UK women's towers overpower Wright State in 106-60 NCAA-opening win

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2014 

  • MONDAY

    Syracuse at Kentucky

    What: NCAA Tournament Notre Dame Regional second-round

    Where: Memorial Coliseum

    When: 6:30 p.m.

    Records: No. 6 seed Syracuse 23-9, No. 3 seed Kentucky 25-8

    Series: UK leads 2-0

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 83-63 on Dec. 21, 1995 in Cincinnati.

    TV: ESPN2

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

    Tickets: Reserved tickets are $22 for adults (ages 19-64), $15 for youth (0-18) and for seniors (ages 65+)

    Purchase: Online at ukathletics.com, in person at Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or by calling the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-2287

Kentucky knew it had a big advantage, but it had no idea just how big it would turn out to be.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, the Cats' players in the paint helped them whitewash Wright State 106-60 in Memorial Coliseum.

The UK frontcourt helped contribute to the school's biggest win in tournament history, 26 more points than the previous largest margin.

"When they come ready to play like that, we're hard to beat," guard Bria Goss said of the fearsome foursome of DeNesha Stallworth, Samarie Walker, Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney.

They combined to help make some history, breaking UK's rebounding record with 67, which also tied a 19-year-old NCAA Tournament mark.

"I put some expectations on them and let them know we needed them in this game," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of his post players, who towered over a Raiders team that didn't play anyone taller than 6-foot.

"I said it to them several times during the week that the only way for your advantage to be an advantage is for you to make some things happen."

UK dominated every which way in the paint, including outscoring the Raiders 66-26. The final rebounding margin was 67-40.

The Cats also blocked a season-best 12 shots, including five from Stallworth, who had 11 points and nine rebounds in the victory, UK's fifth in six games.

"Those shots that we normally make around the basket, they're much more difficult against Kentucky," Wright State Coach Mike Bradbury said.

Walker took over early and had a double-double before the half before finishing with 12 points and 14 rebounds, just one from her career high.

Mitchell gave his team three days off after a difficult, one-point loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game and it returned to the court focused, Walker said.

"It was like a totally new team," the senior said. "We kind of felt that sadness from the loss and we wanted to make a run in the (NCAA) Tournament. That's what we came here to do."

It showed from the start when the Cats scored the first two points and then ran away with it, leading by as many as 28 points in the first half.

"Today everybody was just clicking on all cylinders," said guard Jennifer O'Neill, who hit all four of her three-point attempts and finished with 21 points off the UK bench, which nearly outscored the Raiders on its own.

The Cats' reserves outscored the Wright State backups 54-8.

"They can play so many people," Bradbury said. "They just continue running them at you, running them at you, and that's when it got away."

In all, four starters and three players off the bench finished in double figures for the Cats. Every player in uniform scored for Kentucky, which shot 55 percent for the game, including a red-hot 67.6 percent in the second half.

"We took control of the game and made it our game, played our game," freshman guard Linnae Harper said after her third straight double-digit performance with 12 points and seven rebounds.

Janee Thompson had 14 points, and Goss 11 points for the Cats (25-8), who will face sixth-seeded Syracuse, a 59-53 winner over Chattanooga, on Monday night.

UK's Bishop added 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Fellow forward Sidney pitched in six points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Wright State, the nation's fourth-highest scoring team this season averaging 84 points a game, was held to its second-fewest points of the season. The Raiders' 22.9 percent shooting matched a season low.

"Well, clearly that didn't go the way we wanted it to, the way we had envisioned," Bradbury said. "The pace was right, the speed of the game was right, all of that stuff was right, but we shot (22.9) percent. I give a lot of credit to Kentucky for that."

Wright State, which was led by Ivory James' 17 points and seven rebounds, finished the season 26-7 after making it to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Even making its fifth straight appearance, Mitchell wasn't sure how his team was going to perform after nearly two weeks off since the deflating loss to Tennessee.

He wondered how spirited the Cats' performance would be. He was pleasantly surprised.

"I certainly didn't come into today with this kind of expectation that we would play this sharp," he said.

The coach sees big things in the future for the Cats, especially with such big play from its biggest players.

"We have an opportunity to be the kind of team that we want to be," Mitchell said.

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

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