Thursday January 3, 2013Gators Drops Tough Decision at No. 6 Kentucky, 76-69
Jaterra Bonds scored a game and season-high 21 points.
Jaterra Bonds scored a game and season-high 21 points.
Junior Jaterra Bonds scored a season-high 21 points, freshman January Miller scored career-best 17 points and senior Jennifer George posted her 25th career double-double but Florida fell just short at sixth-ranked and preseason Southeastern Conference favorite Kentucky, 76-69, on Thursday in the league opener for both teams.
The Gators (11-4, 0-1 SEC) was within two points, 60-58, with 6:03 remaining but went cold from the floor, missing their next six shots and the Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 SEC) took advantage by scoring six straight points and led 66-58 with 3:18 remaining.
Kayla Lewis ended the run with an inside jumper, but the teams traded scores and Florida’s deficit alternated between six and eight points for the next couple of minutes and couldn’t string back-to-back scoring opportunities until Bonds converted two free throws and George hit an inside bucket with 21 seconds remaining that brought the Gators within four, 72-68.
UK made 4-of-6 free throws in the final 20 seconds to secure their 30th consecutive win in Memorial Coliseum, as well as its program-record 12th straight overall.
“I thought our players fought really, really hard and in the second half did a great job of taking care of the basketball,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “We won the rebounding battle and got ourselves to the free throw line like we wanted to and had some really good individual performances.
“January Miller had a career-high, Jaterra was money from the free throw line so there were a lot of positives for us,” Butler continued. “You have to give Kentucky a lot of credit. This building is really hard to win in and I thought we put up a great fight. There are a lot of positives for us to move forward into our next battle.”
Bonds tied a program-record by hitting 11-of-11 free throws en route to her game-high offensive output, while Miller hit 5-of-7 from the floor, including 2-of-3 three-pointers with 5-of-6 from the line. George recorded 14 points, a game-high 11 rebounds with a game-high three steals for the Gators, who committed just three turnovers in the second half after 16 in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Florida held a 40-36 rebounding edge in the game.
UK entered the game leading the nation in turnover margin at +12.9, having forced at least 21 turnovers in every game this year while averaging 15.8 per game. The Wildcats committed 16 miscues overall, but just four in the second half.
“I don’t want this to sound like I’m not giving Kentucky credit because they are a great team. I really felt like in the beginning of the game we had a lot of nerves,” Butler said. “We made some rushed decisions that we did a better job of being in control of in the second half. We talked about composure all week long and got to that point but we had to fight to get there.”
A’dia Mathies, last year’s SEC Player of the Year and the preseason favorite this season, scored 20 points for Kentucky to lead four Wildcats in double-figure scoring. Junior transfer DeNesha Stallworth posted 17 points and 10 rebounds for UK, which shot 43.5 percent overall and hit 9-of-23 three-pointers.
Kentucky scored the last five points of the first half and carried that momentum into the second where they scored the first seven points and took a 46-35 lead.
Florida calmly answered with the next six points that started a 12-2 run and the Gators were within one point, 48-47, with 13:29 remaining.
Bria Goss, last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year, halted the run with a jumper and Jennifer O’Neill followed with a pair of three-pointers that had the Wildcats lead back to nine with 9:55 on the clock.
Vicky McIntyre hit two more free throws for Florida before O’Neill hit a deep jumper and again UK’s lead was at nine points, 58-49, with 9:21 remaining.
January Miller drove hard to the hoop and was fouled and converted two free throws before nailing her second three-pointer to spark a 6-0 spurt that had Florida within two, 58-56, with 6:54 remaining.
DeNesha Stallworth hit a jumper, but Jennifer George answered with a tough inside shot and Florid was again within two points, 60-58, with 6:03 on the clock.
Florida went cold from the floor, missing its next six shots, as UK scored six straight points and led 66-58 with 3:18 remaining.
Kayla Lewis ended the run with an inside jumper, but the teams traded scores and Florida’s deficit alternated between six and eight points for the next couple of minutes.
To the disappointment of a huge hometown crowd that made the trip from nearby Union, Ky., freshman Sydney Moss, UF’s second-leading scorer this year, was whistled for her fourth personal foul with 10:21 remaining and struggled all night in what was her toughest collegiate showing to date.
The Gators committed a turnover on their first two possessions and Kentucky took advantage both times with buckets.
Florida managed a shot on its next two offensive trips down the court, but missed and the Wildcats collected the rebound.
After two more UK points from the free throw line, Jaterra Bonds finally got the Gators on the scoreboard with an eight-foot jumper from the side 2:50 into the game.
The Wildcats came back with a three-pointer and stretched their early lead to seven points, but Florida regrouped with the next four, as Christin Mercer connected on a tough inside jumper and Bonds converted a pair of free throws and brought the Gators within three.
