At the 7:10 mark of the first half, the NKU Norse used their first timeout of the game as they trailed Kentucky 9-0 and had already surrendered three easily lay-ups to streaking Wildcat players on the fast break.
Momentum favored Matthew Mitchell’s team. Then Heather Dinich checked into the game and sparked a Northern Kentucky surge that put the Cats on the retreat.
Dinich scored 13 1st-half points and along with teammate Rianna Gayheart exposed the Wildcat’s porous perimeter defense to the tune of eight three-pointers.
After the initial run to start the game, the Norse outscored Kentucky 41-26 to take a four point lead into the break.
The game was tight deep into the 3rd quarter until UK’s Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson scored and assisted the Cats to a nine-point lead they would never relinquish on their way to an 84-65 win, their seventh of the season.
Just as she has all season Makayla Epps put in an excellent stat line: 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and only one turnover. The junior guard shined in the 3rd quarter when her team needed her the most. Epps showed veteran poise and delivered timely baskets and assists.
Janee Thompson continued to rewrite the narrative of her season. With each passing game, Thompson’s stellar play is erasing memories of her season-ending injury from last season.
Thompson scored a game-high 21 points to go along with seven assists and three rebounds. Much like like backcourt counterpart Makayla Epps, Thompson provided critical assists and baskets when the young Cats needed them the most. The only dent in her performance was a team high five turnovers.
Kentucky averages an astounding 20 plus turnovers a game. Against the Norse, UK only coughed the ball up 13 times. Not great but definitely better than previous games.
The former Miss Basketball brings so much energy to the team as well as scoring. Morris showcased a different facet of her game in the early going, two beautiful drives to the basket, but also demonstrated against quicker guards she is a potential liability on defense.
Morris struggled to stay with NKU’s fleet-footed guards. She was beaten off the bounce several times and gave up easy lay-ups. She was also slow getting back from help defense and, as a result, the Norse got plenty of good looks.
To be fair, Morris was not expected to play heavy minutes this season and she is learning to be a better defender on the fly, but if her lack of quickness continues to be a problem going into SEC play her minutes will dramatically decrease.
1st-Half Perimeter Defense
Kentucky has been remarkably consistent in limiting easy baskets early in the game so far this season. Where the Wildcats have struggled is defending the three, especially in the 1st half.
Just like in the Eastern Michigan game last week, NKU used early hot shooting to stay in the game when it looked as if the Cats were primed to deliver an early knockout blow.
What’s most concerning is the fact that most of NKU’s made three-pointers were open looks and not purely the result of hot shooting.