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Sunday, December 8, 2013
Kentucky's O'Neill is player of week

By Michelle Smith
espnW.com

Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.

On a night when everything was big -- from the venue, to the caliber of the teams, to the final score -- Jennifer O'Neill's individual performance still managed to stand out.

O'Neill scored a school-record 43 points on Friday night at Cowboy Stadium as No. 5 Kentucky defeated ninth-ranked Baylor 133-130 in a four-overtime thriller that ended as the highest-scoring game in Division I women's basketball history.

O'Neill's record-setting performance in a record-setting game made her a no-brainer choice as espnW's national player of the week.

O'Neill wasn't even a starter in the biggest game of her career -- she has been splitting time at point guard with sophomore Janeé Thompson -- but she proved to be a great finisher. The junior guard came off the bench to hit 14 of 31 attempts from the floor, including a layup with 1:42 to play that put the Wildcats up for good in the fourth overtime.

Playing 46 minutes, the Bronx, N.Y., native hit just two 3-pointers and made 13 of 19 free throws. She also matched the team high with six assists.

O'Neill managed to outshine Baylor All-American guard Odyssey Sims, who finished with 47 points -- but not the win -- before fouling out in the first overtime period.

For O'Neill, this was a breakout performance. It was the first time in nine games this season that she led the Wildcats in scoring. She had been averaging 11.1 points per game this season before her performance against Baylor bumped her up to a team-leading 14.7 scoring average.

Perhaps it is fitting that O'Neill now holds the school's single-game scoring record, considering that she holds another historic distinction in the Wildcats program. Back in 2010, she became the first McDonald's All-American to sign with Kentucky women's basketball.

The Wildcats roster now has seven of them.

O'Neill was something of a late bloomer in basketball. As an under-the-radar high school sophomore, she was discovered by renowned coach Jerry Powell, who convinced O'Neill's mother to allow O'Neill to move to Long Island to live with his family and train. The next year, O'Neill became an elite recruit, leading her team to the New York state championship.

O'Neill played a backup role as a freshman at Kentucky and missed the 2011-12 season with a stress fracture in her right foot that required surgery. Last season, she started 32 games for the Wildcats and averaged 10.9 points a game to finish third on the team in scoring.

O'Neill had to adjust to a new role this season, coming off the bench. And now yet another new role: game-changer.

The win was Kentucky's second straight over a top-10 team and cements the Wildcats' status as a Final Four contender.

O'Neill's big night gives Kentucky another potential go-to scoring option. Six different players have led the Wildcats in scoring this season.

Also considered: Melissa Dixon, Iowa; Odyssey Sims, Baylor.