No. 13 Kentucky rallies past No. 8 Baylor 74-64
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Bad as things looked for Jennifer O’Neill behind a slew of missed first-half shots, the Kentucky senior guard knew she had to keep shooting.
Her diligence eventually paid off in leading the No. 13 Wildcats to another remarkable win over No. 8 Baylor.
O’Neill scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half and Kentucky rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Lady Bears 74-64 on Monday night.
O’Neill missed seven of her eight shots in the first half before heating up after the break. She helped Kentucky (2-0) overcome a 40-26 deficit with a 21-7 run that tied the game at 47 before scoring five consecutive points in the final minutes to put the Wildcats ahead for good at 68-64 with 1:17 remaining.
”My teammates kept feeding me the ball and I was going to shoot,” said O’Neill, who finished 6 of 19 from the field and 1 of 11 from 3-point range but made 9 of 11 free throws.
Makayla Epps added 12 points including four free throws in the final minute as Kentucky scored the game’s last 11 points over 2:28. Linnae Harper added 11 including a couple of insurance free throws for the Wildcats, who shot just 36 percent but held Baylor (1-1) to 32 percent shooting and outrebounded the Lady Bears 24-18 in the final 20 minutes.
Nina Davis scored 18 points, Khadijah Cave added 17 and Imani Wright 10 for Baylor, which seemed in control with that 14-point lead before Kentucky clamped down on both ends for a 2-2 tie in what has been an entertaining series to say the least.
Monday’s meeting at Rupp Arena was the third between the schools in the past year and came nearly a year after O’Neill’s school-record 43 points helped Kentucky beat Baylor 133-130 in an epic four-overtime matchup in Arlington, Texas. The Lady Bears won the rematch 90-72 in last spring’s Sweet 16, but that December contest remains memorable for setting an NCAA record for combined points.
That game was also notable for being played before a sparse crowd at the Dallas Cowboys’ massive stadium because of an ice storm that shut down the region. Kentucky fans were only slightly deterred by Monday’s wintry weather, but the conditions kept last year’s attendance record of 23,706 intact with an announced crowd of 22,075 that won’t soon forget the Wildcats’ amazing rally.
”It was a real, real test for us tonight,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ”I’m really proud of our players. … We came back and played a really tough 20 minutes in the second half.”
Both teams started ice cold offensively, though Baylor warmed up to make 14 of 30 from the floor (47 percent) and build a 34-24 halftime lead thanks to a 24-16 rebounding edge that often led to extra shots and helped start its transition game.
Baylor looked primed to break it open on Niya Johnson’s jumper for a 40-26 lead early in the second half, but Kentucky awoke on both ends for its run over 6:48, capped by Epps’ two free throws that tied the game with 12 minutes remaining. The Lady Bears took a couple of small leads afterward but couldn’t overcome the Wildcats’ resolve down the stretch.
”I think in the first half, Kentucky beat Kentucky,” Epps said. ”We weren’t executing and making hustle plays. We changed the whole momentum and that helped us a lot.”
The game was often ragged as the teams combined for 43 turnovers. Kentucky committed 19, but only four in the second half while forcing Baylor into nine of its 24 giveaways. ””We turned the ball over and missed free throws in the second half,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ”That just comes with getting out there and playing more games.”
Baylor: The Lady Bears fell to 7-2 in Monday night ESPN games. … Monday’s loss kept Baylor at 799 wins.
Kentucky: O’Neill became the 30th player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points when she made three free throws early in the second half. She needs six to move up to 29th place.
Baylor: Hosts Utah State on Nov. 28.
Kentucky: Hosts Morehead State on Wednesday.