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The Good and Bad of Kentucky's 71-61 Win Over Duke

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s battle with the Duke Blue Devils was a game of runs, and thanks to the play of Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps the Cats were able to notch their tenth win of the season.

During the 1st quarter Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator was ferocious; she demanded the ball in the post and scored at will. Duke had no answer for her and Akhator scored 12 of Kentucky’s first 22 points. Foul trouble early in the 2nd quarter sidelined the junior forward for the rest of the half.

Duke’s eight turnovers were the other story of the 1st quarter; Kentucky converted the Blue Devils’ miscues into 11 points and lead 22-12 at the end of the opening ten minutes.

In the 2nd quarter, Duke’s Angela Salvadores scored seven points and helped sparked a 12-5 run that cut Kentucky’s lead to three at 28-25 at the media timeout.

Kentucky struggled without Akhator in the lineup until the previously scoreless Makayla Epps answered with six made free throws and Kentucky outscored Duke 10-5 to end the first half with a 38-30 lead.

Akhator returned in the 3rd quarter and quickly scored her 14th point of the game before she was whistled for her third foul of the game.

In Akhator’s absence, Duke’s center Azura Stevens torched the Cats in the paint and pulled the Devils close to UK on several occasions.

However, timely baskets by Makayla Epps and Maci Morris helped UK extend its lead to ten, 58-48, going into the final period.

A Duke basket at the 8:17 mark closed the gap to five, 57-52, until a trio of layups from Akhator, Epps and Taylor murray pushed the UK advantage back to nine at 64-54.

Both teams struggled to score for the remainder of the game, combining for only 13 points in the closing minutes, but Matthew Mitchell’s team did just enough to earn a 71-61 victory to stay unbeaten.

The Good

Evelyn Akhator

UK scored 38 points in the paint and much of that is thanks to Evelyn Akhator.

The junior forward was close to unstoppable in the 1st quarter; she scored 12 of the team’s 22 points and finished with a team-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds.

Akhator’s intensity and play clearly disrupted Duke on offense; Duke’s head coach, Joanne McCallie said that UK would not be the same team without Akhator and after this game it is hard to argue with her.

Makayla Epps

Epps finished with 17 points on the night but did not score until the 2nd quarter, but she did dish out five assists (she finished with eight) and helped create the team’s fast start.

As she did in the Louisville game, Epps scored when her team needed her and continued to demonstrate why she is the team’s most valuable player and emotional leader.

Shutting Down Rebecca Greenwell

Kentucky native Rebecca Greenwell came into the game as a major part of Duke’s offense, but thanks to the efforts to freshmen Taylor Murray and Maci Morris, Greenwell’s homecoming did not go as planned. For the first time in her career she was held without a field goal and scored just a single point from the foul line.


Duke’s eight 1st quarter turnovers helped Kentucky build its early lead and 11 more they forced over the remainder of the game helped keep the Blue Devils from breaking the game open during several of their runs.

The Bad

Interior Defense

Without Evelyn Akhator in the game, Kentucky’s bigs struggled to defend the paint, especially in the 3rd quarter when Azura Stevens went to work and pulled the Blue Devils within striking distance.

The Cats normally rock-solid interior defense was porous against the most talented front line UK has faced so far this season. One can only hope this is an aberration and not a newly exposed weakness that will hamper the Cats during conference play.


The Blue Devils hammered UK on the glass, 38-28, and won the offensive rebounding battle 16-6. Duke also outscored Kentucky 24-8 on 2nd chance points.

Those are troubling numbers as Kentucky heads into SEC play. Just as with the team's interior defense, how Kentucky fares against quality front lines will tell determine the true quality of team’s interior prowess.