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By: ASHLEY SCOBY
Thanks to 18,488 Kentucky fans, the UK women’s basketball program has a new record for home attendance at one of its games. The Lady Cats took on DePaul Friday night at Rupp Arena in their annual “Pack the House” game, winning 96-64.
DePaul, which has been receiving Top-25 votes in both national women’s basketball polls, struggled early against the Cats’ infamous ball pressure. Kentucky jumped out to a 25-2 lead by the 14:40 mark in the first half and then 34-9 by 9:43. DePaul made a 14-3 run to eventually pull within 16, but that’s the closest the game would come besides one instance in the second-half where it was a 15-point margin.
“I think sometimes what happens when you make the big opening run, there’s a tendency to relax, and there’s just so much basketball left,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “A lot of our offense was in transition… and I didn’t think we were particularly setting up great and just running offense. I thought it was very important that we answered that run.”
A key to the quick start by the Cats was the energy of the crowd. The UK women’s team plays all its home games in Memorial Coliseum, a much smaller venue than Rupp. But for the “Pack the House” game, both Mitchell and men’s coach John Calipari have been peddling tickets to the game on their individual Twitter accounts. UK Athletics even gave out some tickets for free to fans who came by the Joe Craft Center. Kids from local elementary schools were also in attendance.
“These people had made such a great effort to come out here and support us, and you just want them to be honored with your effort,” Mitchell said. “You want it to mean something because a lot of people – that’ll be the only time they’ll come watch us this year. I just wanted us to play well, and I was so happy we did that.”
Part of the reason for Kentucky’s dominance against DePaul was its inside game. The two starting post players, Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth, each finished with a double-double. Walker had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Stallworth scored 17 and added 13 boards. A’dia Mathies, although not a post player, was also one rebound from having a double-double as well, as she finished with 17 points.
The Cats’ inside production is partially fueled by the relationship Walker and Stallworth share – both on and off the court.
“DeNesha and I try to push each other as much as we can in practice and also on the floor when we play,” Walker said. “Off the court we have a great relationship where we can talk to each other about how we need to motivate each other.”
“I feel like we feed well off each other,” Stallworth said. “If I miss, Samarie gets the rebound. If Samarie misses, I try and get the rebound. It’s pretty even.”
Although the inside game was the crowning glory for this particular game, the Cats showcased how deep they can be, once again. Twelve different players scored, with four of those players in double figures. Kentucky outrebounded DePaul 48-33, but also shot 41% from behind the arc to have a good balance of inside and outside production.
“I think the hot start came from these two (Stallworth and Walker) in the first four minutes just getting… a lot of offensive rebounds and putting it back,” Mathies said. “I think they really fueled us, and we made outside shots after that. Playing a good inside-outside game… it all started with those two.”
18,488 Cats fans heartily approved.