DePaul (4-3) got double figures from four players, but could not overcome two key Kentucky runs, losing 96-85 to the Wildcats.
The Blue Demons are 167-26 all-time at McGrath-Phillips Arena, and 7-3 there versus ranked teams since 2010.
“It's hard to come on the road and play a team like DePaul that is so explosive offensively,” said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. “They play so well here at McGrath-Philips Arena. We knew we were in for a fight tonight. It's a significant victory for us.”
In last year's game at Rupp Arena between these two teams, the Wildcats had a 23-0 run in the first six minutes to win 96-64. What was left in the shadow of that score is that DePaul played Kentucky to within nine points after that run.
But these first six minutes, and really the first nineteen minutes, belonged to DePaul. And any nerves that may have surfaced in last year's game were not evident tonight.
"The mentality coming in was the regular game plan," said DePaul’s Chanise Jenkins.
A Jasmine Penny (17 points and six rebounds) layup gave DePaul a 7-6 lead, and the Blue Demons would not relinquish that lead the rest of the half. Megan Podkowa's three-pointer gave the Blue Demons their largest lead of the game at 21-10 at 13:45.
Trouble then started with just over one minute left in the first half and DePaul leading by seven.
Five points by Bria Goss and a steal and layup by Azia Bishop pushed the momentum to the Wildcats as Kentucky closed the half on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 44.
"I was really proud of our players finishing the first half with some toughness, where it looked like we might be down double digits," said Mitchell. "For us to go in tied at the half I thought was very key."
What was key for DePaul that last minute, and for most of the second half, was what DePaul coach Doug Bruno thought his players did not play with.
"We have to play with intelligence; we didn't. We have to defend; we didn't."
Podkowa (17 points and four assists) picked up two fouls and played just 11 minutes in the opening half.
DePaul opened the second half on a 5-0 run, but then the intelligence and lack of defense started to show again.
"After being up seven points with 1:10 to go in the first half, going into halftime tied and coming out and not guarding for the entire first media timeout and then still being up five points, I am not very pleased with tonight's effort in the big picture," said Bruno.
Four points by Linnae Harper put Kentucky up 62-59 with 13:39 left. Her two free throws at pushed the Wildcats' lead to 70-62 at 10:53.
“It was really defense and rebounding [that let Kentucky back in the game],” said DePaul’s Megan Rogowski (19 points). “I felt like we missed assignments and that is where Kentucky expanded its lead. It was due to maybe fatigue but also loss of focus.”
Jenkins, who had a game-high nine assists, sustained a blow to the chest with 11:20 left, causing her to double over and to be assisted off the floor. She returned two minutes later.
“Chanise Jenkins did a magnificent job tonight of getting the ball up the floor, getting us into our sets, and that is not easy to do,” said Bruno.
Brittany Hrynko's two free throws cut the lead to 76-73 with 5:27 remaining, but Kentucky pushed its lead up to 13 points with just over two minutes remaining. Hrynko scored a game-high 20 points and added four assists.
Bruno was clear after the game that there are no moral victories in the DePaul camp.
“You always want to give credit to the team that beats you, and Kentucky beat us tonight. But I still have to look at this game and say that we also played unintelligent after we earned an eleven point lead in the first half. It's hard to win when you play unintelligent.”
But still, DePaul gave the Wildcats, who have beaten No. 7 Baylor and play No. 2 Duke next week, plenty of numbers to think about other than the final score.
DePaul’s 50 percent field goal shooting is the highest percentage the Wildcats have given up this year. The Blue Demon’s 16 turnovers are the lowest amount of a Kentucky opponent this year. Kentucky had been averaging 17.0 turnovers per game; DePaul forced 22 of them tonight.
But as in the wins over Stanford and Louisville, Bruno, in one sentence, summed up his team’s philosophy tonight.
“We expected to win the game.”
The Wildcats (10-0) were led by Harper’s 18 points. Kentucky played without its Wade Watch candidate, DeNesha Stallworth, who is out with a knee injury.
DePaul entertains Dartmouth Monday at noon on its annual Field Trip Day, which benefits Chicago area elementary school students.
- Hrynko’s four assists move her into ninth place all-time with 326. Her two three-pointers move her into 10th place all-time with 148.
- Kelsey Smith did not dress due to an injury.