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By: ASHLEY SCOBY
Mississippi State Coach Vic Schaefer stared at his stat sheet for a solid 10 seconds before finally beginning his opening statement after his Bulldogs lost to Kentucky 100-47 Thursday.
The Bulldogs had been 0-3 in SEC play before they traveled to Memorial Coliseum in search of their first conference victory. But Kentucky shellacked those hopes with yet another dominating performance, leaving Schaefer baffled with how to explain the performance.
Four Cats finished in double figures – DeNesha Stallworth with 25, A’dia Mathies with 21, Bria Goss with 13 and Kastine Evans with 12. Stallworth reached her new career-high of 25 on a night where she had been recognized pregame with a commemorative basketball. She hit 1,000 points for her career earlier this season.
Stallworth’s father even visited Memorial Coliseum for his daughter’s career night – a special moment for the Richmond, Calif. native.
“My dad is here. I’m daddy’s girl,” she said. “He’s also staying for the Auburn game, and I’m just very excited for him to be here. For me to do well means a lot.”
Stallworth showed her tenacity in the paint more than anything Thursday, playing through contact, converting a couple of and-one opportunities. She finished with 9-15 shooting from the field, while also staying a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe. Her muscle in the paint was also felt in the rebounding category, as the Cats outrebounded Mississippi State 46-20. Kentucky’s offensive rebounds alone (26) would have outrebounded the Bulldogs Thursday.
As has become their calling card this year, the Cats also pressured defensively, forcing 35 turnovers and scoring 42 points off those.
Maybe that is why Schaefer was at such a loss after the game: He was actually the person who helped Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell develop the kind of pressure defense the Cats are known for now.
“The thing that Vic did for me, and that I’m really appreciative of, was give me three or four things you can really hold onto. I can remember him talking about how important it was to pressure the ball,” Mitchell said. “I remember him telling me there needed to be three or four drills that you hang your hat on. Those couple of things – pressuring the ball so you can’t get it in the post when you have undersized post defenders – those things really stuck with me. We have tried to do that day in and day out.”
While Schaefer instructed Mitchell a lot about pressure defense, Schaefer praised Mitchell for his “unteachable” qualities and for understanding the “secret” of coaching the game.
“In this game, it’s not what you do, but how you do it that separates you from a lot of people,” Schaefer said. “Coach Mitchell has got that here at Kentucky right now. It’s not what they do, but how they do it that separates them… They’ve got those kids playing at a high level, and it’s hard to deal with. It’s hard to prepare for…That’s what allows you to be great. And I’m telling you, that’s a great basketball team out there.”