Updated at: 01/03/2013 8:07 PM
By GARY GRAVES
(AP) LEXINGTON, Ky. - A’dia Mathies scored 20 points and Jennifer O’Neill had 12 of her 17 in the second half and No. 6 Kentucky topped Florida 76-69 Thursday night in the teams’ Southeastern Conference opener.
DeNesha Stallworth added 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Wildcats (13-1) won their school-record 12th straight game.
Last season’s regular-season conference champions had to work hard and often for their sixth straight win over Florida.
Kentucky trailed just once, but had to withstand several rallies from Florida.
O’Neill helped with consecutive 3-pointers and eight straight points overall to give Kentucky its biggest second-half lead at 58-49. Her layup with 1:59 remaining provided a 70-62 lead.
Florida got within 72-68 with 21 seconds remaining, but Kentucky sealed it with four free throws, the final one by O’Neill in the final second.
Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 21 points for Florida (11-4), which had its six-game winning streak end. January Miller had 17 and Jennifer George 14 for the Gators.
Bria Goss added 10 points for the Wildcats, who also tied a school record with their 30th straight home win.
The game typified recent close meetings between the schools, the past four won by Kentucky by a total of 12 points.
Mathies’ steal and layup and two free throws and Stallworth’s jumper gave Kentucky a 6-0 lead after two minutes, a quick start helped by the Wildcats’ pressure defense and Florida’s early inaccuracy.
The Gators missed their first three shots before Bonds’ jumper at 17:10 and two later free throws brought her team within 9-6. But it was a little while before Florida got closer, thanks to a combination of its mistakes and Kentucky’s man pressure.
The Gators committed nine turnovers through 10 minutes, allowing the Wildcats to get their transition and perimeter games going. Kentucky hit 5 of 12 3-point attempts in the first half, including back-to-back shots by Kastine Evans and Mathies for the Wildcats’ biggest lead at 23-12.
Florida didn’t wilt. Miller’s consecutive transition layups and five straight points by Bonds got the Gators within 23-21 and set the stage for their best stretch and only lead of the half.
A 14-4 run including eight straight points over 2:05 put Florida ahead 35-34 as George had six points in the spurt with Miller and Kayla Lewis adding baskets and Bonds two free throws.
Kentucky quickly grabbed it back on Goss’ jumper and Evans’ second 3-pointer for a 39-35 lead at the break. While the Wildcats’ 48 percent shooting provided an edge, the Gators outrebounded them 19-14 including 6-3 offensively.
The second half was much the same as Kentucky never led by more than eight and Florida got within one at 48-47 on Lewis’ two free throws.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)