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December 30, 2012

O'Neill, Stallworth lead UK past Marist

It wasn't a 60-point win, but it might have been just what Kentucky needed.

The UK women (12-1) finally put away Marist (5-6) late in a 78-56 win on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum in their final game before Southeastern Conference play starts. It was a far cry from the 90-23 broadside they unleashed on Alcorn State on Friday, but it was the kind of game head coach Matthew Mitchell was looking for.

"I think you have a better idea about things that you need to work on this week as we lead up to our first conference game," Mitchell said. "I think it's much more beneficial than a blowout win. We had some pressure on us today to perform. Marist just kept coming back at us and cutting us down to single digits. We had to earn this one."

Marist fought UK early and refused to go away until the closing minutes. Marist twice took the lead in the first half before falling behind, then surging back in the second half. UK built a 15-point lead in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Red Foxes fought back to cut it to eight with under six minutes to go. UK used an 18-6 run in the closing minutes to shut the door.

Sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill led UK with a career-high 21 points, including 4-7 shooting from 3-point range. Junior center DeNesha Stallworth also had 21 points on 8-14 shooting.

"It comes from practice and preparation," O'Neill said. "Even today I didn't have a good shootaround, but I spoke with Coach Mitchell before the game and he motivated me to go out there and play my hardest."

Marist crowded the lane, making it difficult for senior guard A'dia Mathies to drive to the basket or for points or for junior Samarie Walker to collect offensive rebounds. Walker finished with just five points and UK only outrebounded Marist 31-29.

That left holes in the defense for O'Neill. Stallworth set the tone early before O'Neill's hot shooting in the second half helped stave off repeated runs by the Red Foxes.

"Great offensive lift (O'Neill) gave us today," Mitchell said. "I think Marist was determined to make it tough on us in the paint. They were going to force someone on the perimeter to step up and make some shots."

Mathies never found her rhythm. She went to the bench early in the game after banging her head on her floor, then came out again before halftime after injuring her left elbow. Mathies -- who has never been shut out in a game -- didn't make her first basket until midway through the second half.

She finished with 10 points on 4-13 shooting and led UK with seven rebounds. She did move into sole possession of fourth place on the UK scoring list with her performance. Even without a big night from Mathies or a blowout win, UK found something to build on before conference play starts.

"I think they're ready. I think they're excited," Mitchell said. "It was a tough turnaround to get ready today, so I think now you can exhale a little bit. We can take some time to reflect on a very successful nonconference portion and I have to believe our players will be tremendously excited to what we think is the most important part of our season, the SEC slate."

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