No. 12 Kentucky women edge Florida, 75-70
DULUTH, Ga. (AP) DeNesha Stallworth overcame foul trouble to score 13 points and No. 12 Kentucky continued its string of Southeastern Conference tournament success with a 75-70 win over Florida in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Kentucky (23-7) advanced to the SEC semifinals for the fifth straight year. The Wildcats, who have reached three of the last four finals, will play No. 5 South Carolina, the top seed, on Saturday.
Kayla Lewis had 18 points and eight rebounds for Florida (19-12). The Gators swept two regular-season games with Kentucky.
”Florida is a difficult team to defend,” said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. ”Schematically against man-to-man, they’re so active and take advantage of their personnel, it’s hard to play defense against them. It’s also hard to stay in the zone because of their 3-point shooters.”
Bria Goss and Jennifer O’Neill each had 11 points for Kentucky.
Stallworth played only 2 minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
”It was very frustrating,” Stallworth said, adding Mitchell and his assistants ”did a great job of telling me to just stay in the game.”
”In the past, I’d probably get frustrated and check out,” Stallworth said. ”I knew my team needed me, so I just stayed strong.”
There were 13 lead changes and eight ties, the last at 70-70 following back-to-back 3-pointers by Florida’s Cassie Peoples, who had 18 points while making five 3-pointers. Florida made 10 of 25 3-point shots.
Kentucky reclaimed the lead on a basket by Janee Thompson and stretched the lead on Samarie Walker’s offensive rebound and layup. Walker had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky took a 42-39 advantage in rebounds and a 16-6 edge in second-chance points.
”I thought we were playing great basketball but kept giving them second chances,” said Florida coach Amanda Butler. ”A good team’s going to take advantage of that.”
Kentucky continued its strong late-season surge. The Wildcats were 5-5 in the league before winning five of their last six regular-season games to earn the fourth seed in the tournament.
Mitchell said the win over Florida provided evidence of his team’s improvement.
”Our players have worked really hard to improve since the last time we played them,” Mitchell said. ”So it was very gratifying to win this game and also to shake off a very poor first half.”
Florida led 36-29 at halftime.
”I thought the players showed a lot by coming back in the second half, finding a way to win,” Mitchell said.