LEXINGTON – The Marist Red Foxes concentrated on stopping Kentucky’s bigger players inside with mixed success, and sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill of the Wildcats took advantage, scoring 21 points to lead UK to a 78-46 victory Sunday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum.
O’Neill hit 7 of 11 from the field, including four of seven from 3-point range, as seventh-ranked Kentucky won for the 11th straight time, improving to 12-1.
“That was a great offensive lift she gave us today,” UK coach Matthew Mitchell said of O’Neill. “I just think that Marist was determined to make it tough in the paint, and I think they were going to force somebody to step up on the perimeter and make some shots, and boy, did she do that today.”
“That is one thing Matthew should be happy going away is that we tried as hard as we could to take away the inside game,” Marist coach Brian Giorgis said.
O’Neill said she knew early on she could have a good day when she saw Marist’s various defensive schemes.
“You could see holes in their defense,” O’Neill said. “When they would hard hedge and go under the screens, you could see that three-point shot would be open. You could definitely tell they were trying to force us to shoot outside shots.”
And O’Neill was more than happy about that.
“I always feel confident in my outside shot, honestly,” she said.
The Wildcats came into this game leaning heavily on their two taller players, 6-3 junior DeNesha Stallworth and 6-1 junior Samarie Walker, offensively.
Walker was limited to just five points and four rebounds Sunday, but Stallworth poured in 21 points. Stallworth hit 8 of 14 from the outside and five of six from the free throw line.
Senior guard A’dia Mathies had two injury scares in the game and settled for 10 points in 24 minutes.
Mathies hit her head on an unspecified object early on and was briefly disoriented, and then later had a funny bone issue.
“I guess she (a Marist player) hit my funny bone, but it wasn’t too funny,” Mathies said. “It really hurt, and my left hand went numb for a second, so they just worked it out on the sideline.”
The one constant for the Wildcats this season, their defensive pressure, was again a big factor in this one. Kentucky forced 27 Marist turnovers.
The Wildcats turned the ball over just 13 times.
Kentucky shot 42.9 percent from the field on 27 of 63, and was 18 of 21 at the free throw line. The Red Foxes shot 44.4 percent on 20 of 45, and were just 11 of 18 at the free throw line.
UK held just a 31-29 rebounding advantage.
Marist, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, fell to 5-6 this time around.
The Wildcats open Southeastern Conference play Thursday with a home date against Florida at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.
When asked if his team is ready for conference play, Mitchell replied: “I think they are ready, and I think they are excited. This is a 13-game stretch and a long grind. Now you can exhale a little bit tonight and take some time to reflect back on a very successful non-conference portion.”
“I just think we’re coming together as a team more,” Mathies said. “We’re making steps towards becoming a better team heading into SEC play.”