Posted: Jan 2, 2013 4:44 PM
The sixth-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team opens its 32nd season of Southeastern Conference basketball when it plays host to the Florida Gators on Thursday, Jan. 3 in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. EST.
Kentucky (12-1), the reigning SEC champions, was picked to win the title again this season by the coaches and media in the preseason polls. Florida (11-3) was picked to finish eighth and ninth, respectively by the league coaches and media, and has been a tough opponent for the Wildcats over the last few years. The Cats own a five-game winning streak overall and a four-game winning streak vs. the Gators in?Lexington, but UK's last four wins have been by a combined 13 points and an average win margin of +3.25. UK won last year's matchup in Lexington, 57-52. This marks the first time UK?has opened league action at home since 2008. The Wildcats also met UF last season in their SEC opener, escaping with a 59-56 win in Gainesville, Fla.
"We are really looking forward to starting the conference play," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I just think it's a real honor and privilege to be able to compete in the Southeastern Conference. We have a lot of respect for this conference being members of it and I just think over the course of time historically it's just the toughest conference in the country. We're excited to be a part of that and to start conference play. We'll have a very difficult and tough opponent in Florida. We have a great amount of respect for Florida. It's always a tough game with them. They're always well coached and well prepared and very physical. We've had some really, really tough battles with them over the last few years, particularly last year. We'll have to be ready to go, have to be sharp, focused and aggressive to have success against them and we'll have to work hard to earn a victory."
The Wildcats are currently riding a school-record tying 11-game winning streak and a 29-game home winning streak after a 78-56 win over Marist in their regular season non-conference finale on Sunday.
UK's 29-game home winning streak is the second-longest in school history and ranks tied for second nationally with Ohio State. The school record is 30 set from Feb. 12, 1980 - Jan. 31, 1982.
Leading the way for the Wildcats this season is preseason SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.). She averages a team-best 13.3 points per game and has hit a team-high 22 treys. Against Marist, she scored 10 points to become the highest scoring guard in UK Hoops history and the fourth-leading scorer overall with 1,608 career points in 117 games. She also moved up to No. 4 on UK's all-time steals chart and needs just 35 more to tie the school record.
In the front court, junior post players DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) are giving Kentucky a dynamic inside presence this season. The duo combine to average 22.3 ppg and 13.5 rpg and both are shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
The Cats' defense, often dubbed "40 minutes of dread", continues to dominate as they have held all but one opponent (then top-ranked Baylor) to .444 percent shooting or under. The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin at +12.9, having forced at least 21 turnovers in all 13 games this season, while committing only 15.8 per game.
Florida enters Thursday's game on a six-game winning streak after defeating Holy Cross on Dec. 28, 81-50, in its final regular season non-conference game. The Gators finished non-conference play with an 11-3 record.
Overall, senior forward Jennifer George leads the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg). The preseason SEC first-team selection has scored in double-figures in 11 of UF's last 13 games. She is the SEC's active career leader in double-doubles with 24, her most double-double outing coming in UF's last game vs. Holy Cross (21 points / 10 rebounds). Freshman Sydney Moss, a native of Union, Ky., and former standout at Boone County High School, returns to her home state as the Gator's second-leading scorer and rebounder with 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.