Most Recent Posts
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- Photo Gallery: Kentucky tops Boise State
- Kentucky Wildcats TV: Highlights from the Cats’ win over Boise State
- New hairstyle, same defensive dominance for Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein against Boise State
- Kentucky “really needed this win” over Boise State
- Kentucky-Boise State postgame notes and numbers
Final Score: No. 5/6 Kentucky – 133, No. 9/9 Baylor – 130 (4 OT)
Team Records and Series Notes
- UK improved to 9-0 on the season, giving the Wildcats their first 9-0 start since 2009-10 and second time in the Matthew Mitchell era.
- The Wildcats’ extended their winning streak to nine games, tying the seventh-longest in school history.
- UK is 24-23 all-time in overtime games and 5-2 in the Mitchell era. It marked the first OT game of the season.
- The four overtime game was the first in school history.
- Kentucky’s all-time record is 695-477 (.593) in 40 seasons of varsity basketball.
- Mitchell is in his seventh season as the head coach of the Wildcats and owns a record of 153-62 at UK. Overall, Mitchell is 183-91 in nine seasons.
- He already ranks first on UK’s all-time wins list with 153 and winning percentage (.712).
- UK and Baylor are tied in the all-time series 1-1 and 5-7 all-time vs. opponents from the Big 12.
- The Wildcats have won seven consecutive vs. non-conference opponents on the road.
- The Wildcats have now won 19 straight regular season non-conference games.
- In close games (games decided by 10 points or less), UK is 58-34 (.630 percent) under Coach Mitchell, including 2-0 this season.
- The win marks the second straight over a top 10 opponent on the season and the first time in school history UK has defeated top 10 opponents in back-to-back games.
- The win marks UK’s first over a ninth-ranked opponent.
- Next up: UK heads to the Windy City to face DePaul on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. ET, with the game being broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
- UK scored 100-plus points for the fourth time this season and improved to 43-0 all time and 11-0 under Coach Mitchell when scoring 100 or more points.
- The 133 points marked a school record for points scored in a game.
- The 263 combined points set a new NCAA record.
- The Wildcats shot 41.9 percent (39-of-93) from the field, while holding the Lady Bears to 42.9 percent (45-of-105).
- Kentucky was 49-of-66 (.742 percent) from the free-throw line, which were both school records.
- UK converted on 31.6 percent (6-of-19) from beyond the arc, while holding BU to 33.3 percent (7-of-21) from 3-point range.
- All 11 Wildcats in uniform saw action in the game.
- Five Wildcats finished in double figures.
- Kentucky forced 28 Baylor turnovers, marking the eighth consecutive game the Wildcats have forced 20-plus turnovers.
- Of the 28 turnovers, nine of them were steals.
- The Wildcats were outrebounded by Baylor, 68-56.
- UK dished out a season-high 31 assists, just three shy of the school record (34 vs. Western Kentucky on Feb. 16, 1981).
- Junior Jennifer O’Neill set a school record with a career-high 43 points. She broke Valerie Still’s record of 42 vs. Charleston on Dec. 19, 1982.
- O’Neill has registered 10-plus points in eight of the nine games this season, all off the bench.
- O’Neill finished 14-of-31 from the field and 13-of-19 from the free throw line, which were all career highs.
- Her 31 field goal attempts were a school record.
- The 13 free throws made tie for fourth all time, while the 19 attempts are a school record.
- Tied a season high with six assists.
- Sophomore Janee Thompson scored a career-high 20 points.
- Thompson was 7-of-16 from the field, which were both career highs.
- Thompson was a career-high tying 6-of-7 from the free throw line
- She picked up her sixth double-digit game of the season.
- Senior DeNesha Stallworth registered 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 8-10 from the free throw line, while also grabbing nine boards.
- Stallworth’s 10 free throw attempts tied a career high.
- Her four steals were a team high, while also tying a season high.
- Senior Kastine Evans recorded her seventh double-digit scoring effort of the season with 14 points.
- Was a season-best 6-of-7 at the charity stripe.
- Junior Bria Goss scored 13 points with 11 of them coming from the free-throw line (11-of-12).
