UK women finish non-conference play with 109-46 rout of Grambling State

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 29, 2013 

  • Thursday

    Kentucky at Alabama

    When: 3 p.m.

Sunday was not going to end well for Grambling State.

That much was clear in warm-ups in Memorial Coliseum when only seven players emerged from the visiting locker room.

That's just one more player than sixth-ranked Kentucky had in available McDonald's All-Americans for Sunday's game.

It also didn't help the Tigers that they were facing a UK team coming off its first loss of the season.

Any remaining frustrations from that loss to No. 2 Duke were taken out early against Grambling when Kentucky used a 41-4 run in the first half and cruised to a 109-46 victory.

"We were coming off of a loss and I think that focus was there where we can't take plays off or give up opportunities really came into effect," junior Bria Goss said.

Goss was one of six Kentucky players in double figures with a career-high 23 points as the Cats completed their nonconference schedule 12-1.

"She did a good job scoring today and we need her very badly to succeed in the Southeastern Conference," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the guard, who also was one shy of her career high for rebounds with eight.

"She needs to be a good defender — a well-rounded player — a good defender, a good scorer, and I think that's very, very important for us and I think she'll have a lot to say on how successful the season can be."

There was no doubt how successful Kentucky was going to be on Sunday. The Tigers (3-8) have been without head coach Pat Bibbs all season as she recovers from a surgical procedure.

And a series of "extreme situations" including injury and a death in the family, limited the Tigers to just seven available players, head assistant coach Lou Hamilton said after his team was held to 28.8 percent shooting and forced into 34 turnovers. UK turned those into 47 points in the rout.

"Our press really affected them, but we have a ways to go to really get our rotations," Mitchell said. "We were late on some rotations today, but I think we took a step forward in the press today."

To do some sharpening, Mitchell held a full practice before the game on Sunday, focusing especially on ball movement for his team, which was coming off a loss where it scored its fewest points on its worst shooting percentages (inside and outside the three-point line), and had its least amount of assists.

UK responded by scoring 100 points or more for the fifth time this season, but the first time since the four-overtime win over Baylor.

The Cats got 15 points and seven rebounds from freshman reserve Linnae Harper, 13 points from Janee Thompson and 11 points from seniors Samarie Walker and Kastine Evans.

Five different players had seven rebounds or more, including freshman Makayla Epps, who had seven of them to go with her 10 points.

The freshmen, Epps and Harper, played big roles in that gigantic first-half run, which helped Kentucky take a 60-19 lead at the half, the largest halftime lead in school history.

The Cats' 60 points in the first half, in which they shot 55 percent, were just one point shy of the 61 they managed the entire game against the Blue Devils last week.

"That run in the first half today was fueled by a lot of intensity, a lot of hustle, kids playing hard," Mitchell said.

It mostly was fueled by a team that wasn't even on the floor this week: Duke.

One of the Cats' top offensive weapons, backup point guard Jennifer O'Neill, didn't take a shot in the first half and finished with just five points overall, but the junior showed her coach some things he wanted to see with seven assists, four rebounds and four steals.

"Today was the kind of day that Jen could've gone and got whatever shot she wanted to get," Mitchell said, but she found teammates instead.

A win is a nice way to go into SEC play, the coach said. Kentucky opens conference play on Thursday at Alabama.

"Now is really when the fun starts," Goss said. "We're not going to have any more games where we're beating teams by 60. ... We're ready for our challenge."

Stallworth practicing

Senior DeNesha Stallworth was back on the practice floor with her teammates on Sunday morning, even if it was only in a limited way, and she could be back as early as next week.

The forward, who has missed the last three weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on her knee, was able to shoot free throws with teammates before the game.

"We won't rush her back at all," Mitchell said. "We'll make sure she's 100 percent and we'll get her going at the appropriate time. But she's working hard and she's itching to get back on the court."

She likely will miss the SEC opener at Alabama on Thursday and might be able to play some limited minutes on Sunday against Florida.

But Mitchell said her return could be as late as next Thursday (South Carolina) or the Sunday after that (Missouri).


Thursday

Kentucky at Alabama

When: 3 p.m.

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

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