January 5, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell offered no excuses after his sixth-ranked Wildcats lost to Florida 83-73 Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
“They just came in here and beat us today, simple as that,” Mitchell said.
The Wildcats (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) had won their previous six games against the Gators, but the past five were decided by seven points or less. Florida (12-3, 2-0) ended the streak and won its eighth-straight game while playing its first road contest since Dec. 4.
The Wildcats shot just 35 percent from the field overall. In the second half, they missed all five of their 3-point attempts after making six shots from long range in the first half.
“We weren’t finishing anything inside the paint or outside the paint and that just comes from staying composed in a tough game like that, especially when Florida is playing at such a high pace and pushing ourselves to do things we weren’t comfortable doing,” Kentucky guard Kastine Evans said. “It was really a lack of composure in those last 13 minutes.”
Florida (12-3, 2-0) trailed 70-69 with four minutes but outscored the Wildcats 14-3 the remainder of the game for the final margin. The Gators made 12 of 16 free throws in the last four minutes and Kentucky failed to muster a field goal in the last eight minutes.
“It’s a fantastic win, not only to play and beat them, but beat them here,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “It was very significant. It’s a great opportunity for our team that we took advantage of. This is a team that works very hard every day and got what they deserved and took advantage of the chance they had this evening.”
Kentucky got 40 points from its bench, led by Jennifer O’Neill, who led the Wildcats with 15 points. Samarie Walker added a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Kentucky senior DeNesha Stallworth returned to the lineup for the first time since having arthroscopic knee surgery on Dec. 18. Stallworth had missed the previous five games and finished with four points in seven minutes.
O’Neill said the team’s poor play down the stretch as the result of a “letdown and a lack of focus.”
“We had a lot of unforced turnovers and poor shots,” O’Neill said. “We had a letdown and let an opportunity go.”
Jaterra Bonds scored 23 points to lead four players in double figures. Bonds scored eight of Florida’s first 13 points as the Gators raced out to a 21-10 lead. Bonds finished with 14 points in the opening half.
Like her coach, Bonds was elated following the contest.
“It felt good to beat them on their home court. They’re one of the best (teams) in the country, pressuring you 94 feet,” Bonds said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge the whole game. Every huddle, I was just telling my teammates to stay composed and be smart. It’s a big win for us, especially in the road, because they count double.”
Ronni Williams scored 19 points and January Miller and Christin Mercer added 10 points each for the Gators.
Florida shot 49 percent from the field, making 24 of 31 free throws overall and 18 of 22 in the second half.
Kentucky stayed close with six 3-pointers in the first half and connected on two shots from long range during a 12-2 run that gave the Wildcats their first lead at 32-31 with five minutes remaining in the first half.
The two teams battled through four ties and six lead changes during the remainder of the half. Bonds made two free throws with 17 seconds left in the first half, giving Florida a 45-44 lead at the break.
Bernisha Pinkett connected on three of Kentucky’s 3-pointers in the first half, including two back-to-back 3s and led the Wildcats with nine points in the half.
Florida forced two ties and a pair of lead changes in the first five minutes of the second half, but the Wildcats grabbed the lead after scoring nine straight for a 62-53 lead with 11:49 remaining.
The Gators weren’t rattled by the nine-point deficit and rallied to remain undefeated in the SEC.
“That was a really tough game, and hats off to Florida, they just played so hard to today,” Mitchell said. “They started the game with energy and just never let up. I just thought they were outstanding, worked hard and played together as a team. They had a lot of toughness, played through adversity and they had a great day.”