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Stallworth showing why Mitchell demanded more

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DeNesha Stallworth posted her second double-double as a Wildcat with 17 points and 13 rebounds. (Chet White, UK Athletics) DeNesha Stallworth posted her second double-double as a Wildcat with 17 points and 13 rebounds. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
DeNesha Stallworth didn't have a bad start to her Kentucky career, but Matthew Mitchell was asking for a lot more.

She had her moments, flashing the skill that had many experts pegging her as an instant star following her transfer from California. But again, Mitchell wasn't satisfied.

On Friday night, Stallworth showed every one of the school-record 18,488 fans in Rupp Arena exactly what her coach was talking about.

"I think she just continues to get better and better, and that's a great sign for our basketball team," Mitchell said.

From the opening tip of UK's annual "Pack the House" game against DePaul, Stallworth was dominant. She scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in the opening minutes as the Wildcats overwhelmed the visitors en route to a 25-2 lead at the 14:40 mark of the first half.

"I was excited to see it, because I think when we play with great energy and we are on the offensive boards the way we were early in the game, that showed you that we were ready to play," Mitchell said.

Like her team, Stallworth wouldn't stop there.

By the time Kentucky had put the finishing touches on a dominant 96-64 victory to move to 7-1, Stallworth had season highs in points (17), rebounds (14) and assists (four) as well as her second double-double as a Wildcat. She made 7-of-13 field-goal attempts and did a great deal of her damage on the offensive glass, grabbing UK misses eight times.

Mitchell said the effort against DePaul was the culmination of a four-game stretch during which Stallworth has begun to live up the billing that accompanied her arrival in Lexington. Her scoring output has climbed in each game and she has become an irreplaceable cog in UK's deep rotation. Prior to Nov. 28, she had played at least 25 minutes just once in five games. Over her last three outings, she has played 28, 39 and 25.

Stallworth credits much of her growth to hard work on both ends of the floor. But just as importantly, she has settled into UK's style of play and the framework of her new team. Even though she spent a year practicing with her teammates, there's simply no substitute for in-game experience she's gotten in November and December.

"In the beginning the first couple games and I wasn't doing too good, I was kind of new to the pace and the system," Stallworth said. "But as you practice more and more and I'm around my teammates, you get the feel for them. It's just been an amazing experience and I'm so happy I'm here and I just wait for what the future holds for us."

It also hasn't hurt that her frontcourt mate - Samarie Walker - is less than a year removed from going through the same transition after transferring from Connecticut. When things weren't going smoothly, Stallworth wasn't afraid to ask for help.

"I actually talked to Samarie and I was like, 'What did you do?' " Stallworth said. "She just told me, 'Something just clicked. You just gotta play hard and everything will flow.' "

With those early-season hiccups now in the rearview mirror, things are certainly flowing for both of UK's starting bigs. Walker joined Stallworth in posting a double-double as the pair combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds, pacing the Cats as they outrebounded DePaul 48-33 and scored 24 second-chance points.

"I thought they played well together," Mitchell said. "I thought it was probably their best effort as a tandem tonight, the most consistent that they have been together."

Looking to sustain that level of play, Stallworth and Walker plan to call on a strong bond they've built over the past year playing with and competing against one another.

"DeNesha and I try to push each other as much as we can in practice and also on the floor when we play," Walker said. "Off the court we have a very great relationship where we can talk to each other about how to motivate each other."

If Stallworth and Walker motivate each other to play any better than they did in Rupp, it could be a scary proposition for other teams in the Southeastern Conference. UK won the league and advanced to the Elite Eight playing just one true post player for the majority of its games in 2011-12. Together, Stallworth and Walker have made one-big lineups a rarity.

"They need to be weapons for us," Mitchell said. "That needs to be one of the toughest post tandems in the country, and for us to realize our potential, we need some more games like that."

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