LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell was thrilled to see that Middle Tennessee was focusing on post players DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker rather than reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies.
Mathies was far from her best Sunday, finishing with seven points after a scoreless first half in which she only played six minutes due to foul trouble. And even with all that extra attention, Stallworth finished with 16 points and five assists in No. 7 Kentucky's 68-46 win over the Blue Raiders.
Mitchell said Middle Tennessee State's plan reinforced to him how far Kentucky (8-1) has come as a program under his watch the past several years.
"What's so great about having a talented team is if you spend too much time on one person, it opens it up for other people," Mitchell said. "We just beat a good basketball team by 22, and A'dia had zero points in the first half. It's a good sign that we have that (balance)."
The two teams have now played five years in a row, and Blue Raiders coach Rick Insell said Stallworth is the best post player he's seen on the Wildcats in that span.
Stallworth, a transfer from California playing her first season after sitting out last season, has scored double figures in seven of Kentucky's nine games this season and averages 11.3 points per game.
As strong as Stallworth was on offense, she and the Wildcats left a lot on the glass on defense, especially in the first half. At one point in the first, Middle Tennessee State was out-rebounding the Wildcats 19-6. A late rebounding surge in the second half with the game already decided brought the rebounding margin up a bit for Kentucky, but Middle Tennessee State (6-4) still won the battle on the boards 45-31.
But Middle Tennessee State's persistence on the boards meant little because of how poorly it was shooting Sunday. The Blue Raiders were 6 of 24 from the floor in the first half and 0 for 8 from 3-point range. They finished the game shooting 31.3 percent.
The Blue Raiders (6-4) endured an 11-minute stretch in the first half over which they had no field goals and scored only two points. Over that time, Kentucky stretched its lead from two points to 16.
The Blue Raiders did not get closer than 10 points for the rest of the game and finished with 33 turnovers against the Wildcats' full-court press.
Walker, the Wildcats' 6-1 starting power forward, finished with six points and eight rebounds.
"I think it's really valuable. We definitely need it," Mathies said of Stallworth and Walker. "They do a great job of getting rebounds and finishing baskets, just being tough. It adds an extra dimension to us."
With the win, Kentucky extended its home non-conference winning streak to 37 games and its overall home winning streak to 27 games. The 27-game home win streak is tied for the third-longest in the country with Ohio State.
Icelyn Elie finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for Middle Tennessee State. Ebony Rowe, who went to high school minutes away from Kentucky's campus, had 19 points for the Blue Raiders.
Mitchell said Stallworth used her transfer year effectively. She spent it training and practicing so she would be ready to go when she was eligible, Mitchell said, and it was performances like Sunday's that proved it.
"She was able to make a real positive change in the kind of physical player she is from where she was coming in," Mitchell said. "But there was just no way she could get game experience. There's nothing like it, and there's nothing like being able to get that game experience and figure out how you're going to react to different things, kind of figure out where your place is to make an impact on the team. We knew we had gotten a very talented player, and it's just kind of coming to life now."