LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Jennifer O’Neill scored 22 points to help No. 8 Kentucky cruise past Middle Tennessee State 78-62 on Friday night.
The Wildcats (9-1) followed up Sunday’s victory over Louisville by shooting 48 percent from the field, including 5 of 8 from long range. Kentucky also outrebounded the Blue Raiders 47-31, the third time in five games it has had at least 40.
Makayla Epps was 6 of 6 for 12 points and made six assists, while freshman Alexis Jennings had career bests of 11 points and seven rebounds. Both played big roles in first-half runs that helped the Wildcats win their fifth in a row despite committing 28 turnovers.
Cheyenne Parker scored 15 points, Ty Petty added 14 and Olivia Jones 12 for MTSU (4-3), which shot 39 percent and committed 25 turnovers in having its three-game winning streak snapped.
Kentucky meanwhile earned its third straight sizeable win against MTSU in a series that has generally been closer. Eleven of 16 previous series meetings were decided by 10 points or fewer, keeping the Wildcats wary of the Blue Raiders.
Sure enough, the first nine minutes half pretty much followed competitive form with five ties and three lead changes and featuring a quick pace by both teams. Things were ragged at times with both teams combining for 28 turnovers, most by the Wildcats.
The Blue Raiders led three times during that stretch with the last coming at 14-9 before the Wildcats turned up the defense to spark an 18-2 run over 6:24. Epps’ eight points including a nifty switch between her right and left hands on a layup keyed that spurt before Jennings re-entered to score Kentucky’s final nine first-half points to ensure her career scoring night before halftime.
The freshman sandwiched a right-corner 3-pointer and a follow shot between two sets of free throws to give Kentucky a 41-26 halftime lead. Jennings’ 3-of-5 shooting symbolized a 53-percent half by the Wildcats, whose 26-12 control of the boards offset their 15 turnovers.
Middle Tennessee State: Blue Raiders assistant Shalon Pillow held a similar role with Kentucky from 2009-14.
Kentucky: Mitchell earned his 100th victory in Memorial Coliseum with the Wildcats.
Middle Tennessee State: Visits South Dakota State on Monday.
Kentucky: Hosts Belmont on Sunday.