By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3
DeNesha Stallworth is a long way from her hometown of Richmond, Calif., but it’s safe to say she feels right at home in Memorial Coliseum.
The 6-foot-3 junior power-forward scored 18 points in the first half Thursday, finishing with a season-high 25 points to go with six rebounds and four assists in No. 5 UK Hoops’ 100-47 rout of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Before the game, Stallworth was awarded a commemorative game ball for scoring her 1,000th point earlier in the season. Once the game started, it looked like she might try to match that in one night.
Fueling her offensive outburst was the presence of her father in the stands, who traveled all the way from the Golden State to watch his daughter play in-person for the first time in Lexington.
“I’m a daddy’s girl,” Stallworth said. “I love my dad. I’m just very excited for him to be here, and for me to do good means a lot.”
Stallworth’s performance marked her 15th straight game in double figures. In fact, only twice this season has Stallworth failed to crack double-digits in the scoring column (at Baylor and against High Point).
For a long stretch of the game, Stallworth looked as if she might outduel the Bulldogs by herself, trailing Mississippi State’s entire team by only six points at the half. By the 15-minute mark in the second half, she had cut the deficit to three.
Had Mitchell not pulled Stallworth from the game midway through the second half — a show of mercy? — who knows how many she would have scored.
But Stallworth wasn’t doing it all alone out there. Point guard Jennifer O’Neill had a productive night as a passer, tallying seven assists, five of which put the ball in Stallworth’s hands.
Oh, and A’dia Mathies, who seems to know a thing or two about succeeding in the SEC, tied her season high with 21 points and grabbed six rebounds for good measure. Mathies is now averaging 15 points per game in SEC play.
Mathies and Stallworth, who scored more than 20 points in the same game for the second time this season (21 points apiece against Marist), give the Cats one of the more volatile one-two punches in the country.
Mathies, seasoned as she is, can make opponents pay a myriad of ways. She can float around the perimeter and shoot threes, where she is hitting 39.6 percent of her shots this season.
She has the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive at the weakest part of the defense, finishing in the lane or earning a trip to the free-throw line.
And if that isn’t enough of a headache to prepare for, try game planning a defense against a post player as athletic as Stallworth, not to mention her frontcourt cohort Samarie Walker.
Stallworth is smooth around the basket, shooting 51.5 percent from the floor on the season. She can also step outside occasionally, dropping five 3-pointers on the season.
And with O’Neill orchestrating the whole thing, and defensive dynamo Bria Goss (13 points against MSU) finding an offensive rhythm, if Stallworth and Mathies are clicking on the same night?
Well, just ask Mississippi State what that’s like. It’s a good bet the rest of the SEC just shuddered thinking about it.