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Video: Aaron Harrison recaps tough win at UGA

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The season-turning meeting that Kentucky's seniors called on Tuesday night has been well documented.

The four veterans asked to come to Matthew Mitchell's house to talk about the state of their team entering the final week of the regular season. They told their coach he needed to turn up the discipline and accountability with the Wildcats in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

Five days and two wins later - including an upset of No. 2 South Carolina on Sunday - it's clearly worked.

"All of them said, 'Listen, this thing's going to go off the cliff if we don't stop it. But if we stop it, we've got great things we can accomplish,' " Mitchell said. "As you saw something like beating South Carolina today and we were heavy underdogs."

Mitchell had spoken emotionally and at length about the power of the message prior to handing the Gamecocks (27-2, 15-1 Southeastern Conference) their first SEC loss, 67-56, but he had never revealed which senior had actually initiated the meeting. After No. 15/13 UK (21-8, 10-6 SEC) celebrated Senior Day with a signature win, he did.

It wasn't the most likely suspect. In spite of remaining the consistent vocal presence she's been throughout her four years, it wasn't Bria Goss who placed that phone call. It was Jennifer O'Neill, the soft-spoken fifth-year guard, which made it all the more meaningful.

"I was so happy that they called the meeting," Mitchell said. "And that Jen called the meeting - Jen was the person that called me - because Bria's been a rock her entire career and she's just done everything she can do. She's really worked hard. And I'd really been after Jennifer to step up and accept her importance to this team."

O'Neill has always been a potent scorer, capable of outbursts like the program-record 43 points she poured in against Baylor a season ago. She's always been a gifted player who can take over a game at a moment's notice, but she's still shied away from the spotlight at times.

"Her importance to the program is something that she has not always embraced," Mitchell said. "And I just could hear in her voice for the first time it kind of hit her. Like, 'This thing is winding down and I need to meet with you. All of us need to meet with you.' "

O'Neill, motivated by mounting losses and the on-rushing end of her college career, stepped up. Her willingness to do so is already paying off.

"When we had the three-game losing streak, it was just miserable," O'Neill said. "I hate losing and just to get this win meant a lot."

In both the win on Sunday and Thursday's potentially even more important victory at Arkansas, O'Neill proved it wasn't just talk either. She scored a team-high 15 points and added a career-high-tying eight rebounds, but her defense was even more important.

"She was all over the place," Mitchell said. "She really understood the game plan. She was really terrific defensively and I think that's what this team needs her to do. The offense will be there. It'll come. But we need her to be a lockdown defender."

Once again, O'Neill stepping up meant a great deal.

"Thursday night, her defense changed the game," Mitchell said. "I've always wanted her to value defense. When we've been good this year, she's cranked it up on defense. And she did it again today. She was the energy defensively that changed it. Bria's always there. Bria's always there. And so sometimes when you're always there, you're taken for granted."

The only time O'Neill wasn't there to provide a defensive spark was when she was on the bench saddled with foul trouble.

With 11:35 left, O'Neill picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench. At the time, UK had a commanding 48-29 lead on the strength of stifling defense spearheaded by O'Neill. Over the next six minutes, South Carolina outscored Kentucky 17-5 to trim the deficit to seven. It was then that Mitchell reinserted her as part of offense-defense substitutions with Linnae Harper.

"I was thinking I need to get back in," O'Neill said. "And once I got back in, I was just like, 'I have to play smart.' "

O'Neill promptly earned and hit two free-throw attempts to steady the ship. The Gamecocks would get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

"It was a great performance and we need her to do that down the stretch," Mitchell said. "We might can do something special."

With UK set to open the SEC Tournament as the No. 6 seed on Thursday night at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET against either Vanderbilt or Alabama, O'Neill feels the same way.

"I just think we have to focus on what we're doing right now that makes us such a great team, constantly communicating with each other and showing up for practice and not taking any days off," O'Neill said.

Video: Highlights from UK's win over Arkansas

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Video: Coach Cal's post-Arkansas press conference

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Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: We apologize, but we had some issues with the video on YouTube. Try watching it here now: http://www.ukathletics.com/blog/2015/05/video-catspys-senior-tribute.html. read more
  • Disappointed Fan: Why isn't the Senior Tribute Video posted? It's sad you aren't honoring your senior athletes, but you can post a read more
  • racy: Can you please post the Senior tribute video from the Catspy's. read more
  • BJ Rassam: And Coach Cal deserves the award, congrats! read more
  • R Warren Vaughan: I have been a fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, and when they are not playing, root for read more
  • Annette Cook: What an amazing tribute to our Kentucky Wildcats. I have been a loyal fan since age 6 . Coach Cal read more
  • rob m: Congrats to the team this year, wow what a ride we had! Although a disappointing end, we can now start read more
  • Bernard Nelson: I've been a UK fan since the late 40's. Now going on age 82 loved this season. Wish all of read more
  • Bsantella: U guys made this season the best ever. U will never be forgotten. Wishing u guys would have stayed and read more
  • donald hert: I been a Kentucky wildcats fan from the age 10 years old an I am now 32 years old win read more