- Set new career highs in free throws made and attempted.
- Grabbed a season-best six rebounds.
- Freshman Makayla Epps tied a career-best with nine points, while pulling down a career-high four rebounds.
- Junior Azia Bishop dished out a career-high three assists.
- Senior Samarie Walker saw her streak of consecutive games with at least one steal come to an end at 27 games.
- Walker claimed a team-high 10 rebounds, marking her fifth double-digit rebounding game of the season.
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
DeNesha Stallworth picked up right where she left off last season, scoring 17 points and leading her team to an 83-35 victory over Eckard College in UK’s only exhibition game of the season Sunday.
Stallworth has been on watch lists for national awards this preseason, and was named to the preseason all-SEC team. Head Coach Matthew Mitchell has said previously he expects Stallworth to be one of the best players in the country.
“(It was an) efficient day for her — 22 minutes, 17 points, got on the offensive glass in the second half,” he said. “She made a three, made a baseline jumper, got some at the rim … What we need as a coaching staff is to make sure she’s getting touches. She needs the basketball in her hands.”
Stallworth also got plenty of help in the post: Fellow senior Samarie Walker scored 12 points, and both players pulled down 6 rebounds. Reserve Azia Bishop scored 7 points and grabbed four boards.
Kentucky’s physicality and size were too much for Division-II Eckard College. The Tritons didn’t score a field goal until the 9:17 mark of the first half.
“Their pressure is unlike anything we can even simulate in our practices,” said head coach Paul Honsinger. “When the athletes get out there, sometimes you feel like there’s six or seven or eight of them out there at one time … Those are world-caliber athletes.”
Eckard finished the game 11-42 from the field and 2-8 from behind the arc. The Tritons turned the ball over 41 times, leading to 43 Kentucky points.
Even while holding the Tritons to 15 points in the first half, Kentucky struggled offensively, too. The Cats shot 14-43 in those first 20 minutes. That was when Walker took charge to start the second half.
“We get out to that big lead and then we start missing a bunch of shots, and I thought the energy was low to end the first half,” Mitchell said. “I just loved their response, in particular Samarie’s response. She got one basket off a hustle play that was a tip-in – she was sort of the catalyst for getting our energy back to where it needs to be. I thought she had a fantastic second half.”
Walker only had one shot attempt in the first half to go along with her one rebound. She was 4-6 in the second half for 9 points.
“She’s definitely worked on her attitude this past summer,” Stallworth said of Walker. “She knows she has to step up. She’s been great finding herself.”
This year’s freshman class is also in the business of “finding themselves.” While Kyvin Goodin-Rogers stayed on the bench for the game due to a pulmonary embolism that will keep her out for the entire season, fellow freshmen Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper logged valuable playing time. Epps finished with 10 points in 17 minutes, while Harper had more of a tough shooting night in her 18 minutes, going 4-12 for 8 points.
Walker said that playing in Memorial Coliseum for the first time can be difficult for any shooter, and that it’s more likely to affect freshmen than the veterans who have played there for two or three years.
For Harper, who competed on Team USA’s Under-19 team in Lithuania this summer, the offensive struggles are something she will take with a grain of salt, saying that better shooting performances will come with time. Until then, defense will remain her primary focus.
“I like to rebound, but it’s really just doing the little things,” Harper said. “Being aggressive and playing defense and hustling and bringing effort. … Kentucky is known for the outstanding defense and that was really one of my main goals – just bring a lot of energy and effort.”
That energy is something the veterans are taking notice of: Whether it’s from the freshmen or just the other players on the team, the competitiveness of this group is what shines through the most.
“This is one of the most competitive teams I’ve been a part of,” Walker said. “There are certain drills that we do, and they’re basic drills, but we’re so energized. There’s always some type of competition. It doesn’t matter how small it is.”
Kentucky will take that competitive edge to the season opener in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. against Marist College this Friday. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.
For in-depth coverage of the UK women’s basketball team, visit wildcathoops.com or follow on Twitter @WildcatHoops1.
