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Ndidi Madu scored a season-high 11 points.

Sunday January 1, 2012No. 6 Kentucky Pulls Away Late to Defeat Women's Hoops in SEC Opener

Gainesville, Fla.

Ndidi Madu scored a season-high 11 points.

Reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) had her sixth straight double-double and senior guard Deana Allen (Houma, La.) led the Gators in scoring for the second straight contest, but it wasn’t enough as Florida fell to No. 6 Kentucky, 59-56, in both team’s respective SEC openers on Sunday afternoon in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

 

George put up another solid overall performance with 10 points and 11 rebounds against the ‘Cats, including seven offensive boards. George also had two blocks on the afternoon, becoming the eighth Gator to swat 100 or more in her career. The junior forward now has 101 blocks for her career.

 

Allen had 12 points on the afternoon, including going 2-for-4 from beyond three-point arc. In all, Florida had four players in double-figure points, the second consecutive contest with at least four Gators in double-digit scoring. Redshirt senior Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) tallied 11 points against the ‘Cats, while sophomore guard Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) registered 10 points.

 

The Gators (10-4, 0-1 SEC) outrebounded their opponent for the 11th consecutive game, on Sunday registering a 44-42 advantage against the Wildcats thanks in part to the 11 boards from George and the 10 from senior center Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England), who also collected a career-high five steals to go along with a pair of blocked shots, as increased her career swat total to 170.

 

Florida turned the ball over a season-high 23 times, resulting in 20 UK points. The Gators also shot just 32.8 percent from the floor (20-61) and hit 11-of-19 free throws.

 

“We were obviously very disappointed because we lost, but more so because we didn’t play well – you have to give Kentucky a lot of credit for that. They’re the best defensive team that we have played all year,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “When we go back and look at the film tonight, how we finished the first half is going to be hard to watch. You have to be composed when you face a team like that. There were too many moments when our consistency dipped.”

 

Bonds opened the scoring in the second half, hitting a jumper just 2:15 into the second stanza. Allen hit a jumper to tie the game at 33-33. Kentucky answered with a layup by Kastine Evans but Madu put Florida right back in it with a deep jumper at the 15:23 mark courtesy of a dish by Bartley.

 

UF had a couple opportunities to take lead in second half when the scored was tied at 35, but couldn’t, as UK eventually found its stroke and scored five straight to take a 40-35 lead midway through the second half.

 

Deana Allen helped the Gators close the gap, as she nailed a pair of three-pointers on consecutive possessions and had Florida within two, 42-40, with 10:44 to play.

 

Neither team could scored for the next four minutes until Stewart knocked down one free throw with 8:19 remaining and drew the Gators within 42-41.

 

Kentucky, however, came right down and Samarie Walked scored inside on back-to-back possessions, building the Wildcat’s lead back to five points with 7:37 to play.

 

Allen struck again with her third three-pointer of the game and the Gators were within two, 46-44, with 6:36 on the clock.

 

A’dia Mathies, who finished with a team-high 14 points, converted a layup and put Kentucky ahead by four, 48-44, before Evans stole the ball and sparked a 4-0 run that put Kentucky ahead, 50-45.

 

Out of the final media timeout, a Brittany Henderson layup gave Kentucky (12-2, 1-0 SEC) one of its largest leads of the contest, 52-45. Two made free throws by senior guard Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.), her first points of the afternoon, put Florida back within five with just 2:26 to go in the game.

 

Kentucky’s Amber Smith hit a trey as the shot clock ticked down to put the ‘Cats ahead by its largest lead of the afternoon, 55-47, but redshirt senior Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) knocked down her first trey of the game, as the Gators remained within five with less than a minute remaining.

 

A Kentucky shot-clock violation gave Florida possession but a costly turnover put the ball back in the hands of the ‘Cats. After a make and a miss from the charity stripe for Kentucky’s Smith, Bonds drove hard in the paint to put Florida back within four, 56-52, with just 19 ticks remaining in the game.

 

Smith returned to the line and hit both free throws but Bartley raced to the other end to put up a layup with 8.7 seconds to play. The next possession seemed to be much of the same, as Smith hit both shots from the charity stripe and Allen sped to lay it in to pull Florida within three, 59-56, with just one second remaining as Kentucky claimed the victory.

