At the 5:51 mark of the 3rd quarter with the third-seeded Kentucky Wildcats clinging to momentum and a six-point lead, Taylor Murray found a streaking Makayla Epps. Oklahoma’s Gioya Carter made contact with Epps to prevent the breakaway basket and in the process fouled the junior, hard.
Epps came up from the floor grimacing and favoring a shoulder. After missing a one free throw and making another, the Cats’ star guard went to the end of the bench.
In her absence, the sixth-seeded Sooners cut the lead to two points, 44-42, with 2:44 to play in front of a silent, pro-Kentucky crowd that earlier in the game had made the noise level in Memorial Coliseum deafening.
Epps checked back into the game and soon after two easy baskets by Evelyn Akhator and Taylor Murray took the wind out of the Sooners’ sails. Though still in obvious pain, Epps hit her first three of the game to extend the lead to 53-46, and after another triple from Janee Thompson the lead was ten.
Following Epps gritty effort, Kentucky put on working boots in the 4th quarter. They out rebounded and out hustled the Sooners, who had little choice but to foul Epps and Thompson who drove to the basket at will. Kentucky hit 29-of-38 free throws, many of which came in the final stanza to extend their lead to over 20 points on their way to a 79-58 win to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two seasons.
After simultaneous difficult 1st halfs, Epps and Thompson each finished with solid stat lines. Epps finished with 13 points, majority of which came at the free throw line (she was 10-of-14), on 1-6 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists. Thompson struggled from the field as well. She only shot 4-of-13 from the field but was excellent from the foul line where she made seven of eight attempts. The senior also had three rebounds and four assists.
Despite the lopsided final score, Oklahoma’s tough play and rock solid defense had Kentucky, especially Epps, out of rhythm on offense for most of the game. After shooting lights out against UNC-Asheville, the Sooners’ held the Wildcats to a porous 38 percent shooting (22-of-58 from the field).
The Sooners also got Evelyn Akhator in foul trouble early and as a result were able to dominate the boards.
Freshman guard Maci Morris, who was on fire early hitting four straight three-pointers (she finished with 12 points) also went to the bench with two fouls in the 2nd quarter which contributed to Kentucky’s offensive stagnation during the 1st half.
Two gems for the Wildcats in a game that resembled a muddy scrum, were three-point shooting, the Cats shot 46 percent (6-of-13), and defense. Kentucky held the Sooners to 27 percent shooting on 18-of-66 attempts from the floor.
Kentucky will play again in the Sweet 16 on March 25th at Rupp Arena against the Washington Huskies. Washington upset Maryland to advance 74-65.