Here is part of what senior forward DeNesha Stallworth, an All-American candidate, had to say at UK’s Media Day Tuesday.
On the team’s expectations…
“Everything. SEC Champions, (SEC) Tournament Champions, Final Four, National Champions. We are trying to do it all. We have been doing really well in practice and are going to keep getting better daily.”
On her personal expectations and how her game has changed since last season…
“I am just trying to be more consistent and help out my teammates more by not taking those plays off or taking games off. That is my main focus, consistency and working hard for my team.”
On head coach Matthew Mitchell dancing at Big Blue Madness…
“It’s crazy, but that is what he does. He is so enthusiastic and such a great entertainer. He did a great job.”
On if she feels pressure with Coach Mitchell saying she is the most gifted player on the team…
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. When he says things like that it is something that players should believe in. I think he is really just trying to build confidence in everybody. I will take full responsibility in doing that and trying to get better for my team.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky senior DeNesha Stallworth promises that the players have no more idea than fans what coach Matthew Mitchell might do at Big Blue Madness.
“I promise. We are just as surprised as the fans,” she said.
Do they like the gyrations/moves their coach does?
“He makes us so proud,” she said. “Our coach can move. He has some rhythm. It is very fun knowing he cares on and off the court about us. After practice, we can joke with him. I don’t know if you could do that with an old coach. It’s good he has that young spirit that he shows off at Madness.”
Mitchell and his wife did name their second child Presley Blue last week. Could that mean Elvis Presley is in the plans for tonight?
“I had not thought of that. But that would make sense,” Stallworth said.
I asked Mitchell the same thing at the Score International fundraiser. He would not confirm or deny anything.
“But I can see where you could draw that conclusion,” Mitchell said.
And yes, if anyone is wondering, the name Presley is in honor of Elvis Presley, a Mississippi native just like Mitchell.
The coach did joke that he tried to get John Calipari to join him doing the “Blues Brothers” at Madness.
“I told Coach I would do all the hard stuff. He just had to stand and move a little bit,” Mitchell said. “But he wanted no part of that.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s men basketball team is ranked No. 1 in many preseason polls and most UK fans believe the Cats will win their ninth national title this year. However, the UK women also have high expectations despite losing SEC player of the year A’Dia Mathies.
DeNesha Stallworth, last year’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder, is the top returning player for coach Matthew Mitchell, who has gone 111-30 over the past four seasons. The Wildcats lost 83-53 to eventual national champion Connecticut last year.
“The Final Four and SEC championship. That’s what we want,” Stallworth said. “I think we could win a national championship if we all buy into the system and if we all just contribute on the floor.”
So could Kentucky win two national titles this year?
“How cool would that be? Has it ever been done?” Stallworth asked before learning UConn had done it. “We both believe we can do it this year. We never really talk about both teams winning, but that would be very cool.”
No matter how many players he has back or how his team did the previous season, Matthew Mitchell worries about the same things going into any season.
“I have the same concerns because every season is different and the goal for me every season is to bring the players together and make a team,” said the Kentucky women’s coach. “My concern this year will be are we able to mesh together and really care about each other at the level of a real team. That is always a concern every year and it would be a mistake to ever take that for granted.
“Even if you have a veteran team like we do this year, you can’t take it for granted. I have made that mistake assuming you have a veteran team back so everything is automatic. I have found out you have to stick to the principles of your program every year. You start from scratch to build a team every season, so that’s why I have the same concern about getting that job done every year.”
Yet don’t misinterpret that and think Mitchell is not excited about what lies ahead for his team. His team went 30-6 last year and has won 25 or more games four straight seasons. In just six years, he has become UK’s all-time winningest coach with 144 victories.
“I am just looking forward to what we can become,” the coach said. “I am always optimistic that we can get it done, but you never know how it might unfold. I approach this year with a lot of excitement to see what will work and can I use all the experience I have gained over the years to build a great team. I put a lot of time into preparation for this season and now it’s time to start seeing what will work.”
He has a veteran team with experience at every position along with depth after he went to a two-platoon system last year to create even more defensive havoc with UK’s fast-paced style.
