UK Women's Basketball

Jennifer O'Neill leads UK women with monstrous performance

Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill (0) put in a jumper over Baylor Bears forward/center Kristina Higgins (44) as Kentucky played Baylor on Friday December 6, 2013.  Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats guard Jennifer O'Neill (0) put in a jumper over Baylor Bears forward/center Kristina Higgins (44) as Kentucky played Baylor on Friday December 6, 2013. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

ARLINGTON, Texas — Everything was indeed bigger in Texas.

In a monstrous arena with a monstrous television screen, it seemed only fitting that a game of monstrous proportions would break out.

It took fifth-ranked Kentucky four overtimes to knock off No. 9 Baylor 133-130 on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in a game that broke the NCAA women’s basketball record for most combined points.

“Just an epic game,” Coach Matthew Mitchell would say afterward, after junior Jennifer O’Neill came off the bench to score a career-best 43 points, breaking the single-game record once set by Kentucky great Valerie Still.

“It was an amazing performance,” Mitchell said. “We needed all of them — every point she scored.”

The victory, UK’s second over a top 10 team in as many games, helped the Cats remain unbeaten.

O’Neill played 46 minutes in the win and was asked later if she could feel her legs after the 14-for-31 shooting performance, which included just two made three-pointers.

“I’m not feeling anything right now,” she beamed.

A pro-UK crowd inside AT&T Stadium likely bought tickets to see the men play Baylor, but they gave a standing ovation to the Cats after the undercard of the doubleheader, which turned out to be a heckuva slugfest.

“We had it won a couple times, lost a couple times,” Mitchell said.

Kentucky had to overcome a super performance by the Bears’ Odyssey Sims, who had 47 points before fouling out in the first overtime on a called charge taken by Kastine Evans. Sims’ 47 points came in 41 minutes. The senior guard added six assists.

“Odyssey Sims is the best player in the country,” Coach Kim Mulkey said after her senior guard scored more points against the Cats than Georgia Southern’s entire team (38) did earlier in the season.

O’Neill was one of five Cats in double figures, including Janee Thompson, who added 20 points. DeNesha Stallworth added 16 points and nine rebounds. Evans added 14 points and Bria Goss scored 13.

With 32 seconds left in the first overtime, Kentucky led by four points before allowing the Bears right back in it. The Bears forced overtime No. 2 on an Imani Wright three-pointer with nine seconds to go.

“When Wright made that three, I thought it took tremendous character to come back from that,” Mitchell said.

The Bears got 23 points from Makenzie Robertson and 20 points from Nina Davis.

Kentucky shot 41.9 percent from the field for the game, and the Cats’ bench outscored their Baylor counterparts 62-30, but much of that came from O’Neill, who said 43 points was the most she’d ever scored in her career.

“I didn’t even know I had that many,” she said, adding later that she had a dream the night before that she hit the game-winner.

She seemingly did that over and over again.

Baylor had seven players foul out in the loss, and Mulkey said afterward that she had to play an injured player near the end to keep five players on the floor.

Kentucky and Baylor answered each other’s runs in the game.

After Baylor (7-1) grabbed a 54-51 lead early in the second half, the Cats went on a 23-8 run to help them grab their largest lead of the game, 74-62, with 9:43 to go.

But the Bears weren’t done. They used a 17-4 run, behind big play after big play from Sims, to grab a lead again.

“The game was so long you had time to play bad, you had time to play good,” Mitchell said.

In the gigantic arena, the Cats’ offense was swallowed up early. They made just four of their first 18 shot attempts, but finished the half strong, making nine of their final 17 tries.

O’Neill was a big part of that, scoring 10 points off the UK bench.

After Sims picked up her second foul with 11:24 to go in the first half, the Bears struggled offensively, and UK was able to grab its largest lead of the half, 28-22.

Sims quickly came back in and took over, scoring six straight to help the Bears grab their first lead in almost 10 minutes at 40-39.

The senior guard, who is second in the nation in scoring at 27.6 points a game, had 13 points at the break for the Bears, who outrebounded UK in the half 25-21.

The score was tied at 44 at halftime — a far cry from last year’s game at Waco, when the Bears cruised to a 46-14 advantage in the first half and never looked back, crushing Kentucky 85-51.

The victory was big for Kentucky, Goss said.

“We might have some bandwagoners after this one,” she said with a smile.”

It also made Goss realize something about her team. She ran through the underbelly of AT&T Stadium yelling and cheering loudly.

“This is the team; this is the year,” Goss said.

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