LEXINGTON — Junior guard Jennifer O’Neill lit it up from the outside, while senior center DeNesha Stallworth had one of her best games inside to lead 18th-ranked Kentucky to a 108-78 win over Ole Miss Thursday night at Memorial Coliseum.
Coach Matthew Mitchell’s Wildcats have struggled to attain this kind of inside-outside attack during an up and down season, but the home team found answers in this one.
O’Neill poured in 27 points on 8 of 15 from the field — including 5 of 7 from three-point range — and 6 of 6 at the free throw line.
The 6-foot-3 Stallworth, meanwhile, enjoyed her best game since returning from knee surgery a month ago, contributing 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Rebels.
Mitchell said Stallworth’s breakout was good to see, especially since 6-1 senior forward Samarie Walker got in early foul trouble and played just 17 minutes.
“I think it’s important to have a paint presence to open it up a little bit,” Mitchell said after his team improved to 18-6 overall and 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference. “It helps that DeNesha is at full strength.”
“I feel 100 percent,” said Stallworth. “I think I was a big piece we were missing. It just feels good to be back out there playing hard and playing with a purpose.”
Mitchell said the aggressiveness shown by O’Neill, meanwhile, was also a welcome sight.
“Jennifer doesn’t have to score 27 every night, but she’s got to try and get 27 every night,” Mitchell said. “Her mentality needs to be one of aggressiveness and attack. It just makes such a big difference what she did tonight.”
Ole Miss coach Matt Insell was making his first appearance in Lexington after leaving Mitchell’s UK staff following last season to take the head coaching spot with the Rebels.
Insell said he was touched by a loud ovation he received in pre-game introductions, but he was even more impressed by Stallworth and O’Neill.
“They’re real good when DeNesha Stallworth plays (well),’’ said Insell, whose team fell to 10-16 and 1-11. “They’re real good when Jennifer O’Neill plays (well). You get both of them clicking together on the same night — like they had tonight — and that’s a team that has a chance to play in Nashville.”
Nashville is the site of the women’s Final Four, though next up for the Wildcats is a trip to Knoxville Sunday for a 1 p.m. tip against No. 8-ranked Tennessee.
Junior forward Bria Goss added 15 points for Kentucky Thursday, with freshman guard Linnae Harper adding 10 points.
The Wildcats eased to a 48-39 halftime lead and steadily pulled away from there.
Insell’s Rebels got spectacular efforts from junior center Tia Faleru and senior point guard Valencia McFarland.
The 6-1 Faleru poured in 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, while McFarland added 21 points.