Mar 24, 2014 9:29 PM
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Bria Goss scored 17 points and third-seeded Kentucky survived No. 6 seed Syracuse 64-59 on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Goss went 11 of 12 from the foul line as the Wildcats (26-8) ground out a victory two days after beating Wright State by 46 points. Syracuse's physical play and its 2-3 zone defense had a lot to do with disrupting Kentucky's rhythm and scoring opportunities in a 36-percent shooting performance.
The Wildcats offset those struggles with scrappy defense that forced the Orange into 23 turnovers and held them to 33 percent shooting, culminating with a victory that earned Kentucky a berth in the round of 16 of the Notre Dame Regional.
Syracuse couldn't follow up its first-ever NCAA tournament win, struggling to score after losing star guard Brittney Sykes to a right knee injury on Saturday. Brianna Butler had 15 points and Briana Day 13 for the Orange.
DeNesha Stallworth added 13 points and Kastine Evans 11 for the Wildcats, who scored 21 points off turnovers and outscored the Orange 32-28 in the paint. But Goss' foul shooting symbolized the difference as Kentucky shot 12 more free throws than Syracuse, making 18 of 28 while the Orange were 12 of 16.
Kentucky faced a tall task of following up Saturday's record-setting victory over Wright State, a 106-60 shellacking highlighted by 67 rebounds that tied an NCAA tournament mark. The Wildcats had no illusions of matching that against the Orange and were focused more on breaking their 2-3 zone defense.
The results were mixed, as Kentucky made some jumpers and layups but was mostly frustrated inside and outside in being outrebounded 41-38.
Syracuse meanwhile faced the challenge of replacing top scorer Sykes (16.7 points per game), who injured her right knee in the second half of Saturday's 59-53 win over Chattanooga. Sykes was on crutches with the leg wrapped as she cheered on teammates, but the voids she left with scoring and rebounding proved tough to replace.
Five-foot-7 reserve La'Shay Taft started for the first time this season in her place with Cornelia Fondren ready to help out. But Sykes' absence was noticeable as the Orange seemed out of sync at times in struggling to score and rebound.
Kentucky wasn't exactly smooth either despite leading 32-25 at halftime of a rough and rugged game. Despite a fast, aggressive pace on both ends, the Wildcats missed a bunch of shots down low and forced outside jumpers against the zone.
Defense was Kentucky's saving grace, forcing 12 turnovers leading to 13 points and holding Syracuse to 31 percent from the field. The Wildcats were slightly better at 36 percent but worked hard for many baskets.
They had to work even harder in the second half as Syracuse fought back to 46-44 with 11-1/2 minutes remaining in the game. Briana Day helped by scoring eight straight points early in the half, while the Orange defense forced the Wildcats into mistakes.
A 9-1 run helped by Jennifer O'Neill's 3-pointer, Evans' jumper and four free throws by Goss provided a double-digit lead that came in handy as Syracuse kept fighting back.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
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