UK Women's Basketball

Improbable duo lead UK women past Florida

Kentucky's Lydia Watkins was like something out of Michael Jackson's Thriller video in the first half.

"She was walking around in the first half close to a zombie-like state," Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

He more than told her so at the half.

"She was giving the kind of effort that was going to get us beat," Mitchell said. "Those were my words to her. ... I haven't had to say that to her all year."

After that chat, the 6-foot-1 senior came alive in the second half, scoring all of her career-high 19 points in the No. 16 Cats' 77-51 win over Florida, thrilling the 6,638 mostly pink-clad fans in Memorial Coliseum.

"He said bring your energy and I did," said Watkins, who also led Kentucky in rebounding with nine. She did all of that in 23 minutes.

Watkins was one of two UK role players that came up huge.

In the past six games, Watkins and sophomore Keyla Snowden had combined to score just 30 points total.

Thursday night, the dynamic duo put up 40 points in the win over the Gators, who lost their third straight.

It was UK's 17th consecutive win at home and its school-record 10th Southeastern Conference victory of the season.

But Mitchell didn't see a win coming after UK catnapped through the first half and trailed 33-29 at the break.

"Not many times this season have I talked about being disappointed in their effort," he said. "And I was absolutely disappointed. Florida just took it to us."

UF's Trumae Lucas, who came into the game averaging 5.2 points a contest, had 12 points at the half and scored a layup off a steal to give Florida its first lead of the game 28-27.

Kentucky fell behind by as many as six points early in the second half before using a 39-10 run to put the game out of reach.

"It felt great," Watkins said of that big run. "It was definitely fun."

Watkins had eight straight points early in that spree. She made all seven of the free throws she tried. UK made 21 of its 22 attempts from the stripe for the game.

"Somehow in the second half (my) team left mentally and checked out," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said. "Obviously, you have to give a lot of credit to Kentucky."

But even as UK (22-4, 10-3 SEC) was making that run early, Florida was still within striking distance. The Gators pulled within two points on a Lonnika Thompson three-pointer with nine minutes remaining.

Then Snowden sank consecutive deep three-pointers, the second shot longer than the first.

The former Lexington Catholic star made all five three-pointers she attempted and finished with a game-high 21 points in 29 minutes.

"When I get in that zone, I just let it go," she said. "Coaches tell me to catch and shoot when I'm feeling it."

Which begs the question: Is there a place on the floor from which she won't shoot?

"No," she said laughing, "unless I'm at halfcourt or something."

Mitchell called the sophomore's range "incredible" and added that she earned more playing time with her defense in practice this week.

When Snowden hit those three-pointers, Butler worried that it would spell the start of a rough half for Florida (13-13, 6-7 SEC).

The coach was right.

"We seemed to not be aware that she's a shooter and that's baffling," Butler said of Snowden.

UK's Victoria Dunlap had 15 points, four rebounds and four steals. Guard Crystal Riley didn't score, but she had a career-high eight assists for the Cats, who shot 66.7 percent in the second half and 47.2 percent for the game.

Freshman A'dia Mathies added 11 points and five boards for UK, which bounced back from a loss at Vanderbilt on Sunday that snapped the Cats' eight-game winning streak.

"It's not just the starters on this team, it's the people off the bench that bring the energy and can shoot the ball," said Dunlap, UK's scoring leader this season. "It's good for our team that we're not just one person or two people."

Kentucky, which had 12 steals, scored 32 points off 23 Florida turnovers. The Cats' defense held the Gators to 23.1 percent shooting in the second half and 36.5 percent for the game.

Notes

On Sunday, Kentucky will go for its second-ever perfect season at home against South Carolina, which beat the Cats 79-71 when they played in Columbia. ... Mitchell said Carly Morrow was "under the weather" for the game. The junior, who usually starts at the shooting guard spot, played only three minutes.

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