UK Hoops beats Florida, remains perfect in SEC



By Les Johns

UK Hoops Junior guard A’dia Mathies is the reigning SEC Player of the Week. She scored 34 points 11 days ago to send Tennessee to its only conference defeat and was second in the SEC in scoring, averaging 17.3 points in conference games.

Bria Goss was UK Hoops second-leading scorer for the season and the highest-scoring freshman in the SEC, averaging 12 points per game.

Senior Keyla Snowden was third on the team in scoring, averaging 9.9 points a game serving as a key spark off the bench.

Mathies, Goss and Snowden shot a combined 4-for-26 from the field Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum, but the Cats survived a late Florida Gator rally to win 57-52.

The Cats struggled early and often in the first half, falling behind by as much as seven with 8:39 to play, but tying up the contest 21-21 at the half.

“When we didn’t have success early we just had some people that decided they weren’t going to try to figure it out. We aren’t just going to win these games because we walk out on the court,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “You have to figure things out. Florida is a very good team and very well coached so it was a tough game today.”

UK came out of the half-time locker room focused and ran off a 17-2 run to seemingly put the Gators away.

“For a couple minutes, we resembled what our team can look like,” Mitchell said. “That was the only time today that it happened.”

The Cats’ run was partially fueled by a pair of three-point buckets by sophomore Kastine Evans, the first connections from long-range for the game for the Cats.

“Well you have to give Kentucky credit for what they were able to do to us and the way they were able to create intensity when they came out of the locker room for the second half,” Gator head coach Amanda Butler said.

The Gators had an answer of their own, putting together a 10-1 run starting with 5:04 left  in the game to close an 11 point UK lead down to two at 50-48 with 27 seconds to go.

The Cats hit seven out of eight free-throws in the final seconds, Goss 2-for-2 and Snowden 5-for-6, and got a timely steal from A’dia Mathies to put the game away.

UK’s Samarie Walker continued to improve on the defensive end, deflecting many Gator interior passes and coming up with three steals.

“You’re starting to see her become a Kentucky-level defender. That is what was missing,” Mitchell said. “I’m totally encouraged with her progression on the defensive end.”

Walker had an impressive game at both ends of the floor, scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots.

“I am working hard in practice. My teammates stay on me. My coaches stay on me,” Walker said. “I have been working really hard on my defense. I have been focusing on it more than anything.”

The Cats were led in scoring by Snowden with 11 points, hitting nine of her 12 free-throw attempts. Snowden struggled from the floor, hitting 1-for-9 from the field and was 0-for-4 from behind the arc.

Last week’s SEC Player of the Week A’dia Mathies contributed just two points for the Cats.

“Florida made it real difficult on her,” Mitchell said. “She didn’t give a great effort today offensively.”

Mathies shot 1-for-7 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line.

“Certainly we wanted to limit her touches as much as we could, but that’s a difficult thing to do,” Butler said. “I am very proud of the defensive effort.”

Mathies believes that other players on the team are able to pick up the pace when she has an off game.

“I think we have a very balanced team. I don’t need to put up big numbers every night for us to win. We can win in a variety of ways. Samarie (Walker), Kastine (Evans), Keyla (Snowden) (all had) good nights,” Mathies said. “Having that depth speaks to how well we work and how we are as a team.”

Freshman Bria Goss hit her first two shot attempts of the game to give the Cats a quick 4-0 lead, but missed her final 8 shots from the floor. She scored six points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.

The 57 points scored is a season-low for the Cats.

“They were switching defenses and we just didn’t put in the effort to figure that out,” Mitchell said. “Give Florida the credit for having the desire to compete in the game.”

The Cats felt fortunate to come out with the victory.

“I thought Florida really outplayed us today,” Mitchell said. “I thought they outhustled us and I thought they were more physical,”

The No. 6 Cats moved to 7-0 in the SEC for the first time in program history and continue to hold sole possession of first place in the conference.

“I’m sure that the further we progress and we remain in first place, I’m sure they will be people that will want to knock us off and even things up,” Mitchell said.

The game was played in front of a crowd of 7,888, the eighth largest Hoops crowd in Memorial Coliseum history.

“Just to know that there’s a sellout crowd, like today, it gives us a lot more to play for. We don’t only have to play for our team and our coaches, we have a lot of people that we are playing in front of that show us so much support,” Evans said. “I think the fan base helps us a lot, especially when plays get us up then it goes against the other team and it just helps us a lot.”