CHICAGO – DePaul was aggressive and opportunistic for the first 19 minutes against No. 5 Kentucky.
However, an early 11-point lead slipped away as the visiting Wildcats forced a halftime tie and then took command in the second half on the way to beating the Blue Demons 96-85 Thursday night.
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," Blue Demons 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."
Instead it was a returning hometown player who did much of the damage against them as Kentucky freshman guard Linnae Harper scored 18 points off the bench in her first visit back home.
"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 (10-0) 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.
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-all halftime tie and took the lead for good after Harper's jumper put the Wildcats ahead 60-59 with 14:15 left.
Kentucky entered the game third in nation in scoring at 98.8 points per game — including and 103.8 per game over its last five.
DePaul's Podkowa and Rogowski each had two 3-pointers and combined for 17 points as the Blue Demons took a 21-10 lead less than 7 minutes in.
Kentucky pulled within three points on five occasions over the next 9 minutes but DePaul replied each time until the final minute.
Hrynko's 3 pointer gave the Blue Demons a 44-37 lead with 2:43 to play in the first half, and Jasime Penney's layup kept it at seven with 1:28 left.
The Wildcats closed the half with seven consecutive points in the final 38 seconds, including five from Goss and a fast-break layup by Azia Bishop with 12 seconds left, to tie the score at 44 at the break.
Kentucky took its first lead since the opening minutes at 50-49 on Evans' layup with 17:30 left in the second half. It was short-lived as Penny replied 20 seconds later with a jumper.
From there the game featured five lead changes and two ties until the Wildcats pulled ahead for good at 60-59 on Harper's jumper with 14:15 left. Kentucky opened its biggest lead to at 66-61 on Epps' jumper a little more than 2 minutes later.
Kentucky's lead hit double-digits at 83-73 with 4:07 to play on Evans' two free throws during a 9-0 run.
The game was also a homecoming for Wildcats sophomore starter Janee Thompson.
Both she and Harper starred on Chicago-Whitney Young High School's 2012 unbeaten Class 4A state champions and had their respective numbers retired by the school on Wednesday.
The Blue Demons came in ranked fourth in Division I with 13.5 steals per game.
DePaul's loss was just the third in 25 games at its on-campus home. The Blue Demons are now 13-15 all-time against top-25 teams.
Kentucky is four wins away from 700 all-time.