The Kentucky Hoops team took a few punches to chin but managed to remain upright in the team’s debut game of the season tonight inside a humid Memorial Coliseum. UK rode hot shooting from Makayla Epps to a big halftime lead, only to see the Union University Bulldogs close the gap a few times in the second half before Kentucky pulled away for a 78-60 victory in their lone exhibition game.
This is Makayla Epps’ Team
It comes as no surprise that Kentucky’s returning top scorer led the team in points again tonight, 31 points (12-of-24, 6-of-9 from three) to go along with five rebounds , and every single drop in the bucket by Epps was critical for the team. When she prospered in the first half to a tune of 22 points, the momentum flowed for the Wildcats, especially considering how much the rest of the team struggled to score in the first half.
After the game, both Mitchell and Epps said that the goal is for her to be more aggressive on offense, especially from behind the three point line, a place Epps said she worked hard to improve her game in the off-season.
However, without the senior on the court, the team’s play crawled to a stand still.
At one point in the third quarter, and with Epps on the bench, Kentucky shot 2-of-11 from the field. The team appeared lethargic and unorganized on the court. Epps hustle and vocal leadership revived the Cats’ fighting spirit, but also exposed a dearth in on-court leadership.
From all indications, Kentucky might have to lend on Epps more than usual during the early part of the season while they sort the kinks out in the pecking order, but one has to wonder how long that can last.
Air Akhator Soars Again
Senior forward Evelyn Akhator netted another double-double with 17 points (5-of-12 from the field and 7-of-10 from the line) and 17 rebounds. Her statistic output is not what impressed Matthew Mitchell, however.
Mitchell said in the post game that Union stacked up to five players in the paint to deny Akhator quality touches and that she constantly battled through to secure offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Like Epps’ scoring, Akhator’s hustle and post presence will be key for a Kentucky team with little depth in the post and a need for a player who can draw defenses off the three-point line.
Depth is a Glaring Issue
The attrition that the program faced over the past few months showed during the game.
Union Head Basketball Coach Jeff Campbell said that his team utilized a variety of screens to keep the Cats active and moving on defense. Matthew Mitchell agreed and said that fatigue hindered his team’s efforts in the second half. In fact, Union was able to beat UK off the dribble enough to match them 24-24 points in post production.
Anderson County native and Cincinnati transfer Mackenzie Cann was the lone bright spot off the bench. Cann went 3-of-5 from deep (3-of-6 overall and 1-of-2 from the foul line) for ten points and four rebounds in eighteen minutes of action. Coach Mitchell praised Cann for immediately casting off any rust after a two year layoff from official competition.
Of the remaining players that saw clock, only senior walk-on Jessica Hardin score any points, a lone three-pointer.
Without a solid bench, Kentucky will struggle against a tough early season schedule, but the effort and work is their for them to become a solid vanguard for the starting five.
- Sophomore guard Maci Morris struggled with her bread and butter, free throws and threes. The Bell County product did not net a single triple for charity shot in 34 minutes of action. However, Morris demonstrated improvement inside the arc and finished 4-of-7 from two point range to close the night with eight points, three rebounds, and two assists. If Morris can continue to develop this part of her game then it will give Kentucky a dangerous inside-out scoring threat.
- Sophomore Taylor Murray had a sneaky good game in which she scored only two points but dished out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. Murray was a fantastic change of pace of the bench last year and appears to be a necessary utility player going forward.
- No player that saw action committed more than two fouls or turnovers respectively, numbers that will make fans and Coach Mitchell smile. Kentucky also crushed Union on the boards 50-25.
- Jessica Hardin may inherit Murray’s role of spark plug off the bench. The Bellarmine transfer provided good hustle and willingness to shot during the first half.