Swift & Pope's Goals Give UKWS Win Over #4 Florida
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The University of Kentucky women's soccer team picked up its biggest win of the season on Sunday afternoon, as the Wildcats shutout the No. 5/4 Florida Gators, 2-0 in front of a season-high 1,172 fans at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, in a match televised live nationally on the SEC Network.
It was goals from Zoe Swift (33rd minute) and Stuart Pope (50th minute) that sealed the win for the Wildcats, who have now won three games running, and sit on 15 points in the Southeastern Conference table.
"I think we've had quite a few performances that I'm very proud of," UK head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "I felt like (today) was our most effective. We made a decision as a staff on Wednesday, what we were going to do. But of course we didn't talk to the team about it until after the Ole Miss game.
"We decided--we knew that they were going to play a 3-5-2 if we didn't play three forwards. And so we said, `Do we have the courage to play a 3-5-2 and match one shape against the other?' And our players were excited. Literally we spent about 10 minutes on a board and 10 minutes on a practice field going over it and said, `Just play.'
Swift gave the Wildcats the lead just after the half-hour mark as she was slotted in on goal from a through-ball from Michaela Dooley before hammering her fourth goal of the season into the net. Dooley got the ball from the left side and made a run to the corner flag and got endline, beating her defender and serving a ball across the mouth of the goal which was hammered home by Swift, who scored her fourth of the season. The assist went to Dooley, who charted her team-high tying eighth assist of the season, as the sophomore transfer now has 14 points on the season.
Senior captain Stuart Pope sealed the result in the 50th-minute. She knocked home a rebound of a great strike from Courtney Raetzman, which was spectacularly-saved by the Florida goalkeeper, Taylor Burke. Raetzman's shot came after a lovely two-touch control from a bouncing ball around the top of the box, and then Burke made a spectacular diving save to her right, but allowed a sizeable rebound for Pope to the left of Burke, and Pope knocked in her first goal of the 2014 season.
Pope now has six points this season, one goal and four assists, to go along with 21 shots and nine on frame.
Kentucky (10-5-0, 5-3-0 SEC) more than held its own with one of the best possession-oriented and offensive teams in the nation, as the shooting stats and most every statline in the book was on level terms. The Wildcats finished the match with 11 shots, and six of them on goal, with the Gators rattling off 12 shots, and four on goal. Burke was forced to make four saves, while Kentucky keeper Taylor Braun made four as well on the four shots that she faced.
The win for the Wildcats comes as Lipsitz's first-ever win over a top-5 team, and his third top-10 win all-time at Kentucky during his six-year tenure. The most recent win over a top-10 program was a season ago, when UK toppled No. 10 West Virginia, 4-2 in Morgantown.
The win was UK's third in a row, and fifth win in the last seven matches. In that time frame, the Wildcats have knocked off No. 24 South Carolina, No. 5/4 Florida, nationally-ranked Auburn and Mississippi State, all at home. Kentucky with one home match remaining this season is 8-1-0 at The Bell.
Kentucky's season continues on Friday night, as the Wildcats will make its final road trip of the season, hitting the road to the bayou to face LSU at 8 p.m. ET with Sunday's matchup at No. 21 Georgia coming at 6 p.m. ET. Both matches will be live on the SEC Network+.
There are three matches remaining in the SEC season before the 2014 SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala.
Head Coach Jon Lipsitz Post-match:
On whether it was UK's best all-around performance ...
"I think we've had quite a few performances that I'm very proud of. I felt like it was our most effective. We made a decision as a staff on Wednesday, what we were going to do. But of course we didn't talk to the team about it until after the Ole Miss game. We decided--we knew that they were going to play a 3-5-2 if we didn't play three forwards. And so we said, `Do we have the courage to play a 3-5-2 and match one shape against the other?' And our players were excited. Literally we spent about 10 minutes on a board and 10 minutes on a practice field going over it and said, `Just play.'
"We have to recognize that Florida is the standard bearer of our conference. They are. They have, over time, been the best. They've earned that title and us beating them today doesn't take it away. They are the best of the best over time in our conference. But what we have to get to the point is we respect people but we don't fear them. I think our team deciding to play them straight up with shape against shape was a decision to have an attitude different than we've had against them in the past. I'm very proud of the team and obviously very proud of our leadership out on the field.
"And I'll tell you, the Big Blue Nation showed up. I mean, they showed up with the Whiteout. I wore my tie for them and they were amazing the entire game. I can't thank them enough."
On how long it took him to tell his team would respond to the change ...
"Well, I said in the locker room, `We have to make a decision,' - this is yesterday. We had a quick turnaround. We played Friday night, played very well against Ole Miss and we had a quick turnaround. I just said, `We have to decide what we're going to do. And whatever we decide together we're going to do. That's it.' We talked through some different things and we told them what we thought and we said that we want to go after them, we want to play the same shape as them and if they beat us man to man at places on the field then they deserve the win and if we do we deserve the win. The team was excited by that. Athletes love being challenged and I think they love the fact that we weren't going to spend the entire time in our own half."
On whether UK turned up the heat after the first goal ...
"I think so. I think obviously it gave us some confidence, but I think that we had to make some decisions about when to attack. We played Friday night; they played Thursday. We knew there were going to be moments in this game where they would get possession. They're the best possession team in our conference. We want to be better, but all credit to them. They're still the best possession team in our conference and so we knew we were going to have to give away some moments and sit and find ways to get a second win, a third wind, a fourth wind and scoring goals gives you another little bit of adrenaline. And I think you're right, it gave us something there."
On UK's defense ...
"It's just our kids have made a decision a few weeks ago that they're going to be tough. And we talk about toughness in ways that maybe are different than the general public. The toughness meaning how hard you fight for a ball. It's a lot more than that. It's how hard you work. It's how much you challenge each other. It's what you're willing to do to win. We've talked about finding an excuse to win and I think that we realized we were giving up too many goals. We made some changes and we responded to that. It's one hundred percent my fault that we didn't make the change earlier. That's on me."
On Stuart Pope ...
"She's been all over the net and she's been playing great and I think she'll be the first one to tell you that it takes some time to get full-go after an ACL tear. And part of that is not just physical. It's mental also and I told her I thought it would be a full year and we're really close to maybe the day of a full year right now. I think you could just see her confidence coming the last few weeks and she's been playing really, really well."
On what the win means going forward ...
"It means a win. It means three points in the conference standings. It means a lot of help with our RPI for the NCAAs. But we've got four games in nine days. That's what we're dealing with right now. We've only played two of them. And so all it means, quite honestly, as soon as we hit 12:01 a.m. tomorrow - and I will tell them this - it means a win. I'll let them enjoy it until then, but at 12:01 on Monday it's three points."
For continuing coverage of UK women's soccer, log on to UKathletics.com.