“We have a lot of players coming back that had successful years and did well. The way we approach things is that we need a lot of people to play well because of the way we like to play,” Mitchell said.
Big hopes for Stallworth, Walker
However, there are two players — 6-3 senior DeNesha Stallworth and 6-1 senior Samarie Walker — he would like to see make a big jump this year. Stallworth transferred to UK from California while Walker was a transfer from Connecticut.
“I would love to see DeNesha reach her potential,” Mitchell said. “I always think the first year off a transfer year is filled with challenges to get back in your rhythm. She had a great year being first-team all-conference, but I think she is an All-American type player. I would love for fans to see her put it all together,” Mitchell said. “I would love to see the same thing for Samarie. I would love for her to play her best during her senior year. Those two players are going to be really important to our success.
“Then when you talk about our guards, there are so many good players. Bria Goss needs to step into that go-to scorer role on the perimeter. Kastine Evans has really improved her game in the offseason and is poised to have a great senior year. Jennifer O’Neill had a really good sophomore year and is one of the more explosive and dynamic players on the team. They are all important.
“I feel kind of silly talking about almost every player on the roster being important, but we have a deep roster. It’s hard to single out players that we need to really step up their game, but I would like to see that out of Denisha and Samarie.”
His players do feel they are all “important” and junior guard Bria Goss insists the team does not have a “best” player because everyone has talent.
“I love that type of confidence,” Mitchell said. “Bria is a leader on and off the court. She has high character, does things the right way, cares about Kentucky. It means something to her to play for the blue and white. She has high personal standards that matches what I have. I hope she is right about the talent, too.”
Dunlap, Mathies changed UK program
As Mitchell looks back, he quickly acknowledges that two recruits — Nashville’s Victoria Dunlap and Louisville’s A’dia Mathies — changed the face of UK women’s basketball.
“They both had the talent to get you over the hump in game with singular plays that we needed. It’s really hard to build a program we have where everyone contributes, so I don’t think a lot about most important players,” Mitchell said. “But if you ask me, those two players, with a lot of help from kids who played hard and supported them, made plays that only players of their ability and talent can make. They are very important to this program, but who knows what the future holds. But what happened during their careers is that Kentucky went from being okay and borderline not that good to a top 10 program.”
University of Kentucky women’s basketball senior forward DeNesha Stallworth has been named to the 2013-14 preseason “Wade Watch” list, as announced by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
Stallworth, who was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection by the league’s coaches last season, is UK’s leading returning scorer and second-leading rebounder for 2013-14. The Richmond, Calif., native averaged 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last year in helping lead the Wildcats to their third appearance in the Elite Eight in the last four years. The 6-foot-3 forward netted double figures in 27-of-35 games played, including 11-of-15 SEC contests. She ranked in the top-20 in SEC scoring (16th, 12.5 ppg), rebounding (19th, 6.0 rpg), field goal percentage (4th, .484) and blocks (5th, 1.5 bpg).
For her career, Stallworth is averaging 12.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. She has notched 21 career double-doubles, including a team-high nine double-doubles for the Cats, and has compiled 1,366 points (438 at UK) and 663 rebounds (209 at UK) in her collegiate career. She transferred to UK in 2011 after playing two seasons at the University of Cal-Berkley.
This marks the third straight season that a Wildcat has been named to the watch list. Former UK All-Americans Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) and A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) were also named to the watch list and were finalists for the prestigious award.
The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team is set to face another challenging nonconference schedule in 2013-14, which features eight home games, including a matchup with Duke in Rupp Arena, a road game at DePaul and a battle with Baylor in the newly named AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Wildcats will face six teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season and five first-time opponents.
“Since I’ve been the head coach, we think it’s the most challenging nonconference schedule that we’ve ever had and also the most exciting,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We think it’s going to prepare us for the Southeastern Conference which is the No. 1 goal always. Then, we want to make it as exciting as possible for our fans.”
