The Eastern Michigan Eagles brought a seasoned roster into Memorial Coliseum, they returned all five starters from last season’s NIT quarterfinalists, and their pose showed early in the game.
The Eagles led UK 22-19 going into the 2nd quarter, but a quick UK run keyed by a Maci Morris three-pointer and a Makayla Epps layup energized UK. With 6:24 left in the first half, the Wildcats extended their lead to double digits at 34-24.
After a quick timeout to stall the UK run, Eastern Michigan calmly clamped down on defense and held Matthew Mitchell’s team scoreless over the last 4:13 of the second half to cut UK’s lead down to two points, 37-35, by halftime.
Poor perimeter defense in the 1st quarter (the Eagles hit 4-9 three-pointers) and 13 first half turnovers sabotaged an efficient 1st half effort on offense where Kentucky shot 57 percent from the field and created baskets off 13 assists, eight of which came from senior guard Janee Thompson.
The lead see-sawed between the two teams during the opening half of the third quarter and the Eagles took a 43-42 lead at the 7:35 mark. A Makayla Epps layup on the next Kentucky possession put them back in front and they proceeded to open up a seven-point lead over the next two minutes.
The Wildcats proceeded to out score the Eagles 24-4 for the rest of the quarter and surged ahead to a 66-47 lead on their way to an 89-67 win.
Four Kentucky players: Maci Morris, Makayla Epps, Evelyn Akhator and Janee Thompson finished the game in double figures.
Junior guard Makayla Epps played another sensational game, her third in the last four games. Epps scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, She also added eight assists and six rebounds.
Despite the fantastic stat line, Matthew Mitchell said that he was less than pleased with Epps effort.
Mitchell wants Epps to be a "great player" and in his opinion the only way for that to open is for her work ethic to match her talent level.
Coach Matthew Mitchell said in his postgame comments that his team struggled against Eastern Michigan’s extended 2-3 zone. Freshmen guard Maci Morris hit 5-of-6 three-pointers to "bust the zone" according to Coach Mitchell. She finished the game with 16 points.
Morris also finished with a career-high six rebounds and provided her typical hustle while she was in the game. During the 3rd quarter, Coach Mitchell said that Morris played exceptional defense and helped throw the Eagles’ offense out of sync.
After the game, Morris said that her high school team was in the stands watching her play today.
Teammate Makayla Epps joked that Morris had to raise her level of play for "the mountains" and also encouraged her teammate to shoot more often since opposing team’s continue to sag off of Morris.
Against Morehead State Janee Thompson was one assist shy of recording a double-double and this afternoon the senior point guard got what alluded her last week.
Thompson scored 16 points and dished out ten assists, eight of which came in the first half.
Coach Mitchell credited Thompson with hitting back-to-back three-pointers in the 3rd quarter that led to the Wildcat’s game clinching 24-4 run.
We're five games into the season and Matthew Mitchell’s team is averaging over 20 turnovers a game. Against Eastern Michigan, the Wildcats finished the 1st half with 13 turnovers and finished with 20 for the game.
With Louisville and Duke looming on the horizon, Kentucky needs to cut down on the number of times they give the ball away if they want to be competitive against the tougher teams on their schedule.
The Last 4:13 of the 1st Half
During the last 4:13 of the first half, Kentucky played their worst basketball of the year at home.
EMU switched to a 2-3 zone and the Wildcats looked as if they had no answer for it. The offense ground to a halt and there was a lot of dribbling without any communication.
On the defensive end, the Wildcats allowed the Eagles into the lane at will and gave up several easy buckets.
EMU head coach Tory Verdi credited his team’s veteran resolve as the key to the run and also said that when his team scored easy baskets it also made it easier for them to clamp down on defense.