CHICAGO (AP) — Despite the distractions of her first visit back home, Kentucky freshman Linnae Harper still managed to be all business on Thursday.
The Wildcats' reserve guard, a former Chicago high school star, scored 18 points to lead No. 5 Kentucky to a 96-85 victory over DePaul.
"I was very nervous, I hadn't been home in a few months and I was excited to be here," said Harper, a 2012 state champion at Whitney Young High School. "But it was a business trip and we had to come out and play hard."
The Wildcats were without senior forward DeNesha Stallworth, the team's No. 2 scorer and rebounder, out two to four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Wednesday.
So it was up to her teammates to pick up the slack and all 10 active players scored.
Kastine Evans scored 14 points, Samarie Walker had 13, Jennifer O'Neill 12 and Makayla Epps 10 for the Wildcats.
"It's a tough situation when you lose a significant contributor, (Stallworth) is very important to us scoring, rebounding, defensively," Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Tonight we needed a balanced game from all 10 players. I didn't think we could get it done with five. Everyone had to play hard and tough and the bench was outstanding."
Harper's 18 led a 45-point production from the reserves.
"I'm real proud for her," Mitchell said. "This could have turned out to be a real poor showing with coming back to Chicago and the emotion all tied into it. Tonight was the result of how she's been practicing."
Kentucky pulled away from a 44-44 halftime tie and took the lead for good after Harper's jumper put the Wildcats ahead 60-59 with 14:15 left in the second half.
Brittany Hrynkko scored 20 points, Megan Rogowski had 19, and Megan Podkowa and Jasmine Penny added 17 apiece as DePaul (4-3) lost for the third time in four games.
"We played unintelligently after we earned an 11-point lead in the first half," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "We have to play with intelligence and we didn't. We have to defend, we didn't. And we got killed on the boards by a team that's the same size we are."