Kentucky scored the next four points and held again held a seven-point spread and the teams traded scores for the next two minutes before UK’s A’dia Mathies, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year, stepped with a three-pointer and an inside bucket and gave the Wildcats an 11-point lead, 23-12, with 11:30 remaining in the first half and Florida called a timeout.
The Gators refused to fold and rallied with a 9-0 run, as January Miller sparked the march with a pair of run-out layups in a 28-second span. Bonds then converted her seventh three-point play of the year and followed that with mid-range jumper and Florida was within two, 23-21, with 7:30 to play.
DeNesha Stallworth halted the run with a three-pointer from the top of the arc and hit a bucket inside before Samarie Walked sank two free throws to cap a 7-0 run and had UK back out in front, 30-21.
Jennifer George got on the board with her first bucket at the 5:48 mark to stop the spurt, as Mathies hit another jumper for the nine-point lead with 5:32 on the clock.
Miller struck for the Gators with a six-footer from the side and Kayla Lewis put in an offensive rebound and the Gators were within five. After a Mathies bucket, Vicky McIntyre nailed two free throws, as did George and Bonds and had Florida within one point, 34-32, with 2:53 remaining in the first.
Both teams missed shots on their respective next offensive possessions, before George put back an offensive rebound and gave Florida its first lead of the game, 35-34, with 1:37.
Kentucky came right back 27 seconds later with a jumper from Bria Goss, forced Florida’s 16th turnover of the period and capitalized when Kastine Evens drilled a three-pointer with 31 seconds remaining to close the first-half scoring and the Wildcats leading 39-35.
The Gators hit 43.3 percent (13-30) from the floor, while UK nailed 48.3 percent of its shots. Bonds and Mathies led their respective teams with 13 points each during the first 20 minutes of action.
Florida returns to action on Sunday when the Gators play host to LSU in the O’Connell Center where tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.
It’s a Family 4Pack Sunday and fans can receive four general admission tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for only $20.
Also, the first 500 fans will receive green sunglasses made from recyclable materials
Sunday’s game will be televised live on the SEC Women’s Basketball Network, which includes 49 different stations in 16 states set to air the game. Check www.gatorzone.com for a complete listing of those television stations.
Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler
"I think it was a great game today, great representation of how good our league is. We have a lot to look forward to in this SEC season. We got beat by a very good team, no question about it. We made some plays down the stretch, but got off to a slow start and that was unfortunate. I love how we took care of the ball in the second half, I love how we fought. We won the rebounding battle and that was something that was real important to us. I thought we played with a lot of toughness and heart, but we are not satisfied by any means. We just have to regroup, go back home, and get ready for a really good LSU team."
On if this Florida team played like a top 25 team tonight...
"Yeah, no question. I think that this team knows how good they are, and that's what is most important to us is what we think of ourselves. I think that we've had a good non-conference season to prepare us for what lies ahead. I think that if a few things had gone differently then maybe we would be having a different press conference, but no question, we are a top 25 team."
O'Neill's offensive play and what that did in the game...
"One of the things that we talked about before the game that we had to pay attention to their game trends. She's a great (O'Neill) player. I think she gives them a really great advantage at point guard this year, her speed, quickness, and ability to score and do just that. Where we fell short was allowing her to score the consecutive baskets. When someone gets in the zone like that it's really tough to keep them from scoring, but the consecutive baskets really gave them momentum. That's just an area where we have to grow up and get better at recognizing what's going on and countering it better before it gets to eight points or 10 points, whatever exactly the run was that she took them on."
On the difference in Kentucky from last year and what it's
like to play Kentucky in their first SEC game this year...
"How they are different from last year is their post presence. What DeNesha brings them is vastly different than the way they were playing last year because basically they were playing with four guards on the floor a lot. I think that's an obvious bonus for them this year. We have a bunch of fighters and a bunch of really tough kids on this team and so we were excited for the opportunity to not just play last years regular season champion, but the preseason predicted champion, and to do it right here. We are a program that is really on the rise and is going somewhere good. Kentucky is the top right now, and you don't get to the top until you go through the best and so we were excited about the challenge."
On the close games recently in this series...
"I'm kind of tired of it to be honest with you. I don't really enjoy it that much because we have been on the losing end. Great matchups, you know Matthew (Mitchell) does a fantastic job and it always does seem to be a one possession ball game that you look back and go "if this, than this" or one bounce here, or two different things, but I think again, it is a great indication of how good our league is, how good they are. And how good we are, and that we have a lot to look forward to."
On Sydney Moss...
"Syd's incredible. She had a tough night tonight. I know she was really fired up and wanted to do well and was probably pushing a little bit too hard, but our team talks about it all the time the different plays that we want to make and who we want to make those plays and she is someone that her teammates have a tremendous amount of confidence in, coaches as well. She has an incredible future ahead of her and I'm real happy she's a Gator."
#32, Jennifer George, F
On guarding Kentucky in the paint...
