The Kentucky Wildcats persevered through four defections early in the season, growing pains for three freshmen thrust into battle earlier than expected and a rough start in the rugged Southeastern Conference. However, Friday night in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Rupp Arena the Wildcats stumbled into a roadblock they could not overcome.
The Cinderella Washington Huskies defeated the Wildcats 85-72 in front of a wall of blue and white.
Matthew Mitchell’s team had no answer for the physical play of stout Washington forward Chantel Osahfor on the perimeter or in the paint. Oshafor scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field including four 3-pointers. She also gobbled up 17 rebounds and posted five assists. Her greatest contribution to the Huskies’ winning effort were her bone crushing picks which opened up the floor for teammates Talia Walton and Kelsey Plum.
Walton freely drove to the basket time and time again with ease on her way to a team high 30 points (14-25 shooting). The Huskies star guard, Plum, continued her inspired play in the tournament with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting to go along with seven assists and six rebounds.
Makayla Epps played another brilliant game. The team’s junior leader scored a team high 30 points. She hit 13-of-26 shots and was the only member of Wildcats’ backcourt to make a difference.
Senior Janee Thompson, in what turned out to be her final game in a Kentucky uniform, struggled for most of the game. She finished with 13 points and hit only one of her eight attempts.
Maci Morris’ hot streak from beyond-the-arc ended at the worst possible time. She finished with a lone three-point basket and only seven points total.
Kentucky’s frontcourt played a fantastic game. Evelyn Akhator had a double-double, ten points and 14 rebounds. Alexis Jennings also had a double-double. She scored 12 points and came up with 10 rebounds
The game started on even terms. Kentucky and Washington traded the lead four times in the opening quarter until back-to-back three-pointers by the Huskies put them in front for good, 16-11 after ten minutes of play.
Kentucky went ice cold to start the 2nd quarter as the Huskies began to heat up from deep (Washington ended the half with seven triples) and stretched their lead out to as much as 13 by the 5:16 mark of the quarter.
After a timeout, Kentucky was able to cut the lead to five on several occasions near the end of the half but could get no closer and the Wildcats went into the locker room trailing by five, 35-30.
Kentucky would never get any closer than that. The Wildcats never had an answer for the Huskies trio of Walton, Plum and Oshaor and their gritty season ended with their eighth defeat.