Coming off of a stunning loss in Oxford, Mississippi, Matthew Mitchell’s team looked to rebound against the Tennessee Volunteers in what turned out to a wild chapter in the history of the border brawl.
Kentucky started the game 3-for-12 and needed an offensive spark.
Enter Batouly Camara: the freshman forward put the ball on the floor and scored two quick baskets; the first time she has demonstrated the versatility of her game all season.
Senior guard Janee Thompson availability due to an ankle injury suffered in last Thursday’s loss at Ole Miss.was in question until Coach Matthew Mitchell confirmed Sunday that Thompson might come off the bench against the Vols; which did midway through the first quarter.
Thompson’s ankle did not appear to bother her in the opening ten. The senior guard scored eight first-half points and blew past Tennessee defenders with ease on several occasions.
However, the visitors from Knoxville managed to make shots from deep appear as easy as jumping in a puddle.
The Vols drained 3-of-5 three-pointers, including two by Te’a Cooper and that was the difference maker in the first quarter; Tennessee led 19-18 to end the first.
After efficient use of the area beyond the arc in the first quarter, UT opened the second with a quick 6-0 run driven fueled by jumpers in the paint to extend their lead to five, 25-20.
A Janee Thompson lay-in cut the lead to three points but back-to-back Tennessee treys put them up by nine, 31-22.
Despite forcing 12 Tennessee turnovers and winning the battle in the paint, 16-4, Kentucky couldn’t buy a basket for the majority of the half and shoot 12-for-40 from the field in comparison Tennessee's 13-for-24.
Steady scorers Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps did not do any damage until late and the Wildcats went to the locker room trailing 35-28 but still well within striking distance.
Kentucky charged out of the half on 7-0 run, each point scored by Epps, to cut the Vol lead to two at 37-35.
The Wildcats regained the lead when Makayla Epps spotted freshman Taylor Murray in the left corner; Murray's aim was true and her basket was part of a larger Kentucky spurt that resulted in the Wildcats taking a five-point lead going into the last ten minutes of the game, 49-44.
The run was also fueled in part by Tennessee’s inability to solve break Kentucky’s pressure; the Vols rushed their shots and finished the third missing all of their last nine attempts.
An amped up Memorial Coliseum crowd and Kentucky’s unrelenting pressure further rattled the Vols in the fourth quarter. Tennessee hit a lone three in the first five minutes of the quarter and watched Kentucky build their first double-digit lead of the game at 57-47.
Just when it looked like the Vols were about to crumble they went on a quick 8-2 run to cut the lead to four, 59-55, with 2: 51 to play. The margin would stay slip to two following UT score off a rare (for this night) Kentucky turnover.
With 40 seconds to play, Kentucky’s Thompson canned a free throw line jump to put Kentucky ahead by four, 63-59. Tennessee's Cooper answered with a quick basket and then disaster struck; the Vols Andraya Carter stole the ball and drew a foul. Thankfully Carter only hit 1-of-2 and Kentucky got the rebound to preserve their razor-thin lead.
Tennessee fouled to put UK in the bonus. Thompson ended up at the line but was only able to hit 1-of-2 attempts.
An Akhator foul with ten ticks of the clock left put UT on the line again but lightning struck not once, but three times in Kentucky’s favor. A free throw and two put back attempts by the Vols drew iron and the Wildcats escaped by the skin of their teeth to defeat their rival, 64-63.
Makayla Epps lead the way for Kentucky with 23 points, two rebounds and a single assist. Janee Thompson finished with 15 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Post Game Takeaways
- Kentucky’s defensive pressure had Tennessee on the ropes for most of the second half, especially in the second half. UT finished the game with 21 turnovers and both Vols Head Coach Holly Warlick and forward Marcedes Lewis said the Cats press had the fouls out of sorts. Warlick said that her team passed up several easy baskets to make extra passes due to the frantic pace of the game.
- Batouly Camara played her best game in a Wildcats uniform tonight. She displayed a hunger to rebound and take good shots. Which is an absolute must when Akhator and Alexis Jennings struggle as they did tonight. Coach Mitchell said Camara’s struggled to with her motor so far but that she came alive in practice this week.
- Tennessee's press gave Kentucky fits in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Coach Mitchell said that UT’s length and quickness really bothered his team. He also said that his team was lucky to turn the ball over only ten times over the course of the game. In fact, Mitchell commented that stat could make a person "believe in God."
- Kentucky came back from and later lost a ten point lead during the game. Matthew Mitchell said that at times this season his team struggled with their confidence. Makayla Epps said after the game that the team gets through adversity by keeping a positive attitude. She recalled a moment late in the game when she dribbled the ball off her foot in a key moment and teammate Janee Thompson told her to just smile and play on.
- Janee Thompson was in a walking boot after the game but said that it is just a precautionary measure.