UK Women's Basketball

Big second half helps UK women coast past Florida 67-48

Kentucky center Alyssa Rice, right, fought for a rebound with Florida center Tyshara Fleming during the first half.
Kentucky center Alyssa Rice, right, fought for a rebound with Florida center Tyshara Fleming during the first half.

Kentucky looked a little off during the second quarter on Sunday against Florida.

There were screens not set on offense and some miscommunication on defense. There were a lot of perplexed faces and impromptu chats during dead balls.

“There were just some things that we weren’t sure about, so we just had to talk,” guard Taylor Murray said.

A little more chitchat at halftime was all Kentucky needed to pull away in the third quarter and coast past the Gators 67-48 on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.

“We really worked hard not to be frustrated at halftime,” said Coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team has won four in a row. “Just (told) the team if we can just take care of the ball and keep them off the offensive glass we had some opportunity in this game. They really locked in, focused in, did a good job the second half.”

The biggest surge came on the defensive end, when steals and layups fueled a 16-4 run. The Cats held Florida to just 10 points in the third quarter and forced the Gators into six turnovers, which UK turned into 10 points of its own.

“We got stops and were able to push in transition, which allowed us to get a bigger lead,” said Murray, who helped pave the way with four steals to go with four points and a career-best 11 assists. “We were just staying focused and running our sets.”

A game before their senior night, the Cats (19-8, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) were paced by their seniors with Evelyn Akhator putting up 19 points and pulling down nine rebounds along with three steals. Makayla Epps added 14 points, three assists and three rebounds.

Sophomore Maci Morris pitched in with 15 points and three assists. The sophomore helped set the tone early for UK, which never trailed on Sunday, and led by as many as 22 points.

Behind Morris, Kentucky got off to a fast start and led by as many as 10 points early in the second quarter, 22-12, before the Gators came storming back with a 9-2 run to pull within three.

The Cats extended the lead again to eight before Florida closed out the first half with a 6-2 run. UK made just one of its five shots to end the half up 31-27. In the second quarter, UK made just four of its 11 attempts while the Gators shot nearly 60 percent.

“We missed a couple of perimeter shots and then we started to doubt ourselves,” Mitchell said of the second-quarter issues. “I got a little frustrated with that. We’ve got to remain confident.”

Kentucky looked much more confident in the third quarter when things started to unravel for the Gators, whose 23 turnovers were turned into 24 UK points.

Mitchell thought Murray was a big factor in getting Florida out of rhythm.

“Has some quick hands and really can disrupt,” he said of the sophomore. “And when she gets out with the ball, gets going — it ignites us. She’s playing some good basketball right now. Eleven assists, one turnover. That’s incredible.”

Florida’s Ronni Williams, who leads the league in scoring at 18.9 points per game, scored 12 points for the Gators, and just four in the second half. Delicia Washington led Florida with 14 points.

After shooting better than 50 percent in the first half, the Gators (13-14, 4-10) made just 36.4 percent of their shots in the second half and were held to a season-low 48 points.

Kentucky won the rebounding battle 30-28 behind nine from Akhator and six from Alyssa Rice. The Cats had 25 second-chance points compared to just five for Florida.

News and notes

After 13 games away working her way through the concussion protocol, Kentucky’s Jessica Hardin made her first appearance in a game and promptly hit a late three-pointer.

“She’s been doing that in practice,” Mitchell said of Hardin, who has been out since the Dec. 29 loss at Duke. “She’s really been shooting the ball well. You know she took so much time off with the concussion, but man it didn’t affect her shooting at all. She’s been shooting the ball well in practice.”

Mitchell was hoping to get her in the game sooner, but UK’s second half struggles prohibited that.

▪  The Cats can enjoy their victory for a day or so before they prepare to finish out the season against the SEC’s two top teams, first at home on Thursday night against No. 3 Mississippi State (Senior Night) and then at No. 6 South Carolina.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Next game

No. 3 Mississippi State at Kentucky

7 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network Plus)