For the second road game in a row, the UK Hoops team found themselves in a defensive dogfight, this time against the appropriately nicknamed Georgia Lady Bulldogs yesterday afternoon in Athens, GA.
Both teams entered the contest with a reputation for playing hard-nosed basketball and each struggled to score until the final quarter.
Georgia held Kentucky to a season-low 37 percent shooting but only managed a paltry 34 percent shooting themselves. In addition to poor shooting, turnovers hampered both squads. Kentucky gave the ball away 22 times but were saved by the Lady Bulldogs’ own 21 "transgressions".
The first quarter was close and ended with UK holding to a slim 15-11 margin. Well timed three-pointers by Makayla Epps and Maci Morris halfway through the second quarter pushed the margin to double digits. Georgia would not yield, however, and prevented Kentucky from blowing the game open; the Wildcats entered the locker room ahead 31-21 at the half.
Another triple by Maci Morris ignited the Wildcats’ offense in the third quarter and Kentucky increased their lead to 14, 44-30 with only ten minutes to play in the game.
But again, the pesky Lady Bulldogs held their ground and refuse to let Kentucky pull away and though they struggled to score, Georgia used a couple of timely baskets and defensive stops to pull within five points on two occasions only for Makayla Epps and Taylor Murray to answer with a big bucket of their own.
Kentucky hit their free throws and clamped down on defense in the final minutes to finally put the game away and secure their 13th victory of the season, 64-53.
Balanced Big Plays
Kentucky finished the game with four players in double figures. A balanced scoring load is fantastic but way the team shared the burden of making big plays during the game is even better.
At times this season, Kentucky has depended too much on Makayla Epps to save the day and while the former Miss Basketball lived up to her reputation as a clutch performer, her heroics on Sunday were overshadowed.
Maci Morris hit several key three-pointers to give Kentucky breathing room; Alexis Jennings had several import offensive stick backs; Janee Thompson hit Kentucky’s final four free throws to ice the game and freshman Taylor Murray did the same to halt a big Georgia run.
The combined efforts of the team showed just how hard they played and was the real difference maker in this game not being a repeat of the loss at Auburn.
Akhator and Jennings
Evelyn Akhator and Alexis Jennings continued their run of stellar performances in the pain. Each notched a double-double, Akhator had ten points, ten rebounds while Jennings tallied 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Akhator has been a revelation all season but the continued emergence of Alexis Jennings gives Kentucky another go to in the post if Akhator is in foul trouble or injured, and when both are playing at a high level then Kentucky is a hard team to beat.
As the aforementioned stats indicate, Kentucky played a tremendous game on defense yet again. The team’s ability to force turnovers and defend the perimeter are what make them a dark horse in the SEC race. If the Cats’ continue to put in performances like they have over the last three games then they will be rewarded with enough wins to earn a high seed come tournament time.
When a team is not shooting the ball well getting to the free throw line is a must and against Georgia, Kentucky did just that.
The Cats converted 78 percent of their free throws on 22-of-28 attempts in comparison to nine overall attempts by Georgia.
Janee Thompson overcame a poor shooting night and was an asset at the time by hitting all eight of her foul shots.
Matthew Mitchell might want to remind his team that they are playing basketball and not running a soup kitchen with the way that his team freely gives the ball away.
Georgia is a solid defensive team and turnovers were to be expected against them but not at such a frequent rate.
The main culprits were guards Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson, each had five respectively. Thompson and Epps are the team leaders and when the game is on the line the ball will be in their hands. Each cannot afford to have that habit rear its head in the clutch or Kentucky could potentially lose a crucial nail biter.