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January 3, 2013Not every Southeastern Conference game will be like this. At least UK coach Matthew Mitchell hopes not.
No. 6 Kentucky (13-1, 1-0 SEC) opened conference play with a 76-69 win against Florida (11-4, 0-1 SEC) at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night, draining several clutch three-pointers in the second half to stave off repeated runs by the Gators.
"That was a very difficult game," Mitchell said. "We had to earn a victory over a really tough opponent They just never stopped, never quit. They're a tough group of players. I'm really excited about the victory and happy our team was tough enough to win it."
Florida led only once, just before halftime, but cut the lead to one possession several times in the second half to push UK to the brink.
Florida cut the lead to three points midway through the half when sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill took over for UK. She knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and made a long field goal that was ruled two-point shot after being reviewed. That spurt rebuilt UK's lead to 58-49.
"I think it gave us a big spark," O'Neill said. "Me knocking down shots gave us a little run and I think the team fed off it a little."
The Gators' final run came with less than four minutes to go, as Florida pulled within 61-58. Senior guard A'dia Mathies buried a three from the wing to build a cushion, and junior center DeNesha Stallworth followed that with a layup to put UK back in control. Florida wouldn't come that close again.
The win gave the Wildcats a school record 12 consecutive wins and pushed their home winning streak to 30 straight games, tying a school record set in the early 1980s. O'Neill has now scored in double figures in three straight games.
But no matter what UK did, Florida responded.
"They answered pretty much all of our runs with a run of their own," senior guard A'dia Mathies said.
Mathies led UK with 20 points and added six rebounds and four assists. O'Neill finished with 17 points, making three of her four attempts from 3-point range. Stallworth added 17 also and led UK with 10 rebounds.
Florida freshman Sydney Moss, Kentucky's reigning Miss Basketball, had a difficult return home. She entered the game averaging 11.6 points, but was held scoreless. She missed all ten of her shots from the field and spent much of the second half in foul trouble.
Even without her, Florida gave UK everything it could handle. The teams combined for 50 free throws on the night in a physical contest.
"I am glad we don't have to see (Florida) again," Mitchell said. "And I'm glad we got them in Memorial Coliseum. They were tough tonight."