LEXINGTON, Ky. — When No. 10 Kentucky needed a boost, Jennifer O’Neill delivered.
The senior guard scored 21 points to lead the Wildcats to an 80-72 win over No. 21 Georgia on Sunday.
O’Neill scored eight of Kentucky’s final 10 points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining to give the Wildcats a 73-72 lead. Kentucky (17-5, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) overcome a furious rally by the Bulldogs from a 17-point deficit.
“To me, that was the lift we needed,” coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We were emotionally spent. It was a great win. Any of them right now are great for us.”
O’Neill liked the way her teammates responded after her big 3. Georgia was held scoreless in the final 2:41 as Kentucky made 5 of 6 free throws to hold off Georgia.
“That really helped us gain momentum,” she said. “We started getting more aggressive on defense and allowed us to get more turnovers.”
Kentucky, coming off a 73-72 loss to sixth-ranked Tennessee, also got 16 points from Makayla Epps. O’Neill shot 6 of 8 and made three 3-pointers.
Georgia (17-5, 5-4) was without leading scorer Shacobia Barbee (11.6 points per game), who broke her leg in a 59-51 loss to Tennessee last Sunday in Knoxville.
Tiaria Griffin led the Bulldogs with 23 points.
The Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit, and a 3-pointer by Griffin gave Georgia its first lead at 59-58 with 8:50 remaining.
Despite the comeback, Georgia coach Andy Landers was disappointed with what happened before and after the rally.
“We started the game out of focus and really, really poorly,” he said.
“Had I not substituted early, we may have gotten buried even deeper than we were. We went to the bench and they gave us a spark.”
There were four ties and six lead chances in the second half before O’Neill’s 3 put the Wildcats in front for good.
“We were losing focus,” O’Neill said. “That’s something we’ll have to emphasize in practice. It’s something that happens and something we need to work on.”
Mitchell said the Lady Bulldogs “just took it to us.”
“There was a momentum swing in Georgia’s favor, and we were able to hang in and get a victory,” Mitchell said.
Tale of two halves
Kentucky scored 13 straight points in the first half with Epps on the bench because of foul trouble. The Wildcats led 30-13 with 6:30 left before halftime.
Epps scored just one point in the first half but had 15 in the second.
“If I could put two halves together, I would be dangerous,” Epps said. “That’s just what happens. I just go out and play. It was neck-and-neck the whole time (in the second half) and I just scored when I could.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 3-3 against ranked teams this season. ... Five of the last seven meetings between the two teams have been decided by five points or fewer.
Georgia: This was the second of three straight games against top-10 foes for the Bulldogs. Georgia lost to No. 6 Tennessee 59-51 last Sunday in Knoxville. ... Landers was whistled for a technical foul at the 16:54 mark of the first half.
Kentucky is at Vanderbilt on Sunday.
Georgia hosts No. 1 South Carolina on Thursday.