UK, which is entering its 40th season of varsity women’s basketball and its seventh under Mitchell, will begin with an exhibition match against Eckerd College, a Division II program from St. Petersburg, Fla., on Nov. 3. Kentucky thrives in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum under Mitchell, going 64-3 over the last four seasons, including a 16-1 mark last season. UK has won 40 consecutive nonconference games at home, dating back to Dec. 19, 2008.
The Cats will open the 2013-14 regular season in New York as they travel to Marist on Nov. 8, followed by a trip to face first-time opponent Wagner on Nov. 10. Marist, located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has won eight straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships. Kentucky then plays host to two more first-time opponents in Georgia Southern on Nov. 13 and Central Michigan on Nov. 17. Lipscomb makes the trip from Nashville, Tenn., to Lexington on Nov. 21 to wrap up the three-game homestand.
“We have tough road games against Middle Tennessee State and DePaul,” Mitchell said. “Marist will be a very difficult challenge, which is who we open the season with on the road. They are one of the winningest programs in the last 10 years. It’s going to be a difficult start to the year, but we are excited about it.”
Following a visit to Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 24, Kentucky returns home to face Bradley on Nov. 27 and in-state rival, Louisville on Dec. 1. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings in the rivalry with the Cardinals, including a 48-47 victory last season in the KFC Yum! Center.
“We have an extremely exciting game in Memorial against Louisville, who we’ve always had terrific games with and they are coming off a great year,” Mitchell said. “I would have to think that will be a highly anticipated matchup.”
A date with the Big 12 champion Baylor Lady Bears also looms large for the Cats on Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas, at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The matchup will be part of a doubleheader that also features the UK men’s basketball team and Baylor men’s squad. UK wraps up the road portion of the nonconference schedule at DePaul on Dec. 12. The trip to the Windy City will allow the Wildcats to play in the home city of sophomore guard Janee Thompson and freshman guard Linnae Harper.
“The event in Dallas at AT&T Stadium is going to be something very unique for our fans and I think the event organizers are anticipating that it will be the largest crowd in the history of women’s college basketball, so that is something we are excited about,” Mitchell said. “It’s a difficult schedule, but it will prepare us and be exciting for the Big Blue Nation.”
Rounding out the schedule features home games with East Tennessee State out of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Dec. 15, Duke on Dec. 22 in Rupp Arena and finally Grambling State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference on Dec. 29. Duke will make the journey to Lexington as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champions.
“The Duke game in Rupp Arena, we feel like we have a chance to break the UK Hoops attendance record and sell out Rupp Arena for the first time in the program’s history,” Mitchell said. “We feel like that will be an exciting portion of the home schedule.”
Kentucky, which is fresh off its third Elite Eight appearance in the last four years, returns 10 letter winners, including four starters in Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.), Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.), first-team All-SEC selection DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and second-team All-SEC honoree Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio). New additions to the roster this season include freshmen Makayla Epps (Lebanon, Ky.), Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Lebanon, Ky.) and Harper (Chicago).
By ASHLEY SCOBY
For the first time, the NCAA is allowing women’s basketball programs to have eight weeks during the summertime for “individual basketball instruction.” The UK Hoops program is seven weeks through that session now, and new assistant Jeff House provided some updates on the players during his time at the Ohio UK convention Saturday.
Two of the three incoming freshmen are officially on campus and participating in practice. While McDonald’s All-American Linnae Harper is in Lithuania competing with Team USA’s U19 group, Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodinrogers are both in Lexington and enrolled in classes. Epps, who had injured her knee in a previous all-star game, was just cleared to practice this past week.
“She’s a tremendously strong and gifted player,” House said of Epps. “She’s built like a power forward but has the skill of a guard. She’s not really lifted weights and weight-trained before … She went through one conditioning cycle with the team and bench-pressed the second-most on the entire team and had never touched a weight before. She loved it. She wants to train and do all that stuff and just hasn’t been exposed to it … Now you fine-tune that strength and … there can be some special things.”
Goodinrogers’ focus so far this summer has been the same as many freshman athletes’ at the Division I level: adjusting to the not-so-subtle differences between high school and SEC competition.
“I think she is very talented and a very good player that is still feeling her way,” House said. “She’s trying to understand the speed and the physical nature of the college game.”
