UK women: Cats rout former assistant's Rebels 108-78

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 13, 2014 

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    No. 18 Kentucky at No. 8 Tennessee

    When: 1 p.m. Sunday

    TV: ESPN

Kentucky welcomed back an old friend and welcomed back an old look.

For at least a game, the No. 18 Cats looked like the team that won 12 of its first 13 games against some of the nation's best.

Against Ole Miss and former UK assistant coach Matt Insell, who is now the Rebels' head coach, Kentucky was its high-flying, high-scoring self again, running away with a 108-78 win on Thursday night.

"It was exciting to see we could get back to playing the way we were once before," guard Jennifer O'Neill said.

O'Neill was a big reason the Cats were able to get above the century mark in points for the first time in conference play.

A UK offense that has had no punch for most of the Southeastern Conference season had its familiar one-two punch back in O'Neill and forward DeNesha Stallworth, who has been recovering from a knee injury.

O'Neill scored 27 points, her highest output since that four-overtime win over Baylor in early December, including five three-pointers. She also had four rebounds and four assists.

"Jennifer's gotta play — she doesn't need to score 27 every night — but she needs to go out and try to get 27 every night, just her mentality," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Her mentality needs to be one of aggressiveness and attack. It's such a big difference when she does what she did tonight."

Stallworth had her second straight double-double. This one included 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in a productive 22 minutes.

When those two players are playing to potential, Kentucky looks like a Final Four team to Insell.

"They're real good when DeNesha Stallworth plays; they're even better when Jennifer O'Neill plays, so you get both of those clicking together on the same night like they had tonight, that's a team right there that has a chance to play in Nashville," he said of the Final Four location.

"We've played everyone in the league now and the way they played tonight, I'd think they're one of the better teams in the league."

It wasn't just Stallworth and O'Neill, either. It was Bria Goss scoring 15 points and Linnae Harper adding 10 points and five rebounds off the Kentucky bench, which outscored its Rebels' counterpart 51-18.

"More people played well tonight," Mitchell said. "More people played with some pop and some pep in their step and so that helped us."

Kentucky (18-6, 6-5 SEC) is going to need all the help it can get moving forward. The road doesn't get any easier.

It starts Sunday at No. 8 Tennessee, then against No. 5 South Carolina and then a trip to No. 14 Texas A&M a week from Sunday.

But UK goes into that stretch feeling better about itself than it has in weeks.

"It felt really good, just getting our confidence back and us just having fun again and us believing in ourselves and trusting one another," said Stallworth, who said she feels 100 percent now physically.

The Memorial Coliseum crowd of 6,530 welcomed Insell back with warm applause, including some clapping from the coach on the opposing bench.

After taking an earful from the Rebels' coach, who removed his coat just a few minutes into the game, officials gave him a technical late in the first half.

Kastine Evans' made free throw on that technical gave the Cats their largest lead of the first half, 35-21 to cap a 16-2 run for UK.

But Ole Miss would make a game of it thanks to the free throw line. The Rebels scored their final 12 points of the first half on made free throws, mostly for Tia Faleru.

By the end of the game, the junior forward had career highs in points (31) and rebounds (16). Valencia McFarland added 21 points for the Rebels (10-16, 1-11).

It looked like Ole Miss was going to head into the halftime locker room trailing by just seven points, but O'Neill hit a huge jump shot at the buzzer to give UK a 48-39 lead.

UK would use that to fuel a 15-3 run to open the second half, including seven from Goss, and the Cats were on their way to their largest win since Dec. 29.

Samarie Walker added nine points, seven rebounds and four steals. Janee Thompson and Jelleah Sidney added eight points apiece in the win.

Notes

Goss had made 27 straight free throws and tied the school record for consecutive makes before missing one early in the second half. She came into the game leading the SEC and fourth nationally in free throw percentage (92.8 percent).

Kentucky wore a black circular patch on its jersey to honor Betty Jaynes, a women's basketball pioneer, who passed away this week at age 68.

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

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