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UK Hoops picks up another quality win with Mathies quiet

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DeNesha Stallworth had 16 points and a career-best five assists in UK's win over MTSU on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) DeNesha Stallworth had 16 points and a career-best five assists in UK's win over MTSU on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Through more than 30 minutes, A'dia Mathies went without a point. Kentucky's leading scorer and the Southeastern Conference's defending Player of the year was dealing with foul trouble against Middle Tennessee State and had managed just one shot attempt.

Last season, that would have been a troubling development for the Wildcats. But on Sunday, they found themselves leading by double digits before Mathies drained a pair of free throws with 8:40 left in the second half for her first points.

"It's a great development when you can't key on A'dia Mathies," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It speaks volumes for where we are as a program."

Mathies would score seven points in the final minutes, but UK's 68-46 victory over the Blue Raiders marked the second time in three games she has been held under double figures. Both such outings have come against teams that reached last year's NCAA Tournament, yet UK has picked up a pair of wins over MTSU and No. 7 Louisville.

Helping to fill the scoring void was DeNesha Stallworth, who scored 16 points. Stallworth has now scored at least 10 points in six straight games and has led her team in scoring three times in a row.

After the game, MTSU head coach Rick Insell called Stallworth the best post player UK has had in recent years. He also went on to say that she and frontcourt mate Samarie Walker figured more prominently into the Blue Raiders' scouting report than Mathies.

Mathies didn't take that as an insult.

"If they can take some of the pressure and stuff off of me I'm definitely all for it," Mathies said. "They do a great job at what they do and they feed off each other and they play great basically every game."

Walker added six points and a game-high eight rebounds, though the Cats didn't dominate the glass quite like they did in a win over DePaul on Friday night. Stallworth and Walker, though, were the Cats' two leading distributors. They combined for eight assists, including Stallworth's career-high five.

"We knew we were getting a very talented player and it's just kind of coming to life now," Mitchell said of the Cal transfer. "I think every game she's more comfortable and I think she can continue to get better."

Stallworth was a key factor over the last seven days as the Cats picked up wins over quality competition. The team is clearly different from the one that was overwhelmed by Baylor less than a month ago, but Mitchell knows the Cats must improve further. The coming weeks mark a crucial period as they look to do that.

With final exams coming up this week, UK doesn't play another game until the team travels to California for matchups against Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 18 and Dec. 21. After Christmas, UK plays two home games before SEC play begins on Jan. 3.

"It's a big four-game stretch coming for us now," Mitchell said. "It's just basically a four-game season where we need to be very clear on where we need to go forward. We need to win four games, but we need to get better so we're ready for SEC play."

Mitchell sees that improvement beginning on the offensive end. UK shot just 38.5 percent from the field (25 of 65) against MTSU, relying on 33 forced turnovers to overcome the Blue Raiders.

"When we have to go score, I don't feel great about that right now," Mitchell said. "I don't feel as sure about what we would run if we just absolutely needed a bucket right now."

Players will of course be given ample time to focus on finals this week, but with chances to practice with no specific opponent in mind, Mitchell sees an opportunity to address his concerns.

"Without a game looming the next couple days, we can really try to go to work and I think sort of smooth out the edges in our offense would be really important," Mitchell said.

With work, the Cats will look to tap into their potential, which they believe to be limitless.

"I don't even think we've scratched the surface really," sophomore guard Bria Goss said. "We're all really good players and we all can go out there and score. But coming together and getting on the same page, there's a lot to improve on."

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