Gators junior Jaterra Bonds was deadly from the floor Thursday night, scoring a season- and game-best 21 points, including making each of her 11 attempts from the free throw line.
Still, as has been the case during the past two seasons against Florida, No. 6 Kentucky survived the scare. Behind 20 points from reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A’dia Mathies, the Wildcats held on to secure a 76-69 victory in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky is again projected to win the SEC and has faced little resistance this season other than an 85-51 loss to Baylor.
Coming into the game, the Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 SEC) had outscored their opponents by nearly 29 points per contest.
Florida (11-4, 0-1 SEC) stayed close until the end, as has been the case when these two teams meet. Last season, they played against each other three times. Kentucky won each but by an average of just four points.
“It’s frustrating,” Bonds said. “Since I’ve been in college, I have never been able to beat them, and it’s always been a close game.”
Close losses have become a troubling trend for coach Amanda Butler, but given her team’s relative inexperience, she was pleased with how her players responded in their toughest road test to date.
“You’ve got to give Kentucky credit. They’re very talented,” Butler said. “This building is very hard to win in, but I think we put up a great fight. A lot of positives for us to move forward into our next battle.”
Equally encouraging for Florida was the play of Bonds, who has struggled to consistently make shots this season. Butler urged Bonds to play with more poise in the backcourt, something that was apparent despite the loss.
“I wasn’t pushing too much trying to force anything,” Bonds said. “I was just playing free.”
Kentucky jumped to an early 9-2 lead as Florida struggled to avoid turnovers in the first half, but Butler was able to regroup her team and fight back to take a 39-35 deficit into halftime.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the second half, though Florida was plagued with a six-minute drought from the field and was unable to cut Kentucky’s lead to less than four in the final minute.
“Nobody on our team is going to give in,” Bonds said. “Our coaches breed toughness into us. We are resilient. We are going to come back even harder next time.”