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O'Neill scores 22 points, leads No. 8 Kentucky to 78-62 victory over Middle Tennessee State

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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Jennifer O'Neill finished better than she started for No. 8 Kentucky.

O'Neill scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half to help the Wildcats cruise past Middle Tennessee State 78-62 on Friday night.

"My teammates just gave me more opportunities," the senior guard said about making six of her final eight attempts after a 2-for-6 start.

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. O'Neill made a pair of 3-pointers in a second half that ended with her scoring Kentucky's final six points.

Kentucky also outrebounded the Blue Raiders 47-31, the third time in five games it has had at least 40.

"Our hustle and our depth tonight was a big factor in the game," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said, "and we needed to make it that way because if you let Middle Tennessee play in a real comfort zone, they can wear you out."

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 competitive. 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 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.

PHOTO: Middle Tennessee Rick Insell calls a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. Kentucky won 78-62. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Middle Tennessee Rick Insell calls a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. Kentucky won 78-62. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

The Blue Raiders led 14-9 before the Wildcats turned up the defense to spark an 18-2 run over 6:24. Epps' eight points 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.

"It just felt good tonight, just playing hard," Jennings said. "Everything that we did in practice just came together and I was able to contribute. I just went out there and played."


HOME MILESTONE

Mitchell earned his 100th victory in Memorial Coliseum with the Wildcats. He has lost just 16 games at the Coliseum in eight seasons as Wildcats coach.

TIP-INS

Middle Tennessee State: After making 12 of 19 for a career-high 32 points against Xavier, Jones was just 5 of 21 from the field and missed 5 of 6 from long range.

Kentucky: Freshman Alyssa Rice started at center in place of Azia Bishop and had three points, five rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes.

UP NEXT:

Middle Tennessee State: Visits South Dakota State on Monday.

Kentucky: Hosts Belmont on Sunday.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Kentucky's Makayla Epps (25) shoots near Middle Tennessee's Ty Petty during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. Kentucky won 78-62. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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