Meanwhile, Harper will arrive on campus for the fall session of classes as well as the official start of practice. She has had strong performances in Team USA’s games so far, both in the Lanzarote International Invitational (read more here) and in the FIBA U19 Worlds.
Although not in Lexington for early practice sessions or to mesh with her college teammates, Harper is gaining a once-in-a-lifetime experience that she can use during her time at UK, according to House.
“There’s a little trade-off there but anytime you have the opportunity to represent your country and play at that level … there’s really no bad out of it,” he said. “We would have loved to have had her for the eight weeks but she’s a gifted basketball player. There will be a little bit of adjustment time. She won’t know as much of some of the offensive things we’ve worked on in the last eight weeks, but she’s such a talented and confident player, it shouldn’t hold her back too long.”
Those offensive drills have been the focus so far in practice. Matthew Mitchell’s teams, long known for their constant defensive pressure and fast-break ability, have not always been able to execute consistently in a half-court setting. Mitchell had hoped House would be able to help out in that department when he was hired.
Now, players like Bria Goss have shot the ball over 1,300 times this summer, shooting at a greater-than-70% clip in that time frame. The team as a whole has been shooting in the 64 to 65% range, according to House.
“Those are drills. We understand that,” he said. “But if you can get players to a confidence level in a high number of reps … we’re hoping that will carry over. We can still play hard and fast defensively and turn people over but when we get to it, we are able to execute shots.”
Since the beginning of those offensive drills, House said Goss and Jennifer O’Neill have been the ones to stand out so far. But when it came time for 5-on-5 or other competitive drills, it has been somebody else wowing everyone.
“When you put the lights on and play competitively with Samarie Walker and put her in a 5-on-5 situation or a 2-on-2 where it’s live, and their instincts take over, she’s really good,” he said. “She’ll rebound the ball strongly outside of her area. Some of the people that are basketball fans in general say, ‘Oh, she plays like a guy.’ Samarie is strong and aggressive and when you play in a competitive, live situation, she’s looked very good.”
Kentucky will be returning several veterans for its 2013-14 campaign, including Walker, Kastine Evans and DeNesha Stallworth (seniors), as well as O’Neill and Goss, both juniors. House said it has been a “collective effort” so far to establish leadership on the team.
“Bria Goss and Kastine Evans have really taken the others under their wing,” he said. “The other night in preparation for our first team workout, Kastine had the two freshmen that were there meet her at the gym and she walked them through everything, like terminology that Matthew uses, some non-negotiables that Matthew has. I was up in my office and I heard them talking and I looked down and talked to Kas after. I said, ‘Kas, what did you tell them?’ She said, ‘Well, there’s a couple things that they just need to make sure they do because Matthew will get really ticked off if they don’t.’ She’s done a great job of that.”
Evans’ leadership and Goss’ “enthusiasm,” as House described, have permeated the rest of the group, he said. People like Azia Bishop and Samantha Drake, who had previously been more quiet and reserved, are opening up in practice.The group is already meshing well in preparation for a season laced with high expectations.
“This year was what (Mitchell) was calling our ‘championship summer,’” House said. “Our championship summer was going to involve championship choices, championship work ethic, championship preparation getting ready for this season … I think the opportunity is there, if you stay away from UConn, you’ve got some good opportunities on this road ahead. Our women here, in the seven weeks I’ve been here, work every bit as hard as any team I’ve ever been around. They have an aspiration to carry that banner and represent Kentucky well and win a national championship.”
DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – After a two-week layoff, it took Kentucky awhile to get going. Once the second-seeded Wildcats did, Navy was done.
DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O’Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over the 15th-seeded Midshipmen on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
“We were a little rusty not playing in a couple weeks,” Stallworth said. “We played hard and stayed focus and not let the start bring us down.”
The Wildcats (28-5) trailed by one at the half before O’Neill, who grew up in New York, took over. She hit a quick 3-pointer to start a 12-2 run. She had seven points, a steal and an assist during the burst.
