COLLEGE STATION, Texas — There was something different about DeNesha Stallworth before the game.
Her teammates and coaches couldn't quite pinpoint it, but they knew something big was about to happen for the Kentucky forward, who had been struggling in games as of late.
"I loved the look in her eye before the game," Coach Matthew Mitchell explained.
Stallworth, who was benched for most of the second half against South Carolina and who had managed double figure scoring in just two of her past five games, went off for 12 points, 12 rebounds and she set a new school record for blocked shots with seven.
"There were a couple of layups that DeNesha just erased with her shot blocking," Mitchell said. "She just hustled and got there. It was a very impressive performance."
UK was able to build its big first-half lead over the Aggies in part because of the junior forward.
"Stallworth hurt us the whole night," Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said. "She's quick on her feet. She was the difference in the first half. We couldn't control her." No place like the SEC
Even though he had just lost on his home floor and fell behind in the race for the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship, Blair said he was glad the Aggies made the move to the new league.
"You've got five teams in the SEC that are trying to win a championship," he said. "You've got five teams in the Big 12 that are trying to finish second. Right now, I like the competition of the top five teams in our league, what we're doing to make each other better."
Blair said national media shouldn't rule out a team or two from the SEC making it interesting at the end of the season.
"The last time I heard, it takes four to go to the Final Four and I wouldn't ever count out an SEC team to get there, including ourselves, including Kentucky and Tennessee," he said.
Both coaches also noted that it's going to be more than interesting as the season winds down in this conference.
"We can still control our own destiny by winning out," Blair said. "And it's going to be up to us to take care of business. Kentucky's got a pretty hard road to go, too, and hopefully Tennessee has a hard road to go."
Mitchell likes what he's working with down the stretch.
"The road's not easy for us, but if they can do this tonight, they can do anything they put their mind to," he said. "It was a great win for us."
Kentucky President Eli Capilouto was in the crowd at Reed Arena to cheer on the Cats. Before the game, he spent time chatting with Mitchell's wife Jenna and daughter, Saylor.
■ With the victory, Matthew Mitchell needs just one more win to tie Terry Hall for the Cats' all-time winningest coach and two more wins to claim it as his own.