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UK Hoops takes the first step with season-opening win

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A'dia Mathies had 16 points, six rebounds and four steals in UK's season-opening win over Delaware State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies had 16 points, six rebounds and four steals in UK's season-opening win over Delaware State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With his team playing its first game of the season, Matthew Mitchell wasn't looking for a masterpiece. He wasn't expecting flawless execution on offense or a perfect demonstration of Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" defense.

The first step toward building toward that sort of game is effort, so that's really all he wanted.

The Wildcats delivered it.

"The first part of building our team and our defensive identity starts with that, with a high level of intensity," Mitchell said. "And that starts with their attitude and their willingness to really put themselves out there and make mistakes, because we made a ton of mistakes today. But it's all part of the process."

In spite of those inevitable mistakes, UK delivered a 90-50 win over Delaware State to move to 1-0 on the young season and extend its home winning streak to 21 games. The Cats scored the game's first 11 points and led by double digits for all of the final 35:02. Preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies turned in a solid all-around game with 16 points, six assists, four steals and two rebounds.

"We just tried to play Kentucky basketball, try to give 40 minutes of our best," Mathies said. "We felt like if we would do that, that then we should have a great victory, and we did tonight."

Mathies didn't commit a single turnover, but she was much closer to the exception than the rule on this afternoon in Memorial Coliseum. UK forced 31 turnovers - an eye-popping number for most teams, but a rather pedestrian one for the Cats - but committed 22 of its own. Seven players among the 13 that played for UK had at least two turnovers.

On the sideline though, Mitchell didn't seem to dwell much on his team's giveaways. His normal response to an errant pass or a ball lost of bounds was to yell "Go, go, go."

"We will figure out, we will correct in timeouts, we will correct in dead balls, we will correct in video review and practice," Mitchell said. "That's when we'll correct. The main thing that you have to have is a mentality of putting the pressure on and attacking all the time."

On that front, UK was just fine.

"It's early in the season and the thing that I liked was the speed that Delaware State had to play with today, they were pretty uncomfortable it looked like to me," Mitchell said.

Playing their first game under new head coach Tamika Louis, the visiting Hornets had trouble coping with UK's trademark pressure. They committed traveling violations on each of their first three possessions and had 19 turnovers by halftime in battling the Cats and a loud crowd of 4,637.

"You know what you're getting yourself into," Louis said. "The problem is you really can't prepare for it."

Louis wasn't the only party involved in this game going through a first-time experience.

After transferring from California and sitting out last season, DeNesha Stallworth played in her first game as a Wildcat. She hit five of her nine attempts from the field en route to posting 11 points, two rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes.

"I was definitely excited," Stallworth said. "It's a lot to work on, but we just have to just take it day by day, practice by practice. But overall, it was a pretty good performance."

Since she made public her decision to attend Kentucky more than 18 months ago, Mitchell has raved about Stallworth's game. Her line in the box score was solid, but her coach expects more.

"On defense, I didn't think she was anywhere close to what she can be," Mitchell said. "Offensively, I thought she was very impatient around the bucket. Those are my initial impressions of her. She is a very talented player and has, I think, a real possibility of having a great year."

In its upcoming test, UK will need everything it can get out of Stallworth and every other interior player.

Mitchell was happy with how his team kept the focus on Delaware State even with a trip to face Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor looming on Tuesday, but the attention now shifts in that direction.

"I think we're going to have to be clicking on all cylinders," Mathies said. "We definitely got to have great ball pressure, great denying and great help defense, that's the basis for any defense. But just being able to knock down open shots and everybody staying on the attack and being aggressive, not being passive even when there's somebody who's 6'8 and can block basically everything."

Mitchell, though, will make sure to keep his team's focus primarily internal heading into the marquee matchup.

"I think, at this point in the season, what's important for us is we have to have two more good days of trying to work on the things that will make us good and then go down there and try to be a Kentucky team that goes and plays," Mitchell said.

His players are following suit, balancing confidence with keeping the game in perspective.

"It's not going to make or break our season, but we're definitely going to put all we have into this game, just like we do every game," Mathies said. "I think if we focus on Kentucky on the things we do well and things we should do well, playing aggressive and playing our best, we should be able to come out with a victory."

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