LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Central Michigan learned an early-season lesson at No. 7 Kentucky. The Chippewas hope it pays dividends down the road.
CMU fell to the Wildcats 96-74 after rolling past Massachusetts 105-61 in the season opener a week ago. The Wildcats jumped out to a 14-2 lead early and though the Chippewas pulled within six points three times in the first half, they came no closer in the first of six ranked nonconference opponents.
"If you look at our schedule, in our league, we have to win three games in March," Central Michigan head coach Sue Guevara said. "That's what we have to do to get to the tournament. We're only a one-bid league. It's only a schedule that's going to help us get better. But like I tell my players: It's not for the meek and the mild."
Kentucky demonstrated that, outrebounding Central Michigan 55-36, and also forced the Chippewas into 28 turnovers.
It still took some time for Kentucky (4-0) to put away CMU (1-1). The Wildcats only led 46-37 at halftime over the preseason Mid-American Conference favorites, and they didn't build a 20-point lead until the final minute of the game.
"I knew what we were going to have to do if we were going to compete with them," Guevara said. "One was to handle the pressure and the other was to not allow so many offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, that did not happen."
Kentucky's depth took a toll on CMU. The Wildcats used all 12 of their players in the first half, and six players finished in double figures for the Wildcats.
Senior Crystal Bradford came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points for Central Michigan on 9 of 15 shooting, moving past the 1,000-point mark for her career. She was limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, though, and fouled out with 2:35 to go.
Senior guard Niki DiGuilio finished with 14 points while shooting 3 of 6 from 3-point range for CMU.
Senior forward DeNesha Stallworth led Kentucky with 21 points while adding six rebounds. Senior forward Samarie Walker had 10 points and 11 rebounds for her 12th career double-double.
Janee Thompson added a career-high 17 for Kentucky.
Kastine Evans added 13 points, Jennifer O'Neill 11 and Samarie Walker and Azia Bishop 10 each for the Wildcats (4-0).
Unlike previous routs of Wagner and Georgia Southern by margins of 39 and 65 points respectively, Kentucky had to work harder against CMU.
The Chippewas quickly fell behind 12-2 and trailed by as many as 14 at 41-27, but they steadily fought back both times, twice getting within six midway through the first half but and mostly staying within single digits. Their defense forced the Wildcats into some of their uncharacteristic 13 turnovers, and didn't back down from Kentcky's inside duo of Stallworth and Walker.
Niki Diguilio's three shots from the beyond the arc helped, but 33 percent shooting prevented CMU from getting too close. Bishop had something to do with that with 5 blocks that made the Chippewas think twice about penetrating.
Kentucky was a little bit better from the field, hitting 15 of 34 (44 percent) including five 3-pointers. The Wildcats also controlled the lane, outscoring the Chippewas 18-8 through 20 minutes and outrebounding them 25-20.
"Do I think we gave Kentucky our best shot? No, I don't," Guevara said. "But give Kentucky all the credit in the world, because they get after you, they stay after you, they cause turnovers, they attack the glass. I vote in the Top 25, so I might have to vote them higher."
"Good opponent today. Central Michigan really fought hard and drove the basketball at us all day."