UK Hoops' 72-39 opening night victory over the Rice Owls was an up and down affair.
Regardless, Coach Matthew Mitchell said he was proud of his team’s effort and chalked a lot of their uneven play to nerves and inexperience.
Despite it being their first game regular season game in Memorial Coliseum, Maci Morris, Evelyn Akhator and Taylor Murray turned in solid performances to give the team a boost when turnovers and a stingy Rice defense stifled the Cats early offensively.
Kentucky struggled to soothe their pre game jitters and failed to get much going on either side of the court in the early going. Thankfully, Evelyn Akhator was determined to anchor the team early and fought through four early turnovers to produce a solid debut.
Akhator grabbed six rebounds in the first quarter on her way to a game high 17 and altered several shots on Rice’s first few possessions. She also scored sixteen points on 7 of 12 shooting. Mitchell during the postgame press conference that Akhator was disappointed that she did not get 20 rebounds.
The junior forward stated after the game that she was not kidding.
"My goal was to get five rebounds a quarter", she said in hopes of accumulating 20.
At the rate she was going tonight her goal may well become reality as the season goes along.
Suiting up in blue and white is the dream of many Kentucky kids, and before a large crowd of her extended family, freshmen Maci Morris got that chance. Things did not start well for Morris.
Mitchell said that Morris was flat out dominated in the early going and that contributed to her 4 first half turnovers. As the game progressed Morris kept plugging along and adapted to the physical nature of the college game.
"She is a tough, tough kid", said Mitchell about his sharp-shooting freshman.
In fact, Morris finished with 16 points, including hitting 3 of 5 three-pointers in a tough but excellent start to her UK career.
Freshman guard Taylor Murray quickly made here presence known on defense. She stole the ball three teams in the first half and converted each turnover into two points on the opposite end of the floor. Murray finished the night with 4 steals total and 12 points.
However, Murray also had four turnovers which Coach Matthew Mitchell attributed to fatigue more than anything.
After the game Matthew Mitchell confirmed that Epps’ suspension is up but she is still going through the concussion protocol after sustaining the injury last week in practice. According to Mitchell, if Epps is able to practice over the next few days she will be able to make her season debut in Tempe.
In the exhibition game against Union, Kentucky struggled holding onto the ball and tonight against the Owls that habit reared its ugly head again. The Cats turned the ball over 22 times, many coming on the fast break.
Starting guards Maci Morris and Janee Thompson totaled 10 of those turnovers. If Kentucky wants to win a tough game against Arizona State this weekend than they will need to take better care of the ball.
Starting point guard Janee Thompson struggled in her first regular season game back from injury. Thompson scored only 3 points and missed all six of her shots from the field. She also turned the ball over multiple times against the Owls’ hard nosed defense.
On the positive side, Thompson did have 6 assists and played through the adversity very well and can hopefully build off this going forward.