It means a lot of help with our RPI for the NCAA's. As soon as we hit 12:01 a.m. tomorrow — and I will tell them this — it means a win. I'll let them enjoy it until then, but at 12:01 on Monday, it's three points."

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