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Kentucky women beat Georgia to reach SEC final

AP - Sports
Kentucky women beat Georgia to reach SEC final
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Kentucky center DeNesha Stallworth (11) shoots as Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong (3) defends during the …

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) -- Kentucky responded to a halftime challenge from its coach like a team determined to end a 31-year championship drought.

The Wildcats took the lead with a 15-0 run early in the second half and closed the game with 13 unanswered points to overwhelm Georgia 60-38 on Saturday night to earn a spot in the SEC tournament championship game.

Jennifer O'Neill sank 3-pointers on each end of the big run and DeNesh Stallworth had 18 points for No. 7 Kentucky (27-4), which will face No. 19 Texas A&M in Sunday night's final. The Wildcats, who lost to Tennessee in the 2010 and 2011 championship games, won their only tournament championship in 1982.

Kentucky trailed 24-19 at halftime. Coach Matthew Mitchell wrote two numbers on the board in the team's locker room during the break: 12 and 3.

''Georgia had 12 offensive rebounds and we had three,'' Mitchell said. ''I thought Georgia played with so much more intensity and desire in the first half. I was just livid about that.''

The Wildcats got the message, turned up their intensity and outscored Georgia 41-14 in a devastating second half.

''I think we all took it personal,'' Stallworth said. ''I think we all stuck together as a team and we fought hard. When we come together, it definitely brings energy.''

Georgia finished with a 48-38 advantage in rebounds, including a 22-8 edge in offensive rebounds that was the only positive result of the Lady Bulldogs' poor shooting. Georgia had the opportunity for many offensive rebounds because it made only 14 of 63 shots (22.2 percent).

''Kentucky has a defense that applies a lot of pressure,'' Georgia's Jasmine James said. ''When we did finally get open to knock down some shots, we just didn't do a good job of doing that. That's practice and focus. Clearly, we didn't have that.''

Kentucky settled the score after Georgia's 75-71 win in Lexington on Feb. 3 for the Wildcats' only home loss of the season.

The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, beat Texas A&M, the No. 4 seed, 65-62 at home on Jan. 10. The Aggies beat No. 1 seed Tennessee 66-62 in Saturday's first semifinal.

''We know we'll have to play well and prepare well to beat Texas A&M,'' Mitchell said. ''We'll put everything we can into it and see what happens tomorrow, try to get as ready as we can. But we're glad to win today.''

Jasmine Hassell led No. 12 Georgia (25-6) with 17 points. Georgia led 24-19 at halftime and stretched the lead to seven points before Kentucky took control with its 15-0 run.

Georgia coach Andy Landers said the Lady Bulldogs didn't stick with the successful first-half plan.

''We've done the things we wanted to do the first half,'' Landers said. ''We wanted to keep them out of the paint. We wanted to rebound the basketball. We wanted them to be one-and-done with no 3s. So we've done a pretty good job. Same game plan second half. Didn't do it. ... We just quit doing what had put us in a successful position at halftime, which is pretty sad.''

The Wildcats closed with a 13-0 run as Georgia didn't score in the final 6 minutes, adding to Landers' sour mood.

''Basketball is no fun when you don't hit shots,'' Landers said.

A'dia Mathies had 11 points as Kentucky's second scorer in double figures. O'Neill had nine points.

The Lady Bulldogs struggled against Kentucky's defense, which led the SEC in steals and blocked shots. Anne Marie Armstrong made only one of 13 shots, Tiaria Griffin was 1 of 10 and Jasmine James was 4 of 14 for nine points.

Each team had shooting problems in the first half. Georgia shot only 8 of 34 (23.5 percent) from the field. Kentucky was 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) as it had difficulty passing to Stallworth and Samarie Walker inside.

Hassell, who had 13 points in the first half, had the first points of the second half to stretch the Lady Bulldogs' lead to seven points. Georgia didn't score again for almost 6 minutes.

O'Neill had 3-pointers on each end of the 15-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 34-26 lead. James' shot off the glass for Georgia ended the long run.

Landers called two timeouts during the run, but the Wildcats continued to add to their lead. Back-to-back baskets by Stallworth pushed the advantage to double figures for the first time at 41-29.

A layup by Stallworth pushed the lead to 20 points at 58-38.

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