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UK Hoops facing decision point after first SEC loss

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Samarie Walker had 10 points and 12 rebounds in UK's 83-73 loss to Florida on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Samarie Walker had 10 points and 12 rebounds in UK's 83-73 loss to Florida on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky Wildcats pride themselves on intensity. In fact, it's the cornerstone of Matthew Mitchell's "40 minutes of dread" style of play.

That what made its absence on Sunday against Florida so notable.

"It looked like it meant a lot more to them than it did to us," Mitchell said. "You have to credit them for getting in here and getting fired up and playing and really taking it to us today."

With that energy and focus, Florida (12-3, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) upset No. 6/6 Kentucky (13-2, 1-1 SEC), 83-73.

After falling behind by 11 points in the first half, UK recovered and built a 62-53 lead with 12:00 left. The Cats, however, made 1 of 15 from the field the rest of the way and committed seven turnovers against Florida's confounding 2-3 zone.

"I felt like we had momentum and I think it was a letdown and a lack of focus," said Jennifer O'Neill, who had a team-high 15 points. "We had a lot of unforced turnovers and forced shots and we weren't poised."

Both of UK's losses this season have come against an opponent playing primarily 2-3 zone, which would seem to be a concern down the road.

The Cats, however, don't see it exactly that way. UK was sound offensively against Alabama's zone on Thursday and had ample opportunities on Sunday, but layups and missed free throws (the Cats shot just 17 of 30 from the line) undid them.

"We were getting some pretty good attacks and some good passes, but we really didn't finish anything outside the paint or inside the paint," Kastine Evans said. "That just comes from staying composed in a tough game like, especially when Florida's playing at such high pace."

UK will face what could be an even tougher challenge in its next game, traveling to face No. 13/12 South Carolina on Thursday. The Gamecocks are perennially one of the nation's top offensive teams, meaning the Cats cannot afford to duplicate Sunday's performance.

Evans, one of UK's seniors and vocal leaders, will be delivering that message this week.

"I think we have voices on the team," Evans said. "It's whether we choose to listen to those voices and pull together as a team or we come and everybody is separate by themselves.

She has been through losses similar to this one before, so Evans knows to expect a tough week of practice. She also expects the Cats to respond.

"From my experience being here, it's going to be on the better side where we're going to pull together, we're going to encourage each other, we're going to be positive in a very tough situation where we're coming off a loss and have to go on the road," Evans said.

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