UK women's notes: Stallworth trades pom-poms for points in second half

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2014 

DULUTH, Ga. — Most of Kentucky's cheerleaders fall in the 5-foot height range.

But in the first half of the Cats' Southeastern Conference quarterfinal game against Florida, the cheerleaders got quite the sizable addition in 6-foot-3 DeNesha Stallworth.

The senior forward picked up her second foul in the second minute of the first half and sat the rest of the half on the UK bench.

"I did my best cheerleader impression," Stallworth said of her first-half contribution.

"I don't love being a cheerleader, but you gotta do what you gotta do. You never know what position you're going to be asked to play."

In the second half, she went back to her more natural position for Kentucky in the paint. She went on to score all 13 of her points in the last 20 minutes of No. 12 UK's win over Florida, 75-70.

Behind Stallworth and Walker, UK took advantage of its size advantage over Florida, outrebounding the Gators 42-29 and outscoring them 16-6 on second-chance buckets.

"In the second half, that was really what was keeping them afloat," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said. "We were playing great basketball, but kept giving them second chances. A good team's going to take advantage of that."

Walker had a game-high 11 rebounds to go with her seven points. Her seven defensive rebounds were just two fewer than Florida managed offensive rebounds.

Azia Bishop had eight points, five rebounds and three of the Cats' five blocked shots in the victory.

A few months ago, Stallworth isn't sure she would've been able to make that transition from cheerleader to difference maker like she did on Friday at the Gwinnett Center.

"It was very frustrating," she said of her time on the UK bench. "In the past, I'd probably get frustrated and check out. But I knew my team needed me, so I just stayed strong."

A freshman boost

Kentucky's freshmen didn't play a ton of minutes, just 19 combined for Linnae Harper and Makayla Epps, but Epps made what turned out to be the most memorable play of the second half when she found Stallworth under the basket in transition from near mid-court.

"After that pass to Stallworth, my whole face lit up," said Epps, who had five points and three assists (two key ones in the second half, both to Stallworth). "It was like a high school moment. I just threw it. ... I just love when stuff is going my way and the team's way. Hard not to smile about that."

That play made Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell smile a little bit, too.

"It was a game– changing play," he said. "The freshmen were a big lift to us today, no question about it."

Harper added seven points and four rebounds.

Goss joins elite club

If Bria Goss had known she was nearing her 1,000th career point, she joked that she might've intentionally missed her last free throw.

"Then it would've been a nice, round number," Goss laughed when told she now has 1,001 career points, joining a club with 29 other UK players.

A miss would have upset Mitchell since Kentucky was clinging to a three-point lead with 3:50 to play at the time.

It also would have meant a percentage drop for the SEC's top free-throw shooter, who made all eight of her attempts on Friday.

Getting to 1,000 points plus one meant she could add another commemorative ball to her mom's collection, Goss joked.

It was special to her, too.

"It's not always about points to me, but it's nice to get a token of a job well done, to get a little pick-me-up," she said. "That's pretty cool."

The junior guard, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds, also drew two charges to add to her team-best 29 this season.

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

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