O'Neill leads No. 10 Kentucky women to 78-57 win over Auburn
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky started fast and finished strong to remain unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference.
Jennifer O'Neill scored 17 points off the bench to lead four players in double figures and the 10th-ranked Wildcats beat Auburn 78-57 on Thursday night.
Kentucky (14-2, 3-0) put up the first five points and outscored the Tigers 21-7 over the final 5 minutes to dispose of struggling Auburn in its final tuneup before Sunday's showdown at top-ranked South Carolina.
Kentucky forced the Tigers into 25 turnovers and scored 23 points off those miscues. The Wildcats finished with only 12 turnovers, which pleased coach Matthew Mitchell.
''It was a fantastic win,'' Mitchell said. ''I'm really proud of the players for getting after it on defense. It was a good start to the game for us defensively and we had some energy. The turnover margin was great for us.''
Senior guard Jennifer O'Neill scored 17 points off the bench to lead four Kentucky players in double figures. O'Neill sank five 3-pointers, Linnae Harper added 15 points and Alexis Jennings and Makayla Epps had 12 apiece.
Auburn coach Terri Williams Flournoy said Kentucky's defensive pressure was too much for her team to overcome, and the Wildcats prevented her squad from getting into a steady flow, especially down the stretch.
''It's hard to win a basketball game anytime you have over 25 turnovers,'' Williams said.
Jennings scored Kentucky's first five points and helped the Wildcats establish control from the opening tip. O'Neill and the rest of the bench players combined for 28 points.
O'Neill credited the starters for setting the pace.
''I think we did a good job of starting off strong,'' she said. ''Usually we start out real flat or real slow, but we started off faster than we normally do, which got us off to a good pace.''
It continued in the second half as Kentucky scored eight of the first 11 points, building a 45-28 lead. Auburn (9-7, 0-3) trimmed the margin to 58-50 with 6 minutes to go but couldn't get any closer.
''When we were the aggressor and when we outhustled Auburn, it was easy to see that we're a much better team than when we have a couple of lapses and they were playing harder than us,'' Mitchell said.
The Tigers outrebounded the Wildcats 45-35 and got a game-high 23 points from Tra'Cee Tanner. Hasina Muhammad chipped in with 12.
Kentucky held an 11-10 lead 6 minutes into the game, but used a 10-0 run to create a cushion midway through the first half.
O'Neill came off the bench and made two 3-pointers during the spurt, which gave the Wildcats a 21-10 advantage with 11 minutes remaining in the opening half. O'Neill had eight points before halftime, providing an early spark.
The Tigers narrowed the deficit to single digits eight times in the final 10 minutes of the half, but a 3-pointer by Epps to end the period gave the Wildcats a 37-25 lead.
Harper paced Kentucky with nine points in the half.
Auburn: The Tigers have opened conference play with three straight losses, two on the road. Auburn's last win over Kentucky in Lexington came in 2006.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have opened SEC play with three straight wins for the third time under Mitchell. ... Kentucky won its 12th consecutive home game, the seventh-longest streak in school history. The team's last home loss was an 81-58 setback to top-ranked South Carolina on Feb. 20, 2014.
Kentucky visits No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.
Auburn hosts No. 20 Georgia on Sunday.