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UK Hoops ruing missed opportunities as home streak ends

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Jennifer O'Neill scored 18 points but committed eight turnovers in UK's 75-71 loss to Georgia on Sunday. (Michael Reaves, UK Athletics) Jennifer O'Neill scored 18 points but committed eight turnovers in UK's 75-71 loss to Georgia on Sunday. (Michael Reaves, UK Athletics)
Down three points, Kentucky took over possession with 20.5 seconds left. With a chance to tie with a 3 or force Georgia to convert at the line with a 2-pointer, Matthew Mitchell drew up a play.

He called for a down screen for A'dia Mathies, UK's leading scorer. It was designed to get her a look from beyond the arc or an opportunity to drive and kick to either Jennifer O'Neill or DeNesha Stallworth if she was well-defended.

The Lady Bulldogs wouldn't allow any such thing. After the Wildcats were forced to run more than 10 seconds off the clock in search of an opening, O'Neill was stripped and Georgia took possession. A foul and a made free throw later, the Cats lost 75-71. Just like that UK's 34-game home winning streak was over.

To Mitchell, fans didn't need to have watched any more than that final sequence to understand how the game had gone.

"That was just a microcosm of the whole day," Mitchell said. "Just not aggressive with the basketball when Georgia turned up the heat."

With the loss, UK falls to 19-3 on the season and 7-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The defeat comes on the same day first-place Tennessee dropped its first game in the SEC at Missouri, meaning the Cats missed out on an opportunity to pull into a tie atop league standings. That, however, is not what's eating Mitchell.

"You will drive yourself crazy if you worry about everybody else, you know, and wishing things would happen," Mitchell said. "The thing that's frustrating for me is I didn't do a very good job with this week of holding them to a high standard."

UK had not played since a win over LSU last Sunday. Early in the Cats' week without a game, Mitchell opted to ease his foot off the pedal and focus on mental preparation rather than physical. With the benefit of hindsight, he realizes that was a mistake.

"I thought maybe they needed some rest and I don't think it's rest that they need," Mitchell said. "I think they need a good dose of going back to fundamentals and what's gotten us to this point."

Mitchell's belief is that the drop off in practice intensity is why the Cats were unable to function when Georgia amped up the pressure. He believes it's why UK missed out on multiple opportunities to put the Lady Bulldogs away.

When Stallworth - who scored 10 points on Sunday - hit her second 3-pointer early in the second half to give UK its largest lead at 45-32, it appeared as though Georgia might wilt. Instead, the Lady Bulldogs responded with a 17-2 run to grab their first lead of the game.

When UK answered with a 20-10 spurt of its own to lift the lead back to eight points with barely six minutes left, it seemed close to certain that the 7,016 in Memorial Coliseum would head home happy on Super Bowl Sunday. Instead, No. 13/14 Georgia scored 16 of the game's final 20 points to pull the upset.

"I think we had a chance to win the game and bust the game open and we didn't do that," said O'Neill, who tied Mathies for the team lead with 18 points but committed eight turnovers.

In many ways, Georgia completed the comeback by beating the Cats at their own game.

The Lady Bulldogs forced UK into 21 turnovers and scored 23 points off of them, 17 of which came after halftime. Georgia also scored six fast-break points to UK's zero. Those statistics don't capture numerous other transition opportunities Kentucky yielded off of long rebounds. Georgia junior Khaalidah Miller capitalized, hitting the majority of her five 3-pointers and scoring many of her game-high 25 points before UK's defense was even set.

Miller and her teammates made for a somber postgame press conference for the Cats, but they didn't stop Mitchell from recognizing a few special attendees after the final buzzer. UK normally only leads the Memorial crowd in the singing of the school fight song after victories. But with it being Alumni Day and National Girls and Women in Sports Day, he decided to make an exception.

"I just wanted to make sure the alumni knew they were appreciated today and you do that whether you win or you lose," Mitchell said. "We were glad they were back. I was real sorry we didn't honor them with a victory."

Now that the loss is in the books and UK's home winning streak has an end date in the record books, all the Cats can do is reflect on what they accomplished and, more importantly, take from the loss what they can as they look to start a new streak.

"You have to learn from it and, as far as this game, I thought we had some opportunities to win," Mitchell said. "When you draw back and look at it over the total period of the win streak, it was a lot of good play by a lot of good players."

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