 

The game started out with missed opportunities for the Gators despite an impressive steal by Stewart less than 30 seconds into the contest.

 

The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 5-0 start courtesy of hot shooting by Goss. Madu single-handedly put Florida back in the game with the first career three-point attempt and make, pulling the Gators within two at 5-3. The Antioch, Tenn. native nailed a jumper at the 15:11 mark and subsequently stole the ball and was fouled. Madu sunk both free throw attempts to even the score at 7-7.

 

Redshirt sophomore forward Lily Svete (Granger, Ind.) was fouled going up for an offensive board and hit the ensuing free throw, giving the Gators their first lead of the half at 8-7. Bonds hit a layup to extend the Florida advantage to 10-7 with 12:43 remaining in the half.

 

The Wildcats hit two straight buckets to take over the lead, 11-10, sparking a stretch that featured five lead changes and one tie between the SEC East foes. A George layup gave the Gators their largest lead of the half thus far, 19-15, with 8:43 remaining in the half.

 

The Wildcats’ Azia Bishop swished two free throws to tie the half at 19-19 but a driving layup by George put the Gators back ahead, 21-19. George found her way inside the paint for another layup, extending the Florida lead to 23-19 with 6:08 to go in the first.

 

A Shine free throw put the Gators ahead by five, 24-19, but Kentucky hit two straight buckets to pull within one, 24-23, at the 3:40 mark in the opening stanza.

 

Out of the final media timeout of the first half, Kentucky’s Maegan Conwright came up with a layup to put the Wildcats ahead 25-24 with just 2:30 remaining in the half.

 

Bonds converted one free throw and score was tied for the fifth time, before Allen slashed her way for a layup and gave the Gators a 27-25 lead with 1:53 remaining in the frame.

 

Crystal Riley responded for UK with a jumper and evened the score again at 27 with 1:46 on the clock.

 

George followed with a jumper in the paint and Florida led 29-27 with one minute remaining.

 

In the final 37 seconds of the half, Mathies, who had been scoreless to that point in the game, got loose and nailed back-to-back three-pointers, forcing a Gator turnover in between, that gave the Wildcats a 33-29 halftime lead and the momentum heading into the locker room.

 

“I think it’s the easiest to point to and think ‘Gosh, what would have happened if we had closed out the half better,’” Butler said. “You expect to close out halves on your home court better, and weather out storms in between. I also think that’s a little short-sided to say that was main thing though. I think the possessions where we were able to take the lead, get a stop, then we got the ball back and had a turnover – those are going to be hard to watch.”

 

Florida next travels to Oxford and plays Ole Miss on Thurs., January 5, with tip-off from Tad Smith Coliseum set for 8 pm ET/7 pm CT. The game will be televised live on FOX Sports Florida in the North/Central Florida territory and on SUN Sports in South Florida territory.

 

Tonight’s Notables

 

-       Ndidi Madu scored UF’s first seven points of the game, matching her season-high point total during the run

-       Madu scored a season-high 11 points (was 7 vs. Charleston Southern, Dec. 20)

-       Jennifer George’s first blocked shot of the game was the 100th of her career (Keyla Snowden, 14:13 mark of first half); became the eighth Gator to block 100 in career

-       Azania Stewart collected double-figure rebounds (10) for the second time this year, sixth time in career

-       Fourth time UF has had two players with 10 or more rebounds this season

-       Florida’s bench outscored Kentucky’s, 27-15

-       Senior guard Deana Allen led UF in scoring with 12 points, her second straight contest as the team’s leading scorer

-       Four Gators scored in double-digit figures, the second straight game with four or more players to register double-figure points

-       With 10 points and 11 rebounds, Jennifer George recorded her sixth straight double-double, the eighth of the season and 12th of her career

-       Jennifer George recorded her sixth consecutive double-double, tied for the ninth-longest streak in program history; double-double was her eighth of the season and 12th of her career

-       Jordan Jones has hit a three-pointer in 10 consecutive games and in 13 of 15 overall; it is her third double-figure consecutive games streak with a trey during her career

-       Jones had four assists against the Wildcats, her season high

-       UF had its seven-game home winning streak snapped

-       The three-point outcome was UF’s 42nd decided by 10 points or less in the last two-plus seasons; the fourth this year

 

Head Coach Amanda Butler

Opening Statement:

“We were obviously very disappointed because we lost, but more so because we didn’t play well – you have to give Kentucky a lot of credit for that. They’re the best defensive team that we have played all year. When we go back and look at the film tonight, how we finished the first half is going to be hard to watch. You have to be composed when you face a team like that. There were too many moments when our consistency dipped.”

