UK women's basketball: Kentucky 68, Middle Tennessee 46

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 9, 2012 

  • Women's SEC Tournament

    Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Missouri winner
    When: 6 p.m. Friday
    TV/Radio: SportsSouth/WLAP-AM 630

The first two or three games of this season were frustrating for DeNesha Stallworth.

She was so ready to get back on the floor after sitting out a season per NCAA transfer rules. She expected everything to just come naturally and easily.

But the 6-foot-3 forward from California struggled to find her way.

She turned to fellow transfer Samarie Walker, who told Stallworth to relax: "Something just clicked," Stallworth said her teammate told her. "You just have to play hard and everything will flow."

Turns out Walker is a wise woman.

After scoring just 22 points in her first three games, Stallworth has had double figures in each of her last six games, including scoring a team-high 16 points in No. 7 Kentucky's 68-46 drubbing of Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.

"I'm not thinking as much I think has really helped my game and just going out and playing has helped me," the 6-foot-3 forward said.

Stallworth also had five assists, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the victory, the Cats' seventh straight and their 27th in a row at home.

"Stallworth is as good of a post as any other in the country," Middle Tennessee State Coach Rick Insell said. "She's a big-time post player."

In fact, she and Walker, who transferred in from Connecticut a semester before Stallworth came from California, have added a whole new dimension for Kentucky, he said.

Last season, many teams tried to focus on stopping reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies, now the scouting report for Kentucky has gotten a little bit broader.

"Really and truly, to be honest with you, we know A'dia Mathies is Player of the Year in the SEC, but in our practices we gave more emphasis on Walker and Stallworth," Insell said. "We felt like we could match up on the perimeter. ... We really weren't concerned as much with her as much as we were the other two."

That's perfectly fine with Mathies, who struggled with foul trouble most of this game and didn't score until there was less than nine minutes to go in the game. By the time she scored her first point, UK was up by 12 points and running.

"They do a great job at what they do," Mathies said of Stallworth and Walker. "They feed off each other and they play great basically every game. If they can help me out in any way shape or form, then I am all for it.

"They do a great job getting rebounds and just finishing baskets and being tough. It adds an extra dimension for us."

After scoring just two points in the Cats' big win over DePaul Friday night, Bria Goss found her shot in the first half against MTSU, leading UK with eight points. She had 10 points in the game.

Jennifer O'Neill added nine points and Janee Thompson eight points in the 22-point rout, the Cats' largest in their series with the Raiders. Mathies had seven points, four rebounds and three steals in her 20 minutes of court time.

A season ago, Mathies' struggles might have meant big-time trouble for UK. Not this season.

"What's so great about having a talented team, is that if you spend too much time on one person it opens it up for other people," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We just beat a good basketball team by 22 and A'dia had zero points in the first half. It's a good sign that we have that."

In fact, just as Mathies went out with her second foul midway through the first half, Kentucky (8-1) was able to extend its lead with a big 16-2 run.

In UK's big surge, Middle Tennessee went more than 11 minutes without a basket and more than six minutes without a point.

"We asked them to do it with defense today and if we got some great offense, it would be a bonus," Mitchell said. "We obviously turned them over enough where we just had a really good chance of winning. When you're plus-20 on turnovers, you have a great chance to win."

The Raiders' 16 points a the break was their fewest since 2009 when they had 15 points against Louisiana State.

Middle Tennessee State (6-4) made it interesting early in the second half, cutting the Cats' lead to 10 points with 14:26 to go before Kentucky responded by scoring six quick points to secure its advantage again.

Ebony Rowe, a former standout at Paul Laurence Dunbar, led the Raiders with 19 points and 10 rebounds. It was her 38th career double-double, which is tied for a school record. Icelyn Elie added 15 points and 13 boards for Middle Tennessee.

Kentucky forced the Raiders into a season-high 33 turnovers, while just coughing it up 13 times.

The Middle Tennessee coach was impressed with what he saw. "They're a lot better basketball team than they were last year, I'll tell you that right now," said Insell, whose team had beaten UK two of the past three times they played. "If they play like they did the other night against DePaul than you're looking at a Final Four team, that's what you're looking at."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Twitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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