Kentucky had been off for 14 days since losing in the SEC tournament title game and looked rusty early on. Two-time SEC player of the year A’dia Mathies didn’t have a field goal for the first time in her career.
“I’m not worried she’s a great player,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Kentucky, which was coming off a loss in the SEC title games to Texas A&M, has made the NCAA tournament four straight seasons and matched its best seeding. Each time Kentucky has struggled in the first round. The Wildcats had won by six, four (in overtime) and six in the previous three seasons in their NCAA opener.
“You can’t start examining margin of victory or how you play,” Mitchell said. “This time of year you need to be happy to win and move forward and get focused on whoever we have next.”
The Wildcats will play the winner of No. 7 Dayton vs. 10th-seeded St. John’s on Tuesday night in the second round of the Bridgeport regional.
On Sunday, for 30 minutes Navy hung with Kentucky. The Mids (21-12) led most of the first half buoyed by strong 3-point shooting. They hit five 3s in the first half and led 26-25 at the break.
Then O’Neill got the Wildcats going, much to the delight of the huge cheering section that came to support her.
“Coming in to the locker room at halftime, (assistant coach) Insell was talking to me about not being passive and set the tempo,” O’Neill said. “The second half that’s what I tried to do.”
Stallworth capped the game-changing run with a three-point play that made it 37-28 with 16:50 left.
“We knew they were going to come out strong,” said Jade Geif, who led Navy with nine points. “O’Neill was going to come out in her home state. She hit some key shots. The just were hitting and we weren’t.”
The Wildcats led 41-35 with 10 minutes left before they finally got some breathing room with an 8-0 run. Mathies, who missed all five of her shots and finished with five points, hit two free throws to start the spurt. Stallworth followed with consecutive layups to give the Wildcats their first double-digit lead of the game with 7:18 left.
Navy came no closer than nine the rest of the way.
The Wildcats played without backup center Samantha Drake who was suspended by coach Mitchell.
“We have a standard we want to uphold as Kentucky basketball players and she hasn’t been doing that,” he said. “It’s not one particular thing, it’s a series of things. We want her to try to strive to do her best and that’s not happening right now.”
The Midshipmen were making their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament after winning the Patriot League tournament. Navy lost to Maryland last season and DePaul the year before. With the Mids’ loss, 15 seeds remained winless in the NCAA tournament at 0-76.
“We expected more. It was the first time we’ve been up at half,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. “We were close with DePaul and Maryland but we weren’t up. We’re frustrated how we ended the game.”
The Midshipmen were trying to buck a losing trend by the Patriot League, which has dropped its past 21 games in the tournament since Holy Cross knocked off Maryland in 1991. None of those losses have been close.
KENTUCKY 61, NAVY 41
NAVY (21-12): Bauer 2-10 0-0 6, Geif 4-11 1-4 9, Membreno 3-7 2-5 9, Stapleton 0-4 0-0 0, Pollinger 2-7 0-0 5, Bernal 1-1 1-2 3, Richmond 0-0 0-0 0, Terry 0-0 1-2 1, Morrison 3-7 0-0 8, Meador 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 5-13 41.
KENTUCKY (28-5): Walker 5-11 4-4 14, Stallworth 8-13 1-1 18, O’Neill 5-10 0-0 12, Mathies 0-5 5-6 5, Evans 1-6 0-0 2, Thompson 0-2 2-2 2, Pinkett 0-3 0-0 0, Sidney 0-2 0-0 0, Goss 2-5 0-0 4, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Bishop 2-3 0-2 4. Totals 23-60 12-15 61.
Halftime_Navy 26-25. 3-Point Goals_Navy 6-22 (Morrison 2-5, Bauer 2-8, Membreno 1-1, Pollinger 1-5, Stapleton 0-3), Kentucky 3-11 (O’Neill 2-5, Stallworth 1-3, Sidney 0-1, Pinkett 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Navy 30 (Geif 6), Kentucky 43 (Stallworth 11). Assists_Navy 9 (Geif, Meador, Membreno 2), Kentucky 10 (O’Neill 4). Total Fouls_Navy 14, Kentucky 11. A_NA.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.