The hallmarks of the Matthew Mitchell era of Kentucky women’s basketball--aggressive defense and lights out three-point shooting--were on full display in the Wildcats’ opening round 85-31 victory over UNC-Asheville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this evening at Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky started hot behind blistering shooting from junior guard Makayla Epps and freshman guard Maci Morris. Epps hit four of her first five shots, including two threes, on her way to 16 first half points on 7 of 12 shooting. Morris was a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and grabbed three first-half rebounds; two quick fouls early in the 2nd quarter kept her on the bench for the rest of the half.
The Wildcats strong shooting continued for the rest of the half, with the exception of a short cold spell halfway through the 2nd quarter, and ended the half 15-of-33 (46 percent), including the exact same percentage from the three-point line.
UNC-Asheville struggled with Kentucky’s half-court pressure, even though they took good care of the ball in the 1st half with only two turnovers. The Bulldogs hit just 6 of 28 shots in the half (21 percent) and only managed to score five points the entirety of the 2nd quarter.
Kentucky led 37-16 at halftime.
The Bulldogs opened the 2nd half with four quick points but another three-pointer by Epps opened the floodgates and the Kentucky lead soon ballooned to well over 30 points for the rest of the game aided by turnover after turnover by UNC-Asheville; they finished with 15 for the game (13 of which came in the 2nd half). UNCA finished the game shooting 21 percent from the field.
Kentucky’s three-point bombing trickled off as the game wore on put the Wildcats still finished an exceptional 8-of-16. Overall, the Wildcats shot 47 percent from the field for the game (31-of-63).
Epps finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 3-of-6 on threes. The Lebanon native also had five assists and two rebounds. Maci Morris finished a perfect 3-for-3 from deep to finish with 9 points and she also snagged six rebounds.
Janee Thompson overcame a rough shooting day (4-of-13) to finish with 13 points, two rebounds and two assists.
Kentucky’s bigs dominated on the boards and combined for 29 of UK’s 50 rebounds. Batouly Camara had a team-high 11.
With the win, Kentucky moves on to face the Oklahoma Sooners on Monday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
- In the post game Makayla Epps said that Kentucky focused on getting out to a fast start, a sentiment that her coach shared. Matthew Mitchell said that his team’s aggressiveness unnerved the Bulldogs into missing shots that they usually make. He also said that Epps prepared well in practice and that play early was key for the Wildcats.
- Freshman Taylor Murray finished the game with 11 points and five assists. She finished with no turnovers. Coach Mitchell stated that she has worked hard on improving as the season has gone on as have the other freshmen, Maci Morris and Batouly Camara. Matthew Mitchell said that Morris’ offensive output helped her dig out of a poor defensive performance. Camara, according to Mitchell, put tremendous effort into her defense during the final quarter.
- Coach Mitchell emphasized that he wanted his team to have a good attitude, that certainly extended to the defensive in. Makayla Epps said that during the final media timeout she challenged the rest of the team to make sure that the Bulldogs did not get over 35 points for the game. The junior’s works worked because UNC-Asheville finished with only 31 for the game.
- Coach Mitchell said that he is familiar with Oklahoma since the Cats played them in the Virgin Islands last season. He said that the Sooners’ size and length will be a challenge for his young team but they are looking forward to the challenge.