"I felt like sometimes we got lazy on defense and let them catch inside easily. I think that they are very good in the post and that hurt us. We could have boxed out a little more. They had a lot of easy offensive rebounds and put backs that we can learn from when we get back to Gainesville."
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening Statement …
"What a great win for us tonight. I am very, very proud of our team. That was a very difficult game and we had to earn a victory over a very tough opponent. We have a lot of respect for Florida. They never quit, never stopped. They are a tough group of players and are well coached. They have our respect and I am really, really excited about the victory and happy that our team was tough enough to win it because it sure was a tough one tonight."
On Jennifer O'Neil's performance …
"Great game for Jennifer. When we were really stagnant and struggling to score and Florida was playing such great defense, she just made some plays for us that I thought really lifted our team. I thought we were getting close to the point of discouragement on offense because of Florida's really good play. We were able to shake her lose one time on a little play coming out of a timeout that was a little different look for Florida and I was really happy that one went in. Then she made a couple that were just contested and just a player making a play. Really proud of her, I think she wants to be a good player and I think she is working hard. I thought she still had one breakdown tonight with mental fatigue that led to some bad plays but she is getting much better. The good thing about Jennifer is I think she still has room for improvement. She was big in the game tonight and I am really proud of her."
Walker's play …
"Tonight was the defense and Florida. Florida was really tough inside and our post players didn't do a great job of posting on people and getting on bodies in the zone. They just sort of floated around and Florida had such a great defense going. They had their hands in passing lanes so there wasn't any place to pass the ball and they kept trying to flash in open space instead of getting contact. I thought she had a much better second half and made some big buckets for us. I think Florida was really determined to take away our inside game and she is a big part of it. She did a lot to help us win tonight. She played a lot of defense and had nine rebounds so she had a really good game."
On Florida …
"They really played great tonight. They have two really dynamic players in (Jaterra) Bonds and (Jennifer) George. And then those other kids are really solid players that play their tails off. I think they are going to be a very tough team in this conference and I am glad we don't have to see them again and glad we got to play them in Memorial Coliseum because they were tough tonight."
On what pushed Kentucky over the edge for the win tonight …
"Just our composure against that zone defense that was so good and so tough to score against. It was not always pretty, but it was just us hanging in there and grinding out the victory because Florida really made us earn it."
On A'dia Mathies' play …
"I thought she played liked the best player in the conference tonight because she was so solid in defense and offense and she stayed composed. I agree with you, she was our leading scorer. I thought that she really came out tonight and wanted to set the tone for SEC play and help us get that victory. She was outstanding and a terrific player and we are glad she is on our team. Again, Florida was terrific and a really, really good team. Great basketball game tonight, we were fortunate to win and I am proud of our team.
#0, Jennifer O'Neill, R-So., PG
On knocking down second-half shots after sitting on the
"Sitting on the sideline, I was anxious to go back in. I told Coach (Danielle) Santos 'I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready.' Then Coach (Matthew) Mitchell called my name and I did what he asked me to do. It gave us a big spark. When I was knocking down shots it gave us a little run and I think the team fed off of that really well. "
On taking on the point guard role this year after not
playing last season…
"Last year I had a chance to sit back and watch everything and see what we needed. This year Coach Mitchell has really been on me to push the ball and set the tempo and that's really what I've been trying to do. I met with him at 8:30 this morning and he told me what he wanted me to do and that this was a big game and we needed to win. I really did just try to go out there and do everything he told me to do."
#1, A'dia Mathies, Sr., G
O'Neill's second half spark…
"I think it was what we needed. She is a great shooter. For her to come off the bench for such a long time and knock down three big shots, it was much needed. We needed that little run even though they answered pretty much all of our runs with a run of their own, but we really needed that one."
On setting the tone early in the first half…
"I just knew I wanted to come out very aggressive. For whatever reason, Florida has been a great game for us ever since I have been here. I just knew I wanted to come out aggressive and play as hard as I could for the team."
On Florida always coming back after Kentucky's runs…
"They are a great team and great teams make runs, just like we make runs. All I care is that we got a victory, whether it be by 27 points or one point, as long as we got the win."
On what Kentucky did well in the game …
"I thought (we) knocked down key shots and made free throws at the end of the game. If we would have missed those free throws, it could have easily gone the other way. So, just knocking down shots, free throws and playing pressure defense. "
On what makes this team different from last year's team…
"We can score from pretty much any position. We aren't a one-dimensional team. Obviously, Jen (O'Neill) can score at the point guard position and we have good perimeter and post players. That makes us difficult to stop."
#11, DeNesha Stallworth, Jr., F
On what it was about Florida's zone defense that made it
tough to score…
"I think they contested our shots more so we had to move the ball. When we were stagnant, things didn't go to well. Once we started moving the ball and Samarie (Walker) and I started flashing and sealing, shots started opening up for our perimeter players and they were knocking them down."
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Twitter: @GatorZoneWBK and @CoachButlerUF