Harper, Evans get No. 5 Kentucky women past DePaul

Despite the distractions of her first visit back home, Kentucky

freshman Linnae Harper still managed to be all business on

Thursday.

The Wildcats’ reserve guard, a former Chicago high school star,

scored 18 points to lead No. 5 Kentucky to a 96-85 victory over

DePaul.

”I was very nervous, I hadn’t been home in a few months and I

was excited to be here,” said Harper, a 2012 state champion at

Whitney Young High School. ”But it was a business trip and we had

to come out and play hard.”

The Wildcats were without senior forward DeNesha Stallworth, the

team’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder, out two to four weeks after

undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Wednesday.

So it was up to her teammates to pick up the slack and all 10

active players scored.

Kastine Evans scored 14 points, Samarie Walker had 13, Jennifer

O’Neill 12 and Makayla Epps 10 for the Wildcats.

”It’s a tough situation when you lose a significant

contributor, (Stallworth) is very important to us scoring,

rebounding, defensively,” Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell said.

”Tonight we needed a balanced game from all 10 players. I didn’t

think we could get it done with five. Everyone had to play hard and

tough and the bench was outstanding.”

Harper’s 18 led a 45-point production from the reserves.

”I’m real proud for her,” Mitchell said. ”This could have

turned out to be a real poor showing with coming back to Chicago

and the emotion all tied into it. Tonight was the result of how

she’s been practicing.”

Kentucky pulled away from a 44-44 halftime tie and took the lead

for good after Harper’s jumper put the Wildcats ahead 60-59 with

14:15 left in the second half.

Brittany Hrynkko scored 20 points, Megan Rogowski had 19, and

Megan Podkowa and Jasmine Penny added 17 apiece as DePaul (4-3)

lost for the third time in four games.

”We played unintelligently after we earned an 11-point lead in

the first half,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. ”We have to play

with intelligence and we didn’t. We have to defend, we didn’t. And

we got killed on the boards by a team that’s the same size we

are.”

Kentucky entered the game third in nation in scoring at 98.8

points per game – including and 103.8 per game over its last

five.

DePaul’s Podkowa and Rogowski each had two 3 pointers and

combined for 17 points as the Blue Demons took a 21-10 lead less

than 7 minutes in.

Kentucky pulled within three points on five occasions over the

next 9 minutes but DePaul replied each time until the final

minute.

Hrynko’s 3 pointer gave the Blue Demons a 44-37 lead with 2:43

to play in the first half, and Jasime Penney’s layup kept it at

seven with 1:28 left.

The Wildcats closed the half with seven consecutive points in

the final 38 seconds, including five from Goss and a fast-break

layup by Azia Bishop with 12 seconds left, to tie the score at 44

at the break.

Kentucky took its first lead since the opening minutes at 50-49

on Evans’ layup with 17:30 left in the second half. It was

short-lived as Penny replied 20 seconds later with a jumper.

From there the game featured five lead changes and two ties

until the Wildcats pulled ahead for good at 60-59 on Harper’s

jumper with 14:15 left. Kentucky opened a 66-61 lead on Epps’

jumper a little more than 2 minutes later.

Kentucky’s lead hit double-digits at 83-73 with 4:07 to play on

Evans’ two free throws during a 9-0 run.

”We had to find enough defensive energy and get enough stops,”

Mitchell said. ”DePaul really was terrific tonight and made some

tough shots and were motivated to win. … (But) our players found

a way and really upped their energy level in the second half,”

Mitchell said.

The game was also a homecoming for Wildcats sophomore starter

Janee Thompson.

Both starred on Whitney Young’s 2012 unbeaten Class 4A state

champions and had their respective numbers retired by the school on

Wednesday.

The Blue Demons came in ranked fourth in Division I with 13.5

steals per game.

DePaul’s loss was just the third in 25 games at its on-campus

home. The Blue Demons are now 13-15 all-time against top-25

teams.

Kentucky is four wins away from 700 all-time.