UK Hoops holds off Marist, wins 78-56



By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel

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Sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill had a career day as UK hoops (12-1) held off the challenge of Marist to secure its 11th straight win Sunday.

In a sharp contrast to Friday’s rout of Alcorn State, the Cats were made to work hard to seal the 78-56 victory.

“Her offense was much needed today,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell of O’Neill. “She’s a great perimeter shooter and a very skilled offensive player.”

Marist (5-6) showed no signs of being intimidated as the visitors matched UK point-for-point for large chunks of the first half.

After breaking out into an early 9-1 lead, UK found itself pegged back by the sharp-shooting Red Foxes who shot 57 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes.

UK’s junior center DeNesha Stallworth and Marist’s senior forward Elizabeth Beynnon led their teams early as the sides exchanged leads.

The Cats found themselves 19-18 behind 11 minutes into the half when sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill drilled from deep to put UK ahead.

That three sparked a 12-2 run for the home squad, however the shooting of Marist helped them get back to within six after going on a 7-0 run themselves.

Mitchell painted a tense figure on the UK sideline as the Red Foxes kept things close on the scoreboard throughout the half, trailing 40-32 to the hosts at halftime.

Marist continued to find ways to beat Mitchell’s pressure defense as the second half began, however the form of O’Neill and Stallworth helped the Cats pull 15 points clear at the 13 minute mark.

Senior guard A’dia Mathies, who twice left the game early after blows to the head and elbow, did not make her first field goal until burying a jump shot eight minutes into the half.

“I guess (the two injuries) had something to do with me getting in a groove because I kept having to go back to the bench and see the trainers and doctors to make sure I was alright,” Mathies said.

O’Neill hit her fourth three of the game to set a new career-high for points to confirm the Cats’ 15 point advantage with nine minutes to play.

“You could see holes in their defense,” O’Neill said. “When they would hard hedge and go under the screens, you could see that 3-point shot would be open. You could definitely tell they were trying to force us to shoot outside shots.”

The Red Foxes refused to lie down, embarking on a 6-0 run to silence the Memorial Coliseum crowd and get to within nine.

“That offense is designed to beat our defense, so it (was) a difficult, difficult game for us to play in,” Mitchell said.

Frequently beating the Cat’s press with long range passes for easy layups, Marist remained within touching distance until the closing five minutes when the Cats began to pull away for good.

“We (did) a pretty decent job until late,” said Marist head coach Brian Giorgis. “It’s a great mantra for (Matthew Mitchell), the “40 Minutes”, because for 35 minutes, we were great.”

Stallworth and O’Neill both finished with 21 points a piece, with the pair, along with sophomore guard Bria Goss, playing over 30 minutes as Mitchell used his form players to see off the Marist challenge.

The Cats snared 14 steals on the afternoon, four of which belonged to O’Neill.

Mathies ended the game with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds in 24 minutes, while freshman guard Janee Thompson contributed seven points to the winning cause.

UK is next in action Thursday when it opens its SEC schedule against Florida. Tipoff at Memorial Coliseum is set for 7 p.m.

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