In front of a packed house of 23,706, the 5th ranked Kentucky Wildcats fell to the 2nd ranked Duke Blue Devils 69-61 as UK could not overcome the loss of their leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth. Duke’s Tricia Liston was unstoppable, scoring 28 points for Duke and Janee Thompson led the Cats with 12 points, all coming in the second half. Free throws absolutely killed Kentucky, as the team shot a combined 42% from the charity stripe, which is brutal for a team attempting to make a comeback. The Wildcats are now 11-1 on the season.
After the game, a glum Matthew Mitchell was down on himself and his inability to prepare his team against Duke’s tough defense. “Duke did a great job in their zone defense of really confusing us. That is 100% my fault. I am kicking myself that we did not do a better job attacking their zone. There is plenty we can learn from that.” Many times on offense, Kentucky would just pass the ball around the perimeter and ended up taking forced, tough shots.
Mimicking the men’s team, the women struggled mightily from the charity stripe. “You lose by eight and you miss 11 [free throws], they really bit us today,” commented Mitchell. Plenty of chances to bring the lead down to four or three with free throws, and long bricks off free throws ended up being point swings towards the Blue Devils. The Wildcats, usually the quickest team on the court, got schooled in defensive transition, with long outlet passes silencing the Rupp crowd and Duke always looked calm, and mentally focused.
While nine of the 10 active players on Kentucky’s roster were able to score, the Cats lacked that star performance, which is tough for a team without a player who averages nearly 15 points a game in Stallworth. Mitchell didn’t want to spend time talking about the loss of his post player, saying it would be pointless to discuss unless the Cats had another chance to play the Dukies later in the season.
Without Stallworth, Kentucky faced a tough size advantage and Duke’s Elizabeth Williams noted how helpful that was for the Blue Devils. “I think it was a big advantage, our guards were able to get easy buckets in the lane,” she said. Definitely a learning experience for Kentucky, who will surely only get better in the future as SEC play approaches.
Finally, just taking a second to acknowledge how much this program has grown in the past few seasons. To sell out Rupp Arena for a women’s basketball game is a true testament to the success of Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky athletic department as a whole. Despite the loss, it’s a great time for this program. Mitchell was sad about the loss saying “I sure wanted to reward that great crowd with a victory, but I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude”. He assured the press there would be plenty more days like this in the future, minus the loss.
Kentucky will take a break for the holidays and are back in action next Sunday afternoon against Grambling State.