 

On Kentucky’s offensive efforts:

“Mathies is a great player all around; she can pretty much do it all. When you go to zone, and they’re good in every area, she suddenly becomes the best shooter in the gym. It’s just disappointing that we not just gave up a three, but that it was to a player that we had really keyed on in the zone. She has a lot of guts, a lot of confidence and rightly so.”

 

On the team’s defense performance:

“I thought it was ok, I didn’t think it was great or our best performance. I don’t think we did a good job stopping the transition. We didn’t do that great of a job protecting the paint, especially in double-penetration. You have to be a great, aware defender, know that there is one second on the shot clock and defend harder at that moment. Overall, I thought it was okay, and the bottom line is okay isn’t good enough.”

 

On the transition play:

“I thought the tempo for the most part was what we wanted it to be. I thought that we didn’t do a great job of sometimes deciding not to run – dribbling into a crowd in particular. We didn’t do a good job of maintaining our composure and just being aware of what we were trying to do. For the most part, the pace was what we liked to play.”

 

On Jennifer George:

“I think Jennifer is embracing and understanding how important she is to our success. It’s not new for our team. But the thing that is amazing about the numbers that Jennifer George has been able to attract is the consistency. She can handle everything and then produce the end result that we still want. I know she got off to a slow start tonight, but really stepped up when the challenge was in front of her.”

 

On the conclusion of the first half:

“I think it’s the easiest to point to and think ‘Gosh, what would have happened if we had closed out the half better.’ You expect to close out halves on your home court better, and weather out storms in between. I also think that’s a little short-sided to say that was main thing though. I think the possessions where we were able to take the lead, get a stop, then we got the ball back and had a turnover – those are going to be hard to watch.”

 

Florida Junior Forward Jennifer George

On the second half of the game:

“I think they did the same in the first half as in the second. We just missed a lot of easy shots in the second.”

 

Florida Redshirt Senior Guard Jordan Jones

On the SEC opener:

“We have an experienced team coming back. We know that the SEC is a different league than the rest in the country. We knew it was going to be tough and physical, we just have to respond better from now on.”

 

Florida Redshirt Senior Forward Ndidi Madu

On her performance coming off the bench:

“I want to bring a lot of energy. My teammates expect me to hit those open shots, especially those at the high post. That’s what I want to do. The team fed off of that shot, and just kind of got it running after that.”

 

Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell:

Opening Statement:

“We are so happy to get that win. We certainly had to earn it. Florida played so tough today and it was just what you’d expect in the SEC in a road game; a big-time, physical, tough, tough game, and that’s exactly what it was today. I thought Florida played very aggressively and with a lot of toughness, so I couldn’t be prouder for our team to bounce back from what’s been a tough week for us. I think our players were doubting themselves a little bit after the Middle Tennessee loss, and we have not had a lot of success in SEC openers the last two or three years. So, just a really great win for us, and I’m very, very proud of our players and happy for them.”

 

On Kentucky’s defensive intensity as compared to last year:

“I think we have excellent defensive intensity. I think our defensive intensity is good right now, but it has the chance to get even better. I think this team can be a better defensive team than last year’s team. The issue for us right now is offensively, turnovers, we just turned the ball over too much. Our turnover margin today was only +1 and we need that around +8 really to make it all work. So, I think the defense is good.”

 

On the momentum change heading into halftime:

“I think that was a huge part of the game. I believe we were down, 29-25, and we go into the half up 33-29.  I was really trying to encourage A’dia (Mathies) to be assertive and those were huge, huge buckets at the end of the half. And I did think our full-court press was very good at the end of the half. We played so poorly Wednesday night that I was afraid we didn’t have a lot of confidence in our full-court defense, so we just really worked for two days on trying to be as tough in the half court as we could, and we did not use our press as much as we normally do. But I’m really proud of the players. If we can wear teams down, that’s a real advantage for us, because I do believe we have some good athletes on our